Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Throw It Away: My last issue of TNR showed up yesterday, and it appears to be all about how bold and thoughtful Kerry is for picking Edwards. Recall that this is the magazine that wouldn't give Kerry the time of day in January. Worse, the lead-off column, Pete Beinart's Republic Bulletin, is a suck-up piece of the first water. This is part of my problem with TNR: Beinart was always my idea of a reasonable Democrat -- partisan but not spiteful, intelligent but not arrogant -- a Razorian Democrat, if I may coin a term. Now comes Beinart in this issue to tell us that
[i]n choosing John Edwards as his running mate, John Kerry displayed a trait rare among politicians: true self-confidence.
He would have shown self-confidence by picking McCain, too, implicitly declaring his party bereft of VP material. Who cares? One gets the feeling that Kerry has never lacked for self-confidence, founded or not. What he hasn't shown is principle. He wouldn't have shown it picking McCain, and he didn't show it by picking Edwards.
Republicans will likely argue that Edwards's outsized influence reflects Kerry's weakness. But it is actually a sign of both political and governmental strength. In Iowa, remember, Kerry won in part by borrowing from Dean--sprinkling his stump speech with phrases like "bring it on," which echoed Dean's blunt, angry style.
Ditto. What the hell does Kerry stand for? This guy's a pastiche of whatever's selling today, and Beinart would have called him on it months ago. Look, I understand getting behind your candidate, being loyal to the party, etc. But have we come to the point of praising an empty-vessel candidate for his excellent borrowing? Jon Chait made a long and rather boring argument in defense of Rubinomics a few weeks ago in a TNR debate with Bob Samuelson. I didn't entirely agree with him, but he had some good points -- one of which was that an agressive program of deficit reduction and free trade was a success. It may, in fact, come to be seen as Clinton's real, if rather incidental, contribution to domestic policy. (Rubinomics: Step one, get yourself a roaring economic boom . . .) Anyway, Kerry, like most of the other Dems for Pres this year, was more than happy to jettison the free trade portion of the equation as soon as the Senator from Breck appeared to be succeeding with the protection racket. (Give Edwards this: he was able to kill 'em softly -- sob stories and soft-pedaled heartland pro-Americanism. Kerry barged in, with typical subtlety, howling about "outsourcing" and "Benedict Arnold CEOs.")

So now the empty-vessel candidate, in a move that smacks of naked political machination, takes as his running mate the soft-focus protectionist because it sells, and Beinart can only spin it as the wisdom of Solomon.

Having forfeited some control over his choice of running mate, Kerry is now about to forfeit some control over his campaign's message. Most veeps quietly shelve whatever independent vision or positions they had prior to joining the ticket so as to perfectly match the nominee. In this case, however, it is Kerry who is shifting his message in response to Edwards. In his speech announcing the selection, Kerry said, "As so many of you know, throughout the campaign, John talked about the great divide in this country--the 'two Americas'--that exists between those who are doing well and those who are struggling to make it from day to day. That concern is at the center of this campaign."
This is praise, by the way. Beinart thinks this all proves that Kerry is working to get the party on board, admitting that he has flaws as a candidate, etc. Facile analysis, at best. If you're Ronald Reagan, and you've just hijacked the party of Rockefeller Republicanism and thrown the rudder hard right, you may want to toss a bone to the base in the person of George H.W. Bush -- a non-ideologue compromiser, top level bureaucrat, diplomat, etc. -- even if you don't like him. But this year? Man, the Democrat faithful will follow John Kerry over a cliff based solely on who his opponent is. (And over a cliff may just be where Kerry is taking them if he wants to ride "Two America" protectionism and European diplo-petting into the White House.) With the base energized, this would be a year to go long, go for the open man in the end zone. Kerry, instead, is running on dicredited economic ideas that no serious thinker in the party believes (and which he borrowed from his VP, who has the sole qualification of having been in the Senate for about 45 minutes) and a platitudinous but non-specific foreign policy that would have somehow finessed the Iraq war such to make America safe, keep Europe happy, reduce the threat of terror, kill crabgrass, and find that slipper that's been at large under the chaise longue for several weeks.

If Kerry loses, it's bad for the party. But if he wins, it's bad for the country. You needn't be a GOP stalwart to believe this either. Clintonism wasn't just the Dems best run since LBJ drove the New Frontier into the Great Society/Vietnam ditch; it was their only one. Joe Lieberman's muscular Clintonism, the real hope of the party, seemed anachronistic in the primaries, as every other candidate either exploded on stage or practiced regular contortionism to keep sounding like he opposed George Bush's every turn of madness while also keeping the headlines at his back. Given that old Joe was the VP candidate last time around, you'd think he could muster double digits. I suppose that's what you can expect when you won't trade your principles for a good catchphrase.

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