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May 23, 2004
The Kerry Fire Drill Strategy

The Washington Post reviews the latest weather-vaning going on at the John Kerry campaign in an article humorously titled "Kerry Broadens Scope of His Pitch." Instead, Jim VanderHei and Dan Balz document the essence of the Kerry campaign as it has bounced between constituencies like a pinball at the arcade, promising centrism to one audience while defending leftist policies to another, and all the while with Democrats excusing his shiftiness as necessary to win the White House regardless of his misrepresentations.

For example, Kerry's allies have not only pressured John McCain to accept the VP role but also Chuck Hagel, another Republican, despite significant policy differences. The Post never mentions anything about Kerry's outreach to Democrats, leaving the impression that Kerry's handlers believe that only a bipartisan ticket will win in November. In other policy venues, Kerry continues to play both sides of the fence, with increasing shamelessness:

Despite the unity among Democrats, Kerry is working feverishly to placate liberals who might feel slighted by his new approach. At a recent private meeting, the Massachusetts senator assured gay rights activists that his public silence on the gay marriage debate does not reflect his strong, personal commitment to their issues, participants said.

Kerry advisers said a strong public defense of gay marriage could undermine the candidate's appeal in culturally conservative states, so he rarely raises it on the hustings. Last week, after speaking in Topeka, Kan., at a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's school desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education, he was asked why he did not mention gay marriage, since that day also marked the first day his home state was allowing such unions. He brushed aside the questions without answering.

He even played the same game with Ralph Nader, which may explain why Kerry's tete-a-tete with the independent candidate didn't convince Nader to go home:

While Kerry often portrays himself as a Bill Clinton Democrat in public, he seemed to distance himself from the former centrist president during a private meeting last week with independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, who is challenging the presumptive Democratic nominee from the left flank and who complained that the party has sold out to corporate interests.

" 'Don't judge me by the people who preceded me,' " Kerry told Nader, according to a Kerry aide who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity. " 'You may have had a disagreement with Bill Clinton, or Al Gore, or the Democratic leadership in Congress . . . but that's not me. I have fought with you, I have been with you on a range of issues.' "

Earlier this year, Kerry told audiences that on economic policy, he would follow in Clinton's tradition: "If you liked what Bill Clinton gave you in eight years, you'll love what John Kerry will give you in the first four."

So far, his allies won't hold him accountable, not even in the rabid abortion-rights community:

What is more remarkable to many Democrats is how Kerry is catching little flak from the party's base even when he strays from liberal orthodoxy. Abortion rights groups, for example, defended Kerry this past week when he told the Associated Press he would consider nominating antiabortion judges. Even so, Kerry sent a clear message to the base hours later when he issued a statement saying he would never appoint an abortion rights opponent to the Supreme Court.

In other words, what we have here is a candidate who will say anything to get elected. He's not broadening "the scope of his pitch"; he's running a cockeyed fire drill, going in every direction at once in order to tell people what he thinks they want to hear. His claim of the natural heir to the Clinton legacy is much more true than Democrats would like us to know. On the other hand, the core Dems don't really care -- all they care about is beating Bush, not outlining any core principles or policies. Everything, apparently, is negotiable, according to one of the most liberal members of Congress:

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), a liberal who supported former Vermont governor Howard Dean for the nomination, said most Democrats are turning a blind eye to the candidate's centrist positions, such as an across-the-board tax cut for U.S. corporations. He called the plan little more than "campaign rhetoric."

"That's not going to get me upset," he said. "The basic thing here is you won't see people getting bent out of shape about anything going on in the moment."

The only thing that could turn liberal Democrats against Kerry would be a dramatic turn for the worse for Kerry in polls, several Democrats said.

If Kerry thinks this approach will help change his flip-flop image, he's more deluded than I suspected. You couldn't draw a better caricature of an unprincipled politician doing anything to get elected if you tried, and the fact that VanderHei and Balz wrote this as an optimistic look at the Kerry campaign makes it even worse.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 23, 2004 11:00 AM

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