Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Blaming Kerry. The commentary over John Kerry's decision to fire campaign manager Jim Jordan is all the same: it's Kerry's fault, it's the candidate not the handler, his message is muddled, he's Gore II (a line pushed especially hard by Jim VandeHei in this morning's Washington Post), blah, blah, blah.

All this is true up to a point. But consider, if you will, the possibility that Kerry's biggest problem is that he cast a principled vote that he knew would be unpopular with the liberal activists who control the Democratic primary process.

I'm referring, of course, to his decision last fall to side with the majority in authorizing George W. Bush to go to war against Iraq. No, I wasn't happy with his vote, but I understood it.

Everyone -- even Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder -- believed Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction. Long-term UN inspections were the best way to go, something that is even more obvious now than it was then. But there was considerable merit to the argument that Saddam would give the finger to the world if there weren't also a credible threat of force coming from the US.

We didn't know then what we know now: that Saddam's WMD capabilities were vastly overblown, aided and abetted by Bush-administration lies over Nigerien yellowcake, aluminum tubes, and the like. Kerry certainly doesn't want to announce publicly that he was duped, given that almost the entire rationale for his candidacy is his deep experience in foreign policy. So he flounders and flops, trying desperately to explain his vote to party activists who will never fully forgive him for having abandoned his antiwar roots.

So perhaps the pundit who comes the closest to explaining the dire state of Kerry's campaign this morning is Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi, in a piece headlined "Kerry's Irreversible Error."

Vennochi's view of Kerry's pro-Bush vote last fall is entirely cynical, which I guess makes sense if you believe that (1) Kerry thought he already had the Democratic nomination sewed up and therefore (2) he was positioning himself to peel moderate independents away from Bush in the general-election campaign. That's a lot of presupposing.

But Vennochi gets it right when she says:

Reversing the Kerry slide is going to be difficult, because Kerry cannot reverse the single biggest mistake he made as a presidential candidate: voting for the Iraq war resolution. His vote represents the get-tough-by-getting-to-the-middle brand of thinking that is big in Democratic Leadership Council circles. That thinking, however, is not popular with grass-roots Democratic activists in Iowa and New Hampshire. It pushed them right into the arms of antiwar candidate Howard Dean.

I don't know Kerry. I do know that reporters who've covered him the longest don't seem to like him very much. Yesterday ABC's "The Note" -- in a fictitious memo from Jim Jordan to Kerry's new campaign manager, Mary Beth Cahill -- called the Globe's reporting on Kerry "the most relentlessly negative coverage of any presidential candidate EVER by a hometown paper." (Click here if "The Note" has been updated by the time you read this.)

That's a bit much, and the "Note"-sters may have been trying to reflect Jordan's views rather than make any sort of objective assessment. But there's no doubt the Globe has been rough on Kerry at times.

In the midst of all this cynicism and negativity, it would be interesting if it turned out Kerry's downfall was the result of his being too principled rather than too calculating.

The politics of Macs versus PCs. One would have thought it unnecessary to revisit that less-than-penetrating question at the Rock the Vote debate over which computers the candidates prefer.

But reader A.S.B. points me to this absolutely hilarious account of what really happened, written by the hapless questioner in a letter to the Brown Daily Herald.

The link was working last night, but it appears to be overloaded this morning. Read it if you can. If you can't, try this link to the NewsMax.com site. Essentially, the student was bullied into asking the question, and was told that if she didn't, she wouldn't get her 15 seconds of media glory.

Hilarious but also outrageous. Shame on CNN and Rock the Vote. The debate was stupid enough without their witless attempts to dumb it down even more.

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