Saturday, November 20, 2004

John Kerry: Redux or Ad Nauseum?

John Kerry is running for President...Oh, I'm sorry, I mean he ran for President, right?

No. John Kerry is running for President, in either this cycle or the next. A recent e-mail to supporters reveals that this man, for better or worse, is not done. The conservatives maligned him, lied about him, and apparently beat him, but John Kerry has not left his post. The fight continues and the latest installment of this whirlwind serial is perhaps the most interesting.
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John Kerry 2004

On November 3rd, John Kerry expressed his certainty that the election was, indeed, over. To conservatives, this was a relief: Finally, Democrats have come to grips with reality! To liberals, it was a disappointment or even an outrage: Something is rotten in Ohio and Florida, but everyone is ignoring the stench. Either way, most Americans thought that the election was over. Perhaps it was a resounding victory or a crippling defeat, but whatever it was, it was done.

That was terribly naïve of us. As an increasing number of reports about possible voter fraud have appeared, the doubt cast on electronic voting machines in this election has only grown. Months ago, Howard Dean showed us just one easy way to hijack an election. Without a doubt, sharp conservative (or liberal) operatives could devise others. However, for a time, the post-election reports seemed only a murmur in the far reaches of Air America and RadioPower.org. Those tiny pockets of liberal radio bemoaned another election stolen...But the news of possible fraud in Florida and Ohio never broke in the mainstream media in any significant way. This story, it appeared, would simply fade away.

While it is still true that this compelling morsel of information has hardly enticed most of the media, it appears that it has drawn Democrats, from bottom to top. It is still a risky wager, but I do not think this story is going away and I think that John Kerry has made that clear in his e-mail.

Let's take it in small bites.

Regardless of the outcome of this election, once all the votes are counted -- and they will be counted -- we will continue to challenge this administration. (Kerry, "The next step" par. 4)

A few weeks ago, John Kerry was certain of the eventual outcome of this election. Not so much anymore. The wording of this sentence suggests that the final tally is still in question: Hey, the electoral vote is still a few weeks away. Anything could happen.

It is quite evident that personally, Kerry doubts the legitimacy of the election.

It's unacceptable in the United States that people still don't have full confidence in the integrity of the voting process. (Kerry, "The next step" par. 5)

Where he says "people," one can easily insert "I." He projects his lack of faith in the "voting process" onto the American people, or at least, his supporters. (Kerry, "The next step" par. 5) For the most part, it is probably a reasonable characterization. However, this does not diminish the fact that John Kerry is skeptical, too. This is important because if Kerry wants to hit hard on this issue, he sure is waiting a long time to do it. Perhaps he is suspicious and will wait to see what the final vote count reveals or perhaps this is the reason he has 15 to 17 million dollars left in his campaign coffers. (Fournier, par. 7)

It would be excellent if Kerry commits himself to fighting voter fraud, in specific and in general. As he says, it is unacceptable that many Americans cannot trust their own electoral system. Kerry, in his letter states:

I will fight for a national standard for federal elections that has both transparency and accountability in our voting system. ("The next step" par. 5)

Transparency is a critical issue and it is encouraging that in addition to seeking truth in this election, John Kerry promises to fight for truth in all elections.

But maybe, just maybe, John Kerry has a direct interest in free and fair Presidential elections in years to come.
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John Kerry 2008

Kerry may also have a longer-term interest in his remaining campaign funds. His still-robust campaign war chest have made Democrats wary of designs that Kerry might have for the future. (Fournier, par. 7) Fournier writes that Kerry "could use [the estimated 15 to 17 million dollars remaining] as seed money for another presidential bid." (par. 7) Kerry's letter to supporters not only hints at this cycle's struggle, but smacks of electoral dreams in years to come. The letter emphasizes that he will play an active role in not only Democratic Party politics, but in Democratic Party policy, far into the forseeable future.

