By ELLEN GOODMAN
BOSTON — I have long believed that any columnist who writes about a presidential election more than two years before Election Day should have her fingers peeled from her keyboard and be taken off to a rehab clinic for political junkies. The only reason I risk that fate now is to soothe an escalating series of anxiety attacks that range from “Uh-oh” to “Oh, no” to a shrieking “YIPES!”
The signs that John Kerry is going to run for president in 2008 are rising faster than the pollen count. There was the requisite New York Times op-ed — How many days late? How many dollars short? — on getting out of Iraq. There was the speech supporting war dissenters at Boston’s Faneuil Hall to an audience of groupies yelling “Run” and “2008.” There was Ted Kennedy’s remark, “If he runs, I’m supporting him.”
And then there was his op-ed in The Manchester Union-Leader defending New Hampshire’s place as first-in-the-nation primary. A true profile in courage.
All of this leads me to blurt out: “Stop Him Before He Kills (the Democrats’ Chances) Again.”
I am not an opponent of Kerry. I’m a constituent. I’ve voted for him six different times. On Nov. 2, 2004, I briefly wished that the Constitution let us to pick a president by the early exit polls.
Moreover, I fully understand Kerry’s longing to take it once more from the top. After losing an election, you wake up at night thinking about how you shoulda woulda coulda done it betta. You nurture the irresistible fantasy that next time you’d do it right. This is why serial lovers keep getting into the same sort of relationship. Now I’ve got it!
But let’s go to the 2004 videotape. In the primaries, Kerry was Every democrat’s second choice. After Super Tuesday, the common wisdom was that Kerry won because he could win. An Ohio voter even told a reporter, “This guy just looks presidential. And in this country I think it’s all about the image.” It wasn’t a presidential primary, it was a presidential casting call.
Democrats are cute when they get pragmatic, but not necessarily successful. This time, the stalwarts were convinced they’d found a moderate who couldn’t be polarized. But he was. They thought they found a decorated veteran — three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star — who couldn’t be trashed. But he was.
Kerry is not the only one who still imagines a thousand belated rejoinders for the Swift boat attackers. He’s not the only one who cannot believe he actually said of Iraq War funding, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.”
In “Politics Lost,” Joe Klein blames “the pollster-consultant industrial complex” of focus groups and strategists and market-tested messages for the current state of politics. But he also says, damningly, that in 2004, “Kerry proved weak, indecisive and, yes, aloof.”
Remember Bush versus Anybody But Bush? Remember Web sites like KerryHatersforKerry.com announcing, “He’s awful and I’m for him”? In the end, a majority of likely voters thought we were on the wrong track and voted for the conductor anyway. In the end, the president who lied to us about war and weapons of mass destruction looked like the straight talker. That’s how bad it was.
Kerry had many fine moments. I saw some of them on the trail and in the debates. But as many have said, Kerry is a politician who has more policies than ideas. Ask what he believes in and the answer is a 10-point plan. He ran a cautious campaign against a reckless commander in chief. And while caution is not a moral failing, Kerry’s gut seems to have a surgical bypass through his cranium.
This time he’d get it right? What the Democrats need this time out is not a messenger honed to squeak on the margin of undecideds, but a vision of what’s gone wrong in the country and how to right it. As Michael Tomasky writes in The American Prospect, they need a liberal message of the common good that trumps the conservative message — a view that we are in this globalized, post-industrial, post-9/11 world together and must “pull together, make some sacrifices, and, just sometimes, look beyond our own interests to solve our problems and create the future.”
John Kerry is a good, honorable, thoughtful man. And a lousy presidential candidate. He couldn’t do “ideas” the first time. He wouldn’t do them the second time. It’s just not in him.
Watching his warm-up, I’m reminded of a parking place in my neighborhood. It looks open and tempting. But over it is a sign that warns: Don’t Park Here. Don’t Even Think About It.
John, please. Don’t even think about it.
By ELLEN GOODMAN
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