September 23, 2004


The comeback Kerry: How the Democrat can revive his faltering campaign (Lexington, 9/23/04, The Economist)

IN SEPTEMBER 1980 Ronald Reagan was stuck behind Jimmy Carter in the polls. His campaign was in such a shambles that he had to sack his campaign manager. And he was dogged by the belief that he was unelectable. All that changed with a single debate—and Reagan crushed Mr Carter by more than 8m votes.

John Kerry is no Ronald Reagan (though one supporter recently introduced him twice as John Kennedy). But he still has time to turn his campaign round. It is true that the Republicans have the wind in their sails at the moment (New Jersey is now considered a swing state, for heaven's sake). But swing voters seem in an unusually volatile mood. Mr Kerry still has a lot going for him—particularly the energy of a Democratic rank-and-file that will do anything to get George Bush out of the White House, and widespread worries about where the country is heading.

How can Mr Kerry translate all this energy and anxiety into victory? This week the Kerry camp produced a surprising answer: focus on Iraq. Mr Kerry had originally planned to spend the autumn talking about the economy and health care. But now—thanks to the influence of a group of Clintonites who have been drafted into his campaign—he has put Iraq at the centre of his campaign. Mr Kerry's pivotal speech in New York this week, ripping into Mr Bush's Iraq foray, may prove similar to Hubert Humphrey's denunciation of the Vietnam war in late September 1968, which narrowed the gap with Richard Nixon.

Why choose Iraq? After all, Nixon still won in 1968. And Mr Kerry's performance on Iraq has been dismal. While Mr Bush has stuck to a simple message (that the war in Iraq is an essential part of the war on terror), the Democrat has tied himself in ever more elaborate knots. It is hard to think of a position on Iraq that he has not taken. For all that, he is probably right to focus on it.

This is partly to do with the paucity of alternatives.

Even though he has the comparison completely backwards, the 1980 campaign is worth a look. Jimmy Carter, a former Navy man, but a defeatist, faced an optimistic Ronald Reagan who promised just three things: (1) to cut taxes; (2) to defeat Communism; and (3) to restore the nation's character and moral fiber. Mr. Reagan won NJ.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 23, 2004 2:26 PM

Doesn't anyone remember anymore that Carter refused to participate in the first debate because of the presence of John Anderson making it a three way? After that, he got his wish and went up alone against Reagan.

And at what point did Carter abandon the Hostages/Rose Garden reelection campaign? I don't remember, but that should be considered a turning point, too, shouldn't it? Was it before or after the convention where he praised Hubert Horatio Hornblower ... Humphrey?

To use Crater (a spoonerism typo!) as a positive example is fantasy.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at September 23, 2004 2:40 PM

"he is probably right to focus on Iraq"

Shoot, JFK already believes himself to be more knowledgeable about Iraq than its current leader, at least as reported by the NYTimes headlines:


Iraq Leader Addresses Congress, Vowing Elections in January

Kerry Derides Allawi's Take on Iraq as Unrealistic

* * *"

The hubris of the man is just stunning...

Posted by: curt at September 23, 2004 3:21 PM

I see Best of the Web addressed the same point minutes after my poor attempt:

"Such effrontery! Imagine, some Arab thinking he knows what's going on in his own country! Does Iyad Allawi know who John Kerry is?"

Posted by: curt at September 23, 2004 3:58 PM

Could someone show Mr. "Lexington" a comparison of, I don't know, ANY economic indicator's value now and in Sep 1980? I'll even let him pick. Thenn we'll see how wonderful the analogy is.

Posted by: brian at September 23, 2004 6:40 PM