He states:

And we must fight not only against George Bush's extreme policies -- we must also uphold our own values. (Kerry, "The next step" par. 7)

A senator planning on taking a supporting role would likely be a little bit more conciliatory. However, John Kerry is keeping his gloves off, suggesting that he wants to hold onto his position as the Democratic Party's poster child. Moreover, he repeats (as he did many times in the campaign) the idea of remembering "our own values." (Kerry, "The next step" par. 7) He is providing a direction and vision.

This is not that convincing though. It could be no more than post-election fluff were it not for the remainder of the letter. Consider the following.

This is why on the first day Congress is in session next year, I will introduce a bill to provide every child in America with health insurance. And, with your help, that legislation will be accompanied by the support of hundreds of thousands of Americans. (Kerry "The next step" par. 7)

One of the most serious criticisms lodged against Kerry during his (first) Presidential run was that he did nothing of significance during a decades-long tenure in the Senate. For example, Ciro Scotti wrote in Business Week that "Kerry's thin record of policymaking during almost 20 years in the Senate isn't cool." (Scotti par. 20) This softball criticism of Kerry's record pales before the Republican National Committee's take on it. G. Gordon Liddy has posted on his website a copy of a piece written by the RNC called "Do Nothing Senator", with the subheading Kerry Offered Small Bills, But Little Change. (Republican National Committee) The article claims that Kerry's work on eventually successful legislation is not substantial and cites a list of columns that apparently agree. (Republican National Committee) For instance, citing David Nather's "Kerry's Complex Record and His Pursuit of the Presidency," the RNC argues that "Kerry has done little work on major issues," including education and health care. (Republican National Committee, par. 7)

This makes Kerry's promise to deliver sweeping health insurance legislation extremely significant. John Kerry is translating a key campaign promise into real action, all the while combating Republican rhetoric that he has squandered his years and influence in the Senate. It may be true that Kerry's activity on this issue stems from a sincere desire to correct health care inequalities in this country. However, this is not the move of a person planning on a quiet transition to retirement and anonymity.

Furthermore, Kerry is not pursuing this issue in the way that a less-ambitious individual might.

Normally, a member of the Senate will first approach other senators and ask them to co-sponsor a bill before it is introduced -- instead, I am turning to you. Imagine the power of a bill co-sponsored by hundreds of thousands of Americans being presented on the floor of the United States Senate. You can make it happen. Sign our "Every Child Protected" pledge today and forward it to your family, friends, and neighbors: (Kerry, "The next step" par. 10)

On one hand, it could be argued that Kerry is using his bully pulpit to gain popular support for legislation that would otherwise have a difficult time in a conservative Congress. Nevertheless, such an approach has a secondary effect: It rallies the citizenry behind not only a cause, but a man. Kerry seeks not simply to be a prominent politician, but a populist one, as well. He is demonstrating his dedication to the people by entreating them for support on a vital matter. Kerry recognizes our importance as members of this society and, in turn, we may repay his consideration.

This is the beginning of a second term effort to hold the Bush administration accountable and to stand up and fight for our principles and our values. They want you to disappear; they are counting on that. I'm confident you will prove them wrong, and you will rewrite history again. (Kerry, "The next step" par. 12)

Here, Kerry continues to project a populist persona. But notably, he is also trying to evoke the emotions of his readers by reminding them that the wayward Bush administration reviles them and their opinions. John Kerry, this letter suggets, will be the man to lead us in the quest against conservative elitism and greed.

Here is what I want you to know. I understand the strength, commitment, and passion that are at the core of what we built together -- and I am determined to make our collective energy and organization a force to be reckoned with in the weeks and months ahead.

Let's roll up our sleeves and get back to work for our country.
(Kerry, "The next step" par. 13-14)

This is the kicker. John Kerry takes responsibility for and authority over the party. In this passage, he sets out his command for the future of the Democrats. John Kerry is trying to reinforce (or, some would say, protect) his position as the most visible and important Democrat. Besides, who says "roll up our sleeves" aside from future Presidential candidates?
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It's a few years and many, many political news stories away from the next Presidential campaign. It is never too early to plan, though. After losing the Presidency in 1960, Richard Nixon quickly began work to mount a more successful future bid. Could it be that John Kerry, too, sees an opportunity for future success?

