Jewish World Review July 21, 2004 / 3 Menachem-Av, 5764

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Kerry couldn't say no: Hillary waffle was just part of a wimpy week | John Kerry is about to be crowned King of all Democrats and he's got at least a 50-50 shot at being the 44th president of the United States. Hillary Clinton is but one of 100 senators. Any clash between the two should thus be a mismatch - and it was. Kerry never stood a chance.

If you're scoring at home, that's Clinton 1, Kerry 0.

What's amazing about the spat over whether Hillary would get a prime-time convention speech was how quickly Kerry retreated. No sooner had his aides insulted Clinton by saying, first, she hadn't asked for a role and second, the convention was about the "future" then they caved and asked her to speak. Begged would be more accurate.

Kerry's the king all right, but Clinton's the unchallenged Queen of Democrats - and the King better not forget it again.

Her supporters rejoiced at her triumph, but Republicans must be delighted, too, for the embarrassing incident reveals a weak spot in the Democratic nominee.

John Kerry is a man who can be rolled. Quickly and often.

His surrender to Clinton was one of three cases in just a week where Kerry took a stand, then immediately folded his cards when challenged. He's definitely not ready for the World Series of Poker.

The first case involved the July 8 Bush-bash at Radio City Music Hall. A day after he praised Whoopi Goldberg and others as representing the "heart and soul of America," Kerry wilted in the face of media and GOP heat. Suddenly, he found Goldberg's lewd act inappropriate.

And on the same day as the Hillary fold, Kerry backed away from some of his own TV ads when black officials called them "lackluster."

Only a week after touting the $2 million buy as the largest ever aimed at black voters, Kerry agreed to scrap the ads. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Kerry flubbed by not showing the ads to the caucus first. "It was corrected," Cummings said as Kerry agreed to the changes the caucus wanted.

Final score: Critics 3, Kerry 0.

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None of these incidents is fatal at this early stage, and Dem partisans will even argue they show a nuanced thinker willing to listen and change his mind. Those traits, they say, go to the heart of why they prefer him to President Bush.

But it's also true that the three incidents play into the GOP attack machine theme that Kerry is a flip-flopper who can't be trusted. Even a top Dem stalwart conceded there are doubts about Kerry's "internal gyroscope."

Such doubts worry this Kerry supporter because of how he views the election landscape: A slim majority of Americans have turned against Bush, but Kerry has not yet captured all their votes, especially independents. To win, my Democratic sage says, Kerry must meet two tests:

"He must convince people that he has a strong foreign policy, and he must show middle class families that he cares about them and understands their problems."

He's right, but here's a third challenge. Kerry needs a Sister Souljah moment.

It was 12 years ago, just before his own crowning convention, that Bill Clinton demonstrated strength and independence by scolding the young black rap singer. She had defended Los Angeles riots by saying, "If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people."

Clinton not only said the comments reflected "hatred," he did so at Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition. Sister Souljah then called Clinton "racist," and Jackson was furious at him, too. But Clinton stood his ground, and the incident established his willingness to say no and risk offending a key party voting bloc.

Kerry has not yet taken such a risk. When he does, he'll be a stronger, more worthy candidate for the Oval Office.

Michael Goodwin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Daily News Comment by clicking here.


© 2004, New York Daily News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.