It’s Bush vs. Kerry

Jeff Jacoby writes in today’s Boston Globe,

John Kerry is going to be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. And that means that President Bush is one step closer to reelection.

Just as they did four years ago with Al Gore, in 1988 with Michael Dukakis, in 1984 with Walter Mondale, and in 1980 with Jimmy Carter, the Democrats are poised to nominate a tedious blister as their standard bearer. In the months ahead, the voters will be harangued and hectored by Kerry, who will lecture them about how Bush has been the worst president in modern times, the Bush economy the most desperate, the Bush foreign policy the most reckless.

As spring and summer give way to fall, it will gradually dawn on many of them that Kerry isn’t actually saying anything. What was true of the first President Bush, they will discover, is true of Kerry: He has no “vision thing.” He has a sonorous answer to every question, but the more he talks — and he talks a lot; his default setting is “filibuster” — the less voters will be able to put their finger on why he wants to be president or whether anything about him is more than an inch deep.

“Excited by his resume, his panache as a war hero, Americans from coast to coast will be disappointed in the real man,” writes Jack Beatty, an ardent liberal, in The Atlantic Online. “They will long for him to stop his answers at the one-minute mark and by Minute 2 will have tuned out, and by Minute 3 will pine for the terse nullity of George W. Bush.”

I tend to agree with this assessment of Kerry. I disagreed with much that Dick Gephardt and John Edwards had to say, but clearly understood what they stood for. And it’s also true that Americans tend not to like candidates who are overly wonkish and lecture at them. Witness the California recall election for the latest example–Bustamante was clearly more qualified to be governor than Schwarzenegger but didn’t excite anyone with his charisma. Still, while Reagan clobbered Carter and Mondale, Gore actually outpolled Bush, narrowly losing the electoral vote. And Carter did win the presidency his first go-round, although against another dull candidate in Ford. Jacoby agrees that it’s not a slam dunk:

Democrats thought Reagan was an idiot and a cowboy as well, too simplistic and dangerous to be given the keys to the White House. “When the globe is a tinderbox, we need a president who knows what he’s doing. We need a president who . . . has been tested by experience, who has read and remembered history . . . who sees force as a last and not as a first resort.” That was Walter Mondale in 1984, sounding a lot like Kerry in 2004.

Unlike Reagan, Bush isn’t going to win a 49-state landslide — the nation is too divided now. Indeed, Bush may not win at all, especially if the war takes a sudden bad turn. But he is likelier to win with an opponent like Kerry, who looks great only at first — only until voters realize how much less there is to him than meets the eye.

Bush lacks Reagan’s oratorical skills and has never been in a movie with Jesse Ventura blowing up aliens. But he does have a core belief system that’s obvious to the voters. Whether they’ll like it enough to give him another term is another question. My guess is that they will and by a more comfortable margin than in 2000. But it’ll still be a close race; very few of the “blue” states–or the “red” ones–are in play.

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, The Presidency, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Moe Lane says:

    The problem with Bush is that if you disagree with his opinion on something you probably won’t change his mind; the problem with Kerry is that if you disagree with his opinion on something he’ll change it for you in a heartbeat.

    I think that I’d rather have the former problem, not the latter.

  2. Paul says:

    Moe said it pretty well but I gotta confess I love this line from Jacoby:

    “As spring and summer give way to fall, it will gradually dawn on many of them that Kerry isn’t actually saying anything. “

    That sums up the whole race in one sentence.

  3. Rodney Dill says:

    Put the Ass back in Mass. (c) 2004 – Rodney Dill
    (send Kerry home)

    Bush/Cheney 2004

  4. melvin toast says:

    People say that Bush has the edge as long as the war doesn’t turn bad. There’s something else that may turn bad. Bush 43 may drop a Willie Horton type bomb on Kerry or Kerry may get caught up in a real scandal. What happens if some Vietnamese lady comes out and says Kerry killed babies?

    Terry MacAweful thought that frontloading the primary would give their guy more time to campaign. But when their guy is basically a fraud, Kerry, time is a liability