Many predict (especially liberals) that the country will be in an unprecedented condition of economic, social, military, and diplomatic ruin come four years. If President Bush really does move further into the abyss of neoconservatism, as his recent cabinet shuffle seems to suggest he will, then it might not be possible for any Republican to run on his coattails in four years. If 2008 becomes the Year of the Backlash (as 2004 was supposed to be), then perhaps John Kerry will be the only person in the country able to say that he's better off now than he was four years ago.

By taking the initiative to be deeply involved in the party's process and goals, John Kerry really could launch a comeback. But do we want him to?

No matter what the true result of this year's Presidential election was, it taught Democrats an important lesson. The party is depends too much on too many questionable swing states and is quite unsuccessful with exurban, suburban, and rural voters. The Democratic Party has to retool its communication and it might be best to shed its baggage by, well, shedding its baggage.

Indeed, it might be slightly selfish for John Kerry to monopolize the center stage when other, more viable 2008ers need to gain visibility. Some Democrats are frustrated that Kerry retained some of his money without boosting his campaign or one of any number of Congressional campaigns around the country. (Fournier) Over-involvement by John Kerry could ultimately hurt the party. I think this remains to be seen, but The New Republic, with its liberal but anti-Kerry bent, has already made its decision. Its editors quip, "Kerry certainly does deserve to retain a role within the party. That role ought to be the same as it was before he ran for president: second-most influential senator from Massachusetts." (The New Republic, par. 8) The extent to which The New Republic's opinion matters may be more questionable than Kerry's proper role in the party, though, considering its endorsement of Joe Lieberman. (Peretz, par. 1) The editors are right, though, when they say that Kerry "is not an effective communicator." (The New Republic, par. 3) That the Republicans could so easily distort his message with their flip-flop campaign shows that Kerry is not a Kennedy, Reagan, or Clinton.

John Kerry, in this election, represented everything that was wrong about the Democrats: The substance is on target, but the message really, really is not. Can Democrats afford to give this man a second chance? He did demonstrate uncanny grace and pithy profundity in his concession speech, but whether he can sustain that sort of charisma is questionable...And whether all that is even enough for the dramatic change that the Democrats must embrace is also uncertain.

Nevertheless, one cannot help but applaud Kerry's endeavors. Despite an enormous setback, he is more dedicated than ever before to causes of virtue and dignity. Anyone can admire his commitment to improving America. In fact, from all of the promises of this campaign, there is only one that I trust will ring true: "I assure you--you watch--I still have yours." (Kerry, "Address" par. 6) And that is almost enough for me to make sure I have his, against all odds. For what it's worth, I'll sign Protect Every Child. I think you should, too.
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Works Cited

1. Editors. "Back to Reality." The New Republic. 10 November 2004. (http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=express&s=editorial111004)
2. Fournier, Ron. "Democrats Question Kerry's Campaign Funds." Yahoo! News/Associated Press. 17 November 2004. (http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20041117/ap_on_re_us/democrats_kerry_1)
3. Kerry, John. "Address to Supporters at Fanueil Hall." John Kerry for President. 3 November 2004. (http://www.johnkerry.com/pressroom/speeches/spc_2004_1103.html)
4. Kerry, John. "The next step." E-mail to Supporters. 19 November 2004.
5. Scotti, Ciro. "Who's the Cool Guy This Year?" BusinessWeek. 29 October 2004. (http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/oct2004/nf20041029_4248_db009.htm)
6. Peretz, Martin. "Bad Messenger." The New Republic. 11 November 2004. (http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=20041122&s=peretz112204)
7. Republican National Committee, The. "Do-Nothing Senator." G. Gordon Liddy's Official Website. (http://www.liddyshow.us/debate11.php)

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January 17, 2006 at 9:17 AM  
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