Whither John Kerry?

So asks Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post:

Does he become the party’s leading spokesman in the Senate, overshadowing little-known minority leader Harry Reid? Does he start some sort of America’s Future group and raise truckloads of cash from his donor lists and play the role of power broker? Does he use the fact that he got 56 million votes to lead the opposition to Bush while the ’08 picture sorts itself out?

Well, maybe. But Kerry is also going to be a reminder of the huge Democratic disappointment of 2004, the failure to retire a president with a vulnerable record. More pundits are coming out and saying Kerry ran a lame campaign. Unlike the Red Sox, he will have to live with that ‘L’ tag forever.

The New Republic wants him sidelined:

He’s back. Actually, he never even left. John Kerry, according to reports yesterday in The Boston Globe and The Washington Post, plans to have a prominent role in the Democratic Party. Apparently he’s contemplating a political action committee and think-tank to help define the party’s future. And, according to those around him, he’s also considering another presidential run in 2008.

Our reaction to this is … how to put it? Well, here goes: No. Please. Stop.

If the election results somehow failed to make this clear, we’d like to remind Senator Kerry that he is not an effective communicator. He tends to blather on, circling round and round his point without coming close to it. He regularly utters phrases –“global test,” “I actually voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it”–that play directly into his opponents’ hands. And he projects the image of an out-of-touch patrician that is precisely the opposite of what the Democratic Party needs.

Kerry’s inner circle has come away from the election apparently convinced that he represents the aspirations of nearly half the country. Kerry, his brother told the Globe, will “be a voice for the 55 million people who voted for him.” David Wade, Kerry’s communications director, chimed in, “There are millions upon millions of Americans who want the same change for our country that he fought for.”

It is certainly true that the election saw an enormous outpouring of activism on Kerry’s behalf. That activism, though, was motivated by opposition to Bush rather than by support for Kerry. He was merely a vessel for righteous outrage over a failed and dangerous presidency. And not a very potent vessel, either. Polls consistently showed that strong majorities of the public believed that President Bush did not deserve reelection. Bush’s strategists understood all along that their path to victory required convincing the public that Kerry was not a plausible alternative. They did so rather easily. This belies their claim to have won a popular mandate, but above all it shows that Kerry failed utterly at his task.

I’d be extremely surprised if he retains any prominence. It isn’t simply a matter of bearing a major electoral loss; it’s also a matter of having no faithful base to help Kerry stay in the limelight. As I noted a few months ago:

There isn’t even an identifiable interest group — like, say, unions for Dick Gephardt — that would do-or-die with him. Just think: Kerry’s selling point during the primaries was electability — his chances of beating George W. Bush. It’s not exactly inspiring.

In some ways, Kerry’s situation is unfair. After all, his campaign, though far from perfect, kept him within striking distance of Bush. At some point, the Republicans just deserve some credit for outperforming the Democrats.

But politics is politics. If you’re going to lose against a vulnerable incumbent, and you don’t have a loyal following from the start (how many people can truly claim to be Kerry supporters rather than just Bush opponents or Democratic partisans?), then you can bet that the party won’t be too forgiving.

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
Robert Garcia Tagorda
About Robert Garcia Tagorda
Robert blogged prolifically at OTB from November 2004 to August 2005, when career demands took him in a different direction. He graduated summa cum laude from Claremont McKenna College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and earned his Master in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.


  1. Tig says:

    George, and between himself and his wife, they have enough money to pay for everyone in the US’s health insurance, so we don’t need him to push Congress to do so, we just need him to put his and his wife’s money where his mouth is. If all American’s need health insurance, he needs to loosen the purse strings and pay the bill.

    Of course, he will definitely need to save for a substantial enough sum to make sure someone will find his two daughters attractive enough to marry.

  2. Lee says:

    Kerry is the new Gore.