A few weeks back, in discussing the effects of the Democratic Convention, I mentioned that one thing we should agree on, is that John Kerry was ahead. Now that the Republican Convention has been held, while there is a measure of debate about the different results from the polls, it should, as a starting point, be agreed that the President is clearly in the lead. This does not, of course, mean that the election is decided, not with eight weeks remaining and all they contain in words, events, and debate, but we have to start with at least one reasonable foundation, and here that means we start with a President leading his challenger after Labor Day.
Historically, that bodes well for the President, though it’s fair to remind Republicans that these are unique times. If the War in Iraq must not be confused with the wars before it when considering whether it might hurt Bush, it should also be remembered when considering whether Kerry is really out of things. Of course, in a way that statement is disingenuous, as it suggests that the War, rather than the Economy, is the driving force for this election, which History would quickly disprove. FDR got into trouble in his 1944 campaign, in large part because the Second World War was expensive and many people had begun to question why the economy was still so tight, and rationing of oil, sugar, rubber, and metal still continuing. If it was reasonable to debate the Economy while fighting Hitler, it’s reasonable to debate the Economy while fighting Osama.
But actually, I’m still not being fair to Senator Kerry. He did bring up the Economy earlier in the campaign, actually; he just couldn’t get any traction with it. Now that Unemployment is down to 5.4% (‘full employment’ by a number of classic definitions), and the GDP continues to rise, and Consumer Confidence remains stronger than it was in 2002 or 2003, poor John is going to have to figure out how to make his cry for ‘change’ sound reasonable. That, and given his long concentration of focus on his Vietnam in-country service, makes it hard for John to change his theme and argument now.
The other serious problem for John Kerry, is the limited remaining opportunities he has to get his message out. Early in the campaign, John had the chance to reach voters with his message during the primaries. When he realized that Howard Dean was not winning over the voters, Senator Kerry became John “Not Dean” Kerry, and took Iowa. When he became the front-runner, John Kerry began to fed off discontent against President Bush, and so changed his campaign to John “Not Bush” Kerry, which essentially got him the DNC nomination.
Unfortunately for John, he was unfamiliar with the nature of a national campaign, and so it came as a shock to Kerry to discover, that folks in Nebraska don’t think the way folks do in Massachusetts, that what sells in Connecticut might fall flat in Missouri. Oops.
Kerry compounded the problem, by refusing to reconsider his message. After all, he reasoned, he was the one with experience and deep appreciation of subtlety. Imagine finding out Marines didn’t value subtlety the way he did, that people would put American interests ahead of an internationalist worldview. How plebian, how parochial!
So, John Kerry set out to prove himself a regular guy. Maybe he couldn’t pull off ‘Joe Six-Pack’, but surely the regular people could appreciate a fine Chablis? Certainly they didn’t expect him to really eat food at Wendy’s? Surely they would find deer hunting on your belly, and regular trips to the coast for windsurfing ,to be regular-guy stuff? Oops.
So, as his lead refused to grow, John Kerry realized he had to find a hook to show he was a red-meat American, even if his plate was all Quiche and truffles. And that meant rolling out the home movies of John “Purple Heart” Kerry. A few dozen phone calls to guys he used to know, and with favors promised and stories embellished, the Convention theme was ready to go, complete with television flag and fireworks, and protesters carefully barriered behind concrete and wire. John told (again & again) his heroic exploits in ‘Nam, making sure that everyone had heard him at least four or five times, and the Senator waited for the plaudits to roll in and his lead to grow.
Well, the media gave him praise, but the lead didn’t grow. In fact, it shrank. After a while, it went away, and after a while longer, it showed up on the doorstep of President Bush, begging to be let in. Ooops.
John Kerry went into an extended mope. How could this be! He raged at the empty house, and for that got into trouble with Tereza. After all, a politician may be forgiven, unless he is a losing politician. Ooops.
So, here we are, John “Mutating Message” Kerry watching President Bush slowly pull away to re-election, and trying to figure out what to do about it. The debates lie ahead in October, and there are eight weeks of trash ads from Soros and Moore and Kerry’s other shadowy ‘527’ friends to be endured, but it’s hard, at this point, to see what gains John “I’m Not Like Michael Moore, I Just Talk Like Him” Kerry can produce from his new plan.
It’s kind of sad, when you can begin the political post-mortem before the patient is done twitching, but then, it is just as sad, when a major-party candidate actually fools himself into thinking he can win the White House on nothing more than spite and nuance.