Jewish World Review July 30, 2004/ 12 Menachem-Av, 5764

Wesley Pruden

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And now to test the honeymoon | BOSTON — Well, it was a very nice affair, the quadrennial wedding of the Democratic Party and its presidential candidate.

No one stumbled over the vows; the music was loud if not sweet; the petunias, pansies and other blossoms made it through the ceremony without wilting. Nobody broke up the furniture, and everybody left sober.

Only the bride — i.e. the party as represented by the delegates — was left unsatisfied. The delegates would earlier have run away with the cute best man, a nice Southern boy all razzle and dazzle, for the honeymoon in a New York minute. The lugubrious bridegroom would have been welcome to tag along but only to handle the luggage (and to sleep in the car).

But brides sometimes have to settle for propriety instead of passion, and so, sometimes, must political parties. Rarely has a convention ended on such suspicious enthusiasm. The early tracking polls showed Monsieur Kerry leaving town with almost no "bounce," certainly not the seven or eight points almost any challenging candidate reasonably expects. Michael Dukakis, the last Massachusetts man to win the Democratic nomination, flew out of Atlanta in 1988 with a 17-point lead in the polls.

After three nights of nonstop testimonials to Monsieur Kerry's charisma, the Rasmussen presidential tracking poll shows him with the same three-point edge — 48 percent to 45 percent — he had when the first delegates trickled into Boston. A Washington Post-CBS News poll earlier in the week showed the president with a two-point lead.

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The convention probably didn't change much because nobody much was watching. Dan Rather reckons that more people may have been watching the test pattern. More ominous, for the Democrats, is that the president's poll numbers on both the war and the economy are heading into friendly neighborhoods.

The cliche of the season is that Monsieur Kerry has failed "to close the deal." By most reckoning, he ought to leave Boston with a double-digit lead of his own, and the fact that he won't reflects not so much the thrill of a romance as the grim facts of George W.'s brutal spring and early summer. There was wholesale death of Americans in Iraq, Islamist beheadings of innocent Christians and Jews, the scandal of Abu Ghraib prison where nobody lost his head but several prisoners had to wear ladies' step-ins on their heads (regarded by much of the media as just as bad as beheading if not worse), scolding by a Senate intelligence committee and then by the 9/11 commission, and finally a vicious propaganda documentary regarded in certain precincts as the needed antidote to "The Passion of the Christ." All this should have sent George W. Bush to the bomb shelter, but it didn't. The Boston convention couldn't make the rubble bounce.

Monsieur Kerry now tests the good humor and grudging affection, such as it may be, of the troops he must count on to get out his vote in November. Sounding the tocsin of war is not the music his troops expected to hear. His vow last night to expand the size of the military raised no cheers. Even more ambitious was his attempt, in accepting the nomination, to expand Middle America's understanding of "values." The party's allies in Hollywood and in the press and academe have made an art and a science of putting down the values of faith, freedom and family that resonate in rural and suburban America, and trying over the next few weeks to expand the definition of "values" to include health care reform, economic "equality," same-sex "marriage," gun control, affirmative action, abortion and other issues dear to the hearts of downtown Democrats will be a very difficult deal to close.

John Edwards, echoing the rhetoric of Democratic toughness, promised to "win the war in Iraq" by restoring America's ties with the allies disillusioned by the war in Iraq. It's not clear who these missing allies are, beyond France and Germany, since our British cousins, the ally with whom we won World War II, have been steadfast as usual, this time in Iraq.

But not to quibble. That's what honeymoons are for, to work out the nuances.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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