Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Kerry v. Bush

With the Tennessee and Virginia results in, it looks like Clark will drop out and Edwards is on life support. Too bad. I think Kerry's a tolerable general election candidate, but I'm adamant in my belief that both Clark (less gaffe-proned as the compaign wore on) and Edwards are *much* better general election candidates. Not that Kerry doesn't have a good shot given Bush's weaknesses. And I'm not that fearful that Rove's "Massachusetts liberal" tact will fatally wound JFK.

But Kerry's got three serious problems:

(1) An inconsistent, problematic record that raises a lot of questions and can be easily distorted. (See TNR two weeks ago for more.)

(2) A biography and voting record that contradict the themes of his campaign. He voted for all the bills Dems are worked up about: the Iraq resolution, Patriot Act, Leave No Child Behind. He takes money from special interests. He's a Boston Brahmin married to the Heinz heiress who's fighting for the little people. Jesus.

(3) He wears badly. He's tiresome to listen to with a pompous voice and an antiquated speaking manner. And everytime they play his long-winded, prepositional-clause riddled sound bites on NPR ("I know aircraft carriers for real...And if George Bush and Karl Rove...want to make national security the central issue in this presidential campaign...I have but three words for them...that I am sure they understand..."Bring it On.") I shudder. In a bad way. Jesus.

Just added! Links to some terrific rebuttals of the Kerry is Electable meme, by three of the best observers of the presidential horse race, Will Saletan, Noam Scheiber and Jon Chait. Both make the good case that Kerry just isn't all that electable, or if he is, he certainly hasn't proved it. Kerry may well win. But he should've been held to the fire the way Dean was. Because of the backlash in Iowa to Dean and Gephardt's negative tactics, Kerry was never tested -- questioned about a host of inconsistencies. And this short campaign season, where voters beyond Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina don't really get a good, sustained look at these candidates, it's very likely buyer's remorse will set in on Kerry. Hell, I haven't even bought his bill of goods and I'm dejected.

If Kerry flames out against Bush, the blame will rest with Terry McAuliffe, the chair of the DNC who devised this accelerated primary schedule where January momentum becomes destiny. Had the primary season stretched out like it did in 1992, I think Edwards would have a good shot at overtaking Kerry. Now, primary season is just a coronation, and we're in danger of annointing the Democratic equivalent of Bob Dole as our champion.


I wonder if the antipathy to Kerry isn't just a blogosphere echo chamber phenomenon, much like Dean's support turned out to be. Kerry has very few fans in the blogosphere. He's hated almost as much as Dubya on The Daily Kos, ground central of left-leaning election junkies. And I wonder if that isn't partly because, besides his personality problems, he's old news, part of the national political scenery for as long as I can remember.

One explanation of Kerry antipathy is that the new and fresh are the lifeblood of journalists and internet junkies. We crave new info. Who wants to eat at Black Angus when the new Argentine-Thai fusion restaurant has been written up? Is my bias against the stalwart Kerry, reinforced by blogs and pundits, a product of this bias for the new? Why did political junkies overwhelmingly favor Edwards and Clark, fresh faces and largely unknown quantities? I'm inclined to think it's a partial explanation, though I still think Kerry's numerous deficiencies extend beyond his staleness.