Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Why I'l reluctantly vote for Kerry

Well, good to know the primary season this time around turned out to be surprisingly like the oscars. The guy who everyone thought would win, won in basically every category he was nominated for. Now the backlash can officially start. The Bush team is playing this well so far—wait until buyer’s remorse is just starting to build up and then buy a lot of TV time to tar the Democratic candidate.

So before all of that happens, let me just say right now that I think John Kerry is a terrible choice for Democratic nominee. Some people clearly disagree with me. Josh Marshall, for example, pins his admiration for Kerry on how hard he fights to win elections. Okay, that’s admirable. But really the only person that skill benefits is John Kerry. I’m much more interested in a candidate who stands for something, has principles, or is at least border-line trustworthy and consistent. Kerry fails on most of these base-level requirements.

I never thought I’d side with Mickey Kaus over talkingpointsmemo, but he’s right on this one. John Kerry has never really taken a risky political stand and followed through on it, and he’s shown a distinct lack of principles throughout the primary fight. And this is all going to have a major effect on Kerry’s so-called “electibility”.

Why? Because the Bush administration is already starting to paint Kerry as unprincipled and fickle, and unlike most Republican attacks, this one’s pretty much true. Bush’s litany of flip-flops re: Kerry has demonstrable veracity: he voted for the war in Iraq, and claims to be against it now that it’s unpopular amongst Democrats. He did the same thing on the Patriot Act, on Bush’s tax cuts, and now we get to watch Kerry change his opinion daily on a Federal Marriage Amendment. (Right now, I think it’s that he supports writing discrimination into the Massachusetts constitution, but against writing it into the Federal one, which is a pretty ridiculous bit of hair-splitting).

Furthermore, it’s pretty easy to show that Kerry doesn’t really believe most of what he’s saying. If he really wants to “take on special interests” and fight for us and all that Shrumian populist sturm-und-drang that gets people like me inspired, he would’ve been doing that during his tenure in the Senate. If he really was a brave political warrior, he would not have skipped votes on the Medicare bill and the partial birth abortion ban. If he really had some sort of discernable core belief sytem he wouldn't be trying to have it both ways on every issue.

Kerry, in other words, isn’t going to get elected on his own merits. He’ll be elected on America's (growing) dislike of Bush. The problem is his ability to paint Bush as a failure will be significantly diminished by his votes in the Senate to support Bush’s policies.

This is the problem with the “electability” brand of tunnel vision. Thanks to the media’s desire for simplistic narratives, the condensed primary schedule and our own laziness, Kerry became electable by persuading the State of Iowa that he was the best person to take on Bush. Iowa, of all places! A place which is representative of neither the Democratic party or the American political spectrum. Then, thanks to a perfect storm of favorable media coverage, lack of screw ups, timid opponents and the Howard Dean melt down, he’s managed to sail to victory without facing any kind of meaningful scrutiny. And Democratic primary voters have bought into it, because everyone told us he was electable. But electability is meaningless and self-referential. Furthermore, “electability” and the “anyone but Bush” mentality have kept us from bringing any real change into the Democratic party, and they’re both effective tools to keep the progressive wing of the party in line.

Of course, as many have pointed out, he's better than the alternative. Much, much better. Now that I've gotten this out of my system, this is one of the few (maybe only?) times you'll hear me whining about Kerry. We've selected our guy, it's time to fall into line, but let's not assume everything is okay if he gets elected, alright? Let's keep fighting the good fight.

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