Will George W. Bush share the fate of his father and be turned out of office 18 months after having won a military triumph that vaulted him to 90 percent approval? So it seemed during the primaries, as almost a dozen Democratic candidates pummeled Bush daily for having misled the nation on Iraq and presided over the greatest job loss since Hoover.
These same two months have been the halcyon days of John F. Kerry. Every Tuesday night, he has appeared before the nation smiling in victory. Every Wednesday morning, his face has graced the front pages. As each of his rivals fell before him — Dean, Clark, Edwards — he has been boosted by a media almost pathologically anti-Bush into six-, eight- and 10-point leads over the president.
Democrats have begun to sing “Happy Days Are Here Again.” And if a national referendum were to be held on the Bush policies on trade, job creation, immigration and Iraq today, the president might well be in peril of repudiation.
Nevertheless, in this writer’s judgment, Kerry has peaked. His salad days are behind him. The polls may have him see-saw back and forth, in and out of the lead through the spring and summer, but Kerry faces an major challenge in convincing this country he ought to be president of the United States.
Why? Because John Kerry, by his voting record over two decades, is outside the American mainstream. Unlike John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan or even the roguish Bill Clinton, he is not a naturally attractive man. Third, he seems not to have a single conviction he will not jettison in the pursuit of power.
Finally, with a seasoned opposition coming hard at him — as no Democratic opponent did in the primaries — Kerry cannot hide his deficiencies over an eight-month campaign where the attacks will be relentless and the media spotlight forever on.
The bleeding has already begun. An NBC poll that found Kerry now two points behind the president had more troubling news. A third of the country had no knowledge of him, but of those who did profess some familiarity, 42 percent said Kerry has no principles or beliefs he will not abandon to advance his ambitions.
Thus, at the end of a triumphant primary campaign where he lost only three states, Kerry is seen as a profile in expediency. And the Bushites have only just begun to drill this cavity.
Over 20 percent of those who have formed an opinion see Kerry as a Massachusetts liberal. This is virgin land to plow. And it is here that the White House, after pulling down the “Morning in America” ads, will begin investing the war chest Bush, Cheney, the Rangers and the Pioneers have amassed. And here there is pay dirt.
Kerry is a card-carrying member of the moral minority. He voted against the Defense of Marriage Act even Clinton signed and opposes the death penalty even for Willie Horton. He believes homosexuals should have the same right to form matrimonial unions as heterosexuals and supports abortion up until the final minutes of pregnancy. Kerry even voted not to outlaw that grisly form of infanticide known as “partial-birth abortion.”
Will the tough new pro-life, pro-family archbishop of Boston be silent about Catholic Kerry’s voting record, as Cardinal John O’Connor was not about Geraldine Ferraro’s in 1984?
Kerry is a decorated veteran of Vietnam, but he has voted against every weapon in the U.S. arsenal. MSNBC’s Craig Crawford cracks that, had it been up to Kerry, we would have been fighting the Iraqis with hockey sticks
Kerry has promised to repeal the tax cuts that Bush gave to Americans earning $200,000 or more. The income tax rate would thus rise from 35 percent to near 40 percent, and the tax cuts on dividends and capital gains would vanish. Kerry would use the revenue to give the middle class another tax cut. How this neo-socialist transfer of income from the class that provides the seed corn of the American economy to the class that consumes almost all of what it earns would create new and high-paying jobs in the private economy is unexplained.
Every presidential election is a referendum on the incumbent. To defeat a president, Americans must first be convinced it is time for the man to go. They must then be persuaded the challenger is the man to replace him.
Bush’s problem is that some are coming to believe that, perhaps, his time is past. Kerry’s problem is that, given his lack of convictions and his Barney Frank-Teddy Kennedy voting record, he does not look like the fellow who can close the sale.