Kerry: Right Track?

David Brooks [RSS] believes Kerry is on the right track.

John Kerry is doing exactly what he should be doing right now. He is in a post-primary molting season. He’s emerging from the shadow of Howard Dean and becoming more like the policy twin of Joe Lieberman: a pro-trade, fiscally conservative centrist Democrat who is willing to pour more troops into Iraq to win the war.

If Kerry had charged ahead with a primary-season message, he would have come out as the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. He would have still been wailing about Benedict Arnold C.E.O.’s and Iraq’s descent into a new Vietnam. He would have stressed the evils of globalization, and blamed the Bush administration for exaggerating the terror threat to stoke a climate of fear.

That’s a one-way ticket to McGovernsville. Even liberals know liberalism doesn’t win general elections; that’s why they decided not to nominate Dean in the first place. So Kerry is absolutely correct to take some time off, retool the message and play the quadrennial game that smart nominees play: Shaft the Left.

This is longstanding conventional wisdom, although it may not be sound advice this season. If in fact we’re essentially a 50-50 nation, then energizing the base is key. And Dean didn’t lose because there was a rational calculation that he was too far to the left but because the rigors of the campaign process showed him to be a Grade A flake, if not just a bit unhinged.

Oddly, Brooks goes from saying Kerry should portray himself as a centrist if he wants to win to saying that Kerry’s main problem is a lack of convictions:

The one big problem they are not addressing — and are actually making worse — is the creepy tone of prudentialism that envelops this campaign. Nobody is passionate about John Kerry. Primary voters embraced him in a calculating frame of mind. Party leaders talk about him ambivalently. Even Kerry seems coolly calculating about himself.

He has not communicated a consuming sense of mission that emanates from the soul and transcends political self-interest. You can position a candidate intelligently, and the Democrats are doing that. You cannot fake that sense of historic calling that actually inspires people.

So, he needs to fake moderation but not come across as calculating, which would require faking being actually moderate which, unfortunately, one can’t fake? That’s not an enviable position. And how passionate can a moderate be, anyway?

Matt Yglesias argues that one can, too, fake a sense of historic calling, it’s just Kerry that seems unable to do it. I tend to agree. Bill Clinton could have faked it, I’m quite sure.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Unlike Sen. Liberman, Sen. Kerry has not asserted a consistent platform regarding the war on terror. Merely saying he’s against terrorism isn’t quite enough; his recent, seeminly knee-jerk response to leave matters to the UN seems counter to his speeches he gave just 14 months ago.

  2. Paul says:

    If Kerry had charged ahead with a primary-season message, he would have come out as the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. He would have still been wailing about Benedict Arnold C.E.O.’s and Iraq’s descent into a new Vietnam. He would have stressed the evils of globalization, and blamed the Bush administration for exaggerating the terror threat to stoke a climate of fear.

    I really not sure where Brooks has been. Kerry has done all of those things. Was this satire?

  3. James Joyner says:

    Brooks meant AFTER the primaries. Kerry might not have said much of this since winning the nomination.

  4. Paul says:

    So did I.

    He whined about Bush trying to scare people over 9/11 just yesterday or the day before.

    On earth day (only like 4 days ago) he railed against foreign cars. (except the ones he own)

    And he dabbled in the Iraq=Vietnam thing Monday. (granted Kennedy really carries that ball)

    These are just the ones I remember in the last 3-5 days.