Muffing the Bounce

Charles Krauthammer explains why he thinks Kerry got no “bounce” from the convention.

The Democrats and their pollsters will tell you this is because the electorate has already made up its mind. But if that is the case, why are they campaigning? Why have a convention in the first place? In reality, at least 10 percent of the population is undecided, and John Kerry’s convention appears to have gotten none of them.

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The explanation that respects the intelligence of the American people is that Kerry had nothing to say. Well, one thing: Vietnam. His entire speech, the entire convention, was a celebration of his military service. The salute. The band of brothers. The Swift boat metaphors. The attribution of everything — from religious values to foreign policy wisdom — to Kerry’s five-month stint in Vietnam 35 years ago.

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The whole claim is, of course, ex post facto disingenuousness. For all his fawning imitation of John F. Kennedy, Kerry missed the central irony: Who was it that sent Kerry and the others into the disastrous Vietnam War if not Kennedy (Navy and Marine Corps Medal), Lyndon Johnson (Silver Star) and an entire political establishment that had served in World War II and Korea?

Yes, Vietnam service gives Kerry a credential for high office. But beyond that, what is there? His biography, as presented to the world, was this: He was born, went to Vietnam and is now running for president. Just about his entire adult life is a 30-year void. The hagiographic film at the convention omitted his first entry into politics (his failed run for Congress in 1972, an attempt to cash in immediately on his Vietnam/antiwar service). There was no mention of the fact that his first elected office was as Michael Dukakis’s lieutenant governor. And practically nothing was said about his 20 years of deeply unmemorable service in the Senate.

The convention gave no bounce because it consisted of but two elements: Vietnam, plus attacks on the president. The press swallowed the claim that the convention, following a directive from on high, was not negative. In fact, that meant simply that Al Gore was not to repeat his charges that the Bush administration is allied with “digital brownshirts” and running a “gulag.” And that Bush was not to be attacked by name. But the themes were transparently negative: We are not the party that misleads you into war. We are not the party that trashes the Constitution. We are not the party that acts unilaterally. And my favorite, because of its Escher-like yogiism: We are not the party that divides the country — as opposed to those lying, Constitution-trashing, unilateralist Republican cowboys.

None of this is out of bounds, mind you. It is simply politically stupid. It does not work. Why? Because the political market has, as they say on Wall Street, already discounted these negatives. The people have already registered all the bad news of the past six months that has sent Bush’s approval ratings plummeting.

Quite right.

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.