The Kerry problem
Listen to him, and consider whether he would make a good... a good... zzzzzzzzz...
OK, here's the problem I have with John Kerry as the Democratic presidential nominee:
This is not a startling revelation of any sort. But sometimes the most obvious factors are, indeed, the most important. And as a man whose ability to electrify and audience, compared to the other remaining Democratic presidential contenders, is second to just about all, the fact that Kerry has now convincingly won both Iowa and New Hampshire is a measure of either Kerry's other considerable talents or the fact that Iowans and Granite Staters don't get out much.
More and more Democrats are concluding, as polls suggested participants in the first two states had, that electability -- the ability of a candidate to beat Dubya -- is their most important criteria, trumping any and all of the usual issue litmus tests.
But Bush would cream Kerry.
With the exception of Joe Lieberman, who could be out by the time you read this, and Gen. Wesley "Dr. Strangelove and Mr. Hyde" Clark, I really am neither alarmed by, nor particularly passionate about, the prospective policies of the remaining major candidates. As a president, Kerry would doubtless be serviceable -- not great, but a massive upgrade on what's now being inflicted on the world. Problem is, he can't get from here to there.
Whether we like it or not -- and I hate it -- there can be no doubt that a large chunk of the electorate these days factors personality heavily in its decision as to whom to support. Even worse, it's not even the person's actual personality -- for all I know, Kerry might be a perfectly pleasant fellow -- as how it projects on TV. I hate this, because policies are policies; a candidate can direct the public's attention to or away from the good or bad ones he's chosen in his career, but they are what they are. By contrast, most peoples' personalities could be polished to a highly likable gleam by the political equivalent of Madison Avenue. Even if you think that leaders' temperaments are an important part of the course of world events, it's easy enough to fake it.
Unless you've got, as a candidate, a Walter Mondale, or a Michael Dukakis, or an Al Gore. Or a John Kerry.
Try to imagine courtroom whiz John Edwards one-on-one in a debate with George Bush. It would be the sort of one-sided slaughter the President of Mars so richly deserves. Dean would say two stupid things and 20 brilliant ones. Clark, whatever his other faults, radiates enough crackle to have leaped into national prominence as a TV pundit, for goodness sake.
Kerry would... umm... would... zzzzzzz...
Don't give me that "flinty New Englander" and "stoic Midwesterner" stuff; one of the most ebullient guys I've ever known was Minnesotan to his core. And my sweetie is from coastal Maine; I like her personality just fine. So how do Democrats find these guys? Why do they keep picking them? And why, when electability is clearly their most important criterion this year, are Democrats still so willing to pick someone as personality-impaired as John Kerry?
This is a particularly brutal form of electoral suicide when the opponent will be a president's son who's been worth millions from the day he was born, but has already proven he can convince much of the country that he's jes a regular ol' guy. With coattails. Try to imagine anybody riding to office on John Kerry's coattails.
Much has been made of the apparent delight of Karl Rove and company over a possible matchup with Howard Dean -- but Kerry can't be much better. Bush would spend six months repeating five words: "Massachusetts. Liberal. Senator. Washington. Insider." Voters will supply two more: "Stiff. Boring."
Madison Avenue, as I noted, can polish almost anything, but it's pretty hard to polish mashed potatoes, and it's pretty hard to graft a mass media personality onto a candidate whose very core refuses to have one. For the Democrats, still smarting from the self-inflicted wounds of Al Gore's botched candidacy, not much could destroy the party's future more effectively than allowing Dubya not one but two free passes at four years of world-wrecking, simply because his opponents were both automatons.
Gore was a good example of the failed efforts of America's best personality surgeons to graft media likeability onto someone without any. The result was one of the world's great plastic personality surgery disasters, with so many failed remodels that by November Gore wound up, in voters' minds, as the personality equivalent of Michael Jackson's face.
Kerry could be next. Do we really want that?