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March 26, 2004
Kerry's Excuse Makers

The Washington Post's John Harris writes an article that seems more interested in making excuses for John Kerry's rhetorical stumbles than in genuine reporting or analysis:

Some Democrats are worried that their presumptive nominee's campaign is suffering from the candidate's inability to put a period in his sentences. They say an arguably trivial trait -- Kerry's penchant to wander off into the rhetorical woods -- has already proved damaging.

His explanation about a vote on funding for Iraq -- "I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it" -- was mocked by Vice President Cheney the next day, and was on the air in a commercial for President Bush the day after that.

In context, Kerry's comment to West Virginia veterans was clear: He backed the spending request only if Bush agreed to pay for it by increasing taxes on the rich, instead of adding to the deficit. Taken by itself, the remark was a gift-wrapped contribution to Bush's campaign to portray Kerry as waffling Washington politician.

Pardon me, but Harris is all wet if he thinks that explanation makes Kerry's statement all right. Kerry made it quite clear in the run-up to the vote on the $87 billion that he wanted to fund it with a partial rollback of Bush's tax cuts. But he also said that regardless whether the rollback passed, he would still vote for the funding, stating to ABC News that anything else would be irresponsible:

Asked if he would vote against the $87 billion if his amendment did not pass, Kerry said, "I don't think any United States senator is going to abandon our troops and recklessly leave Iraq to whatever follows as a result of simply cutting and running. That's irresponsible."

Kerry argued that his amendment offered a way to do it properly, "but I don't think anyone in the Congress is going to not give our troops ammunition, not give our troops the ability to be able to defend themselves. We're not going to cut and run and not do the job."

However, Kerry wound up doing exactly what he described as "irresponsible" a few weeks later. Why? Because in the intervening time, Howard Dean had charged ahead of him in the polls, fueled by the anti-war rage of the far left of the Democrats, and Kerry had dropped like a rock as a result. Kerry voted against the funding in a dishonorable, but ultimately successful, attempt to steal Dean's message -- to become the electable version of Dean.

So, no, this isn't an example of the American public misunderstanding Kerry's so-called "nuance"; his blunder here was much more than rhetorical, and the Bush advertisement perfectly captures the essence of Kerry's character. Reworking his speech won't undo the reversals of positions and the contortions Kerry will need to make to explain them. Unfortunately, as in this example, any explanation that even hopes to cover all the positions Kerry takes will have to be filled with "nuance".

In his case, the style fits the substance, and Harris' refusal to consider it reduces this analysis to nothing more than spin. If this is an example of the type of reporting we can expect to see from the Post during this election, I certainly hope that they've already arranged their IRS paperwork as a 527.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 26, 2004 9:02 PM

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