Jewish World Review May 28, 2004/ 8 Sivan, 5764

Wesley Pruden

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Staying in love by staying apart | Who says John Kerry has no mercy in his heart? He finally ended the suspense that had kept the nation (or at least a few dozen correspondents and campaign consultants) in thrall for nearly a week.

He's willing to accept his party's nomination after all. If he's elected he might even serve. No Sherman, he.

Monsieur Kerry floated a bizarre delaying scheme a week ago. He would make what the New York Times suggested would be his "culmination speech," not an acceptance speech, at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. He would note the "culmination" of his campaign, but avoid saying the magic words that would set the Federal Election Commission's clock ticking on his "official" campaign. Sort of like making a marriage vow without saying "I do."

With the clock running, the feds would start sending to his campaign the public swag the law entitles him to — $75 million by election day. But he would be prevented from raising private money after he latches on to the public teat. George W. Bush, who won't have to accept the Republican nomination for a full month after Monsieur Kerry's acceptance, will have that month to raise millions in private money.

Monsieur Kerry flip-flopped on this one reluctantly. Earlier in the week his campaign canvassed the state Democratic parties to see whether they could collect enough money to match the Bush campaign's harvest of private swag during the lost month. The answers were not necessarily reassuring, but neither was the public and private reaction to substituting "culmination" for "acceptance."

The issue was further complicated by the possibility that not only would Monsieur Kerry jeopardize his $75 million, but the Democratic National Committee might not get the $15 million it is entitled to for staging the party convention, scheduled to begin July 26 in Boston. Without a Kerry acceptance speech, the Federal Election Commission might decide that a "culmination" speech was merely another campaign speech, not worth the $15 million payment. Worse, the television networks might not show up.

"I think there is a very strong case here that it would be illegal," Fred Wertheimer, director of Democracy 21, a Democratic campaign-finance organization, told the Boston Globe. "They received the money to conduct a nominating convention, and a nominating convention tends to include the concept of a nominee. At a minimum, they face legal questions."

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Rep. Martin Meehan of Massachusetts, a Democrat and co-author of the campaign-finance law that makes running for office so needlessly complicated — castrating the First Amendment to the Supreme Court's satisfaction was not easy — agreed that millions were at risk. "The question is whether it could be made up in private contributions."

Naturally, Monsieur Kerry thought these were inconvenient details that should not have applied to him. "The truth is," he told the Globe, "it used to be that the convention, after nomination, traveled to the home or the state of the nominee to inform them they've been nominated. Woodrow Wilson was at his home in Princeton, N.J., Harry Truman was in Independence, Mo. The Republicans are trying to make an issue out of something they're surprised by, because they're very upset someone might have a way of neutralizing their advantage."

True enough, and he might have noted that in even earlier days the convention sent a messenger on horseback to notify nominees because streetcars and trains had not yet been invented, or sufficient tracks laid. There must be an intern at campaign headquarters to notify Monsieur Kerry that in Harry Truman's day no one had yet invented the campaign-finance laws that supply public swag and restrict what candidates can do, and when.

Several pundits have suggested that there was more to the scheme of delay than concern over mere money. Since Monsieur Kerry's poll numbers have held steady, barely, over the past fortnight when he has kept himself out of sight, his handlers obviously concluded that voters like him best when they don't have to see him, hear him or think about him. The New York Times reports that he is often surprised to see a lot of empty chairs when he arrives to make the speech at his big-dollar fund-raisers. They're willing to write checks to defeat George W., but only if they don't have to see Monsieur Kerry or listen to him speak.

The secret of success, if there is to be any success, is to keep him out of sight and out of mind. Sort of like sending a bride and a reluctant bridegroom off on separate honeymoons in the interests of bliss. Whatever works.

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

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