Why Kerry is Doing So Poorly

The Family, Kitty Kelley’s Bush-bashing book published on Sept. 14, seems on its way to best-sellerdom despite some of the most implausible accusations since CBS thought a poor forgery of a National Guard record was the real thing.

Here’s a typical KK implausibility: W did cocaine at Yale in the mid-’60s. Hey, I studied (more or less) there in the late ’60s, and pot was the thing among folks Bush didn’t like. Liquor was quicker among those he hung with. Cocaine didn’t come in for another decade.

So let’s forget Kelley’s gossipy book and turn to Kerry’s floundering campaign. Why is he doing so badly? My suggestion: Neither John Kerry nor his handlers appear to understand the importance of pivotal moments in national and personal life.

Franklin Roosevelt understood the significance of nationally pivotal moments. He said, after Pearl Harbor, that “Dr. New Deal” had become “Dr. Win the War.” Kerry wants to campaign on the economy, but 9-11 changed everything: Now, more Americans want a “Dr. Win the War” president.

Many Americans understand the importance of pivotal moments in individual lives. The United States is a country of second chances. That’s why the Rocky movies struck such a chord: A loser becomes a winner. Rocky IV concludes with the boxer’s announcement, “If I can change, and you can change, everybody can change.”

Candidate Kerry is trying to project an image of first in war, first in antiwar, first in understanding the nuances now. That leaves him last in the American League. Because Christianity, the religion of the second chance, is so important in this country, George W. Bush’s declaration of a marred past and midlife change resonates well.

That’s why the dispute about the Kerry military record is more important than the dispute about the president’s. John Kerry received his party’s nomination because of his youthful activities; George W. Bush was elected despite his.

If liberals listened to conservative talk radio rather than decrying it, they would understand better the public respect for pivotal moments. Sample from one hour: A woman disclosed that she was a stripper at age 15 and noted that her past should not be held against her because she changed. A man said that once, when he was doing drugs and drinking heavily, he didn’t notice that his little daughter had wrapped a rubber band around her wrist that was cutting off her circulation. That became a pivotal moment, and he changed.

John Kerry and his media allies are mad that the Swift Boat Vets messed up his image. They see the Bush National Guard records as tit for the vets’ tattling, yet they don’t understand that a candidate of the pivotal moment like President Bush receives different treatment from the public than a candidate like too-good-to-be-true Kerry.

The irony of CBS’s rush to accept forged documents is that even if the documents were real they wouldn’t have made much difference. Is that unfair? Is Kerry being held to a higher standard? Maybe so, but he set that bar himself.

A bit of his problem is the pomposity he can’t seem to escape, even by windsurfing. Maybe he has an excuse: He could say, “Some call me pompous, but in Massachusetts we call that talking.” (Hey, I grew up there and cheer for the Red Sox.)

The crucial difference, though, is a pivotal moment. George Bush’s came when he stopped drinking and came to Christ. I obviously have no knowledge of the state of John Kerry’s soul, but I’ve looked over the evidence concerning his beliefs — his own statements and the statements of those who know him — and can’t find anything that parallels the Bush experience of and emphasis on God’s grace.

That experience and emphasis makes sense to lots of voters around the country, since so many of us have had similar experiences. If those with immaculate lives vote for Kerry and those who messed up but are now doing better vote for Bush, it will be a GOP landslide.