September 24, 2004


JOHN KERRY'S JOURNEY: Echoes of a 1972 Loss Haunt a 2004 Campaign (TODD S. PURDUM, 9/24/04, NY Times)

Thirty-two years later, Mr. Kerry is once again surrounded by many of the loyalists from that first campaign - the only one he has ever lost. He is once again on the defensive over his Vietnam War service and his antiwar record, once again facing a Republican opponent who mocks him as an out-of-touch elitist, once again fighting to fulfill his campaign's early promise.

So what are the lessons Mr. Kerry learned so long ago? To hit back hard when attacked? To bide his time and ration the early passion that made him such an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War and such an eloquent, appealing candidate, but also a target of criticism? Perhaps a bit of both. From that election to this, his career has been marked more by cautious calculation than bold strokes, and to a striking degree, his vulnerabilities then remain his vulnerabilities now.

Mr. Kerry's supporters acknowledge the parallels between 1972 and 2004. But they also insist that he long ago learned the lessons of that searing defeat - lessons that sent him on a slow, patient detour to law school and work as a prosecutor and private lawyer, before his return to politics and his election as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts in 1982 and senator two years later.

"I think it helped John enormously that he did not get elected," said Thomas Vallely, a fellow Vietnam veteran who worked for Mr. Kerry then and is working for him now. "If he'd gone from Congress, from being a star, right to some higher job, he wouldn't have had the political skills he acquired going to law school, becoming a prosecutor, running for lieutenant governor and Senate," all in campaigns that seemed to involve what Mr. Vallely called "near-death experiences."

"Did he learn in Lowell, always fight back?" Mr. Vallely asked. "Yes, but John's always been a pretty good fighter." And, he added, "Kerry's cooler now. He's cooler. I mean, he's less - he's more skilled. He's not nervous."

Dan Payne, another aide in that first race, said that Mr. Kerry had developed "a kind of toughness that allows him to take hits," and that he was "willing to go through these very difficult plunges in his fortunes."

He imploded his own campaign by lashing out at the Swift Boat Vets and making them newsworthy. Since then he's done things like foam at the mouth after the President's acceptance speech and attack the Vice President--a non-entity--and yesterday the Prime Minister of Iraq, just moments after a joint address to Congress. It's hard to believe he's learned anything over those three decades, at least about politics, and he's obviously an inept fighter, way out of his league.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 24, 2004 7:33 AM

Outside of the District of Columbia, it's hard to imagine a less fertile ground for developing a combative, comback ability in national politics than Massachusetts. It would be like saying Orrin Hatch knows how to brawl politically with Democrats because he's defeated them in Utah (Hatch's ability to roll over on command for Edward M. Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee puts the lie to that statement).

Kerry's home state is fertile ground for running in the Democratic Primary because the early frontrunner is always validated by the state next door. But a Senator who wins the nomination based on a resume from 30 years ago that the party loyalists think will dazzle the rubes in flyover country -- despite all the evidence to the contrary about his campaign ability -- is destined to put on a lousy campaign performance, no matter how hard the media may try to both dress up his production and burn down the George W. Bush theater next door.

Posted by: John at September 24, 2004 8:07 AM

Worst campaign ever. Yet he is still close to Bush in the national polls and by no means has Bush put this thing away. Perhaps Evan Thomas is right that the MSM is improving Kerry by 15pts - without those 15 pts he would be in the low 30s which make sense. (noticed elsewhere that the latest CBS poll (Bush 51 Kerry 42) had Kerry's favorable/unfavorable at 32/44.

Posted by: AWW at September 24, 2004 8:13 AM

MSM now (on Kerry campaign cue) painting Bush as the flip flopper. Watching MSM keep straight face is fun bought still probably an effective move on their part because some people turn off and immediatly assume both sides wrong. Bush campaign should respond and point out the baloney

Posted by: Perry at September 24, 2004 8:31 AM


Down 8 to 10 is pretty close?

Posted by: oj at September 24, 2004 8:35 AM

OJ beat me to it, but you've got to figure that 40% is the rock bottom basement floor for the Democratic nominee.

Posted by: David Cohen at September 24, 2004 8:40 AM

"lessons of that searing defeat"

Poor guy, he was seared again. Must have burn marks all over his b*tt.

Posted by: h-man at September 24, 2004 8:43 AM


It's probably about 34%, which is where Kerry might end up if Paris, Kansas City, and Hanoi become part of the national consciousness.

In MA, those issues might not even hurt Kerry, so he has never given them a second thought. He knew the worst he would do is about 55%, so why bother? But across the country, it is a completely different story.

Why are so many Democrats complaining about the windsurfing ad? Because it HURTS. And, I note that Kerry's response used the word 'juvenile'. Not a good choice. He's condescending yet again.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 24, 2004 10:33 AM


At the point where you're complaining that the other guy is being too tough on you haven't you lost anyway?

Posted by: oj at September 24, 2004 10:42 AM

Precisely. Bush has not complained once about all the heat he has taken (except to call for elimination of all 527s, which was an expedient answer to an awkward question).

Kerry really is out of his league. Way out.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 24, 2004 12:11 PM

And look at the reaction to Bush's call to regulat the 527s-- a bit of squawking and then everyone MovedOn™ when they realized nobody cared, and it might expose who was getting the most benefit from the status quo.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at September 24, 2004 1:03 PM