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May 30, 2004
John Tierney Attempts Spin Control

The New York Times' John Tierney reviews the John Kerry nomination two-step in his political roundup today, noting that the episode has some of the earmarks of a trial balloon. If that's the case, Tierney's piece has all of the indicators of spin control, trying to give the Kerry campaign a boost it doesn't deserve for this debacle:

The news broke on a Friday afternoon, politicians' favorite time for leaking problematic stories they hope will not get noticed by the public over the weekend. At first glance, it looked like a radical idea being put out discreetly to test reaction among the chattering classes a classic trial balloon. But campaign officials have steadfastly insisted, on and off the record, that the leak was not authorized, and other Democrats say they believe them. As one well-connected Democratic strategist noted, it was hard to believe professionals would have planned this one.

I think that Tierney had it right the first time. The Friday release intended to catch most people on their way out the door, and the relentlessly bogged down Kerry campaign needed to act boldly to demonstrate they really want to win, rather than just stand pat and hope Bush self-destructs by November. No trial-balloon leak is ever acknowledged as "authorized" -- if it was, it would be a press release -- and the fact that other Democrats believe the campaign means little. It's the only campaign Democrats have.

"Instead of pressing the button for a trial balloon, they hit the one for ton of bricks," he said. "The story should never have come out as an idea being considered by the campaign. The idea should have come from the outside. If other Democratic politicians and activists and columnists had started promoting it, there might have been a chance to build support. You want it to look as if Kerry is just responding to popular demand as if he'd be stupid not to go along with everyone else."

All of which assumes that the Kerry campaign knows what it's doing, when all indications thus far have been the opposite.

Still, Democrats said the episode served some purpose, if inadvertently. By reminding the party faithful of Mr. Bush's August fund-raising advantage, the publicity presumably encouraged them to give more before then you could call it a way of monetizing the base. And some Democrats were impressed to see the response by Mr. Kerry, who has often been accused of indecisiveness.

"When an unexpected situation comes up, the reaction is an important lesson about the candidate's leadership," said Jenny Backus, a Democratic consultant. "Once this idea got out there way before its time, it was encouraging to see him act quickly and decisively. He avoided death by a thousand paper cuts all summer."

Tierney just becomes fanciful here. Kerry's decisive response, you will recall, was to support the idea of delaying the nomination, not squelching it. In doing so, he reached into history to come up with two, and only two, examples of a delayed nomination: Woodrow Wilson and Harry Truman:

"Once again, the Republicans don't know history, and they don't know facts," he said. "The truth is that it used to be that the convention, after nomination, traveled to the home or the state of the nominee to inform them they've been nominated. Woodrow Wilson was at his house in Princeton, N.J.; Harry Truman was in Independence," Mo., he said. "They're trying to make an issue out of something that they're surprised by, because . . . they're very upset someone might have a way of neutralizing their advantage."

As I blogged at the time, now that we've invented television and the internet, having a candidate live a thousand miles from the convention no longer presents a problem like that faced by Woodrow Wilson. Perhaps someone should inform Kerry about the marvelous changes in communication technology we enojy since 1948. On the other hand, someone should also tell the senator from Massachussetts that Boston is where he lives. How is that analogous to Truman's nomination?

The following day, Kerry flip-flopped and abandoned the idea of the delayed acceptamce, saying "Boston is the place where America's freedom began, and it's where I want the journey to the Democratic nomination to be completed. On Thursday, July 29, with great pride, I will accept my party's nomination for president in the city of Boston. From there we will begin our journey to a new America."

In other words, Kerry was for the nomination before he was against it, and afterwards, too. That's decisive? That's leadership? No wonder they need Bill Clinton to start campaigning on their behalf. In comparison to Kerry, Clinton's notorious poll-driven decisionmaking will look positively rash by comparison. I would guess that they will need John Tierney to spin the campaign in the Gray Lady for the next several months, too.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 30, 2004 8:38 AM

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