KAPLAN ON KERRY

My good friend Lawrence rightly decries the assertion by the Kerry campaign that somehow having been in combat makes you better suited to be a war-president:

To Kerry supporters who argue otherwise, is it really necessary to point out that Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt never saw combat before going on to become America’s greatest wartime strategists? Or that the very men who dispatched Kerry to Vietnam were themselves decorated veterans? To be sure, politicians who have served in war have an essential understanding of the horrors of war. But what does it tell us about their strategic wisdom or their fitness to be commander-in-chief? In truth, very little. None other than George McGovern boasted, accurately, that he was “a decorated combat pilot in World War II,” while his opponent “was stationed far from battle.” Did this make McGovern “stronger” than Nixon on national security?

The truth is: Biden and Lieberman and Edwards and even Obama were more ressuring on the war than Kerry was. Given how important it is for Kerry to burnish his war credentials and how deeply resistant he was to embrace the war in his acceptance speech, I think the candidate has told us roughly where he stands.

OLIPHANT CONCURS

It was indeed a missed opportunity. But the reason the Kerry speech was so troubling is that it seems to me an indicator of what’s wrong with the candidate: arrogant, prolix, unable to discipline his own tortured nuance, and too clever by half.

THANKS AGAIN

To all of you who have contributed this week, a heartfelt thanks. Some of your emails of support have made my week. Your generosity is amazing. A large number of former donors have told me they won’t contribute again, because of my refusal to endorse Bush. Fair enough; it’s a free country, and I am grateful for their help in the past. But I have never written this blog to please readers, or pander to a constituency, or suck up to either party. In fact, one of the reasons I blogged in the first place was to avoid the kind of pressure from editors or publishers or advertizers or readers that most journalists inevitably feel. And in a world where Sean Hannity and Michael Moore rule the airwaves, I’m happy to write a blog supported by people who disagree with me but believe this pioneering blog is worth supporting. Thanks again. You guys are the true liberals, with a small “l”. If you’d still like to contribute, the details are here.

EMAIL OF THE DAY II: First of all, Islamic terrorists need Bush to win re-election so that they can continue the theme of their propaganda campaign: that America, led by an administration that thinks Muslims themselves are infidels, is in a war to the finish against all Muslims. A Kerry victory provides less fodder for this campaign because Kerry would be less hated in the Muslim world, even if his actions were as tough or tougher than Bush’s. The Muslim world has many problems with America, but they hate George W. Bush. They don’t hate Kerry. Thus Bush is the fuel for the Islamist fire.
As far as the writer’s point that “everyone knows what happened to Omar and Saddam”–if he means Mullah Omar, then yes, everyone does know. The man is still free and at large solely because, after locating him and putting him within our sights, the commanding general of Operation Enduring Freedom refused to give the order to take him out. So much for the Bush administration being tough and intimidating.
Let’s get real.”

EMAIL OF THE DAY III: “The Democrats’ policies towards drug companies are every bit as anti-intellectual as the Republicans’ policies on stem cell research.
I was diagnosed with an especially agressive strain of non-Hodgkins lymphoma a few months back. In fact, I was a couple of days away from death by strangulation, as the tumor had constricted my airway to something smaller than a pencil. To compound things, I don’t have insurance (I’m not eligible for insurance through my job for another five months, and I was too short-sighted to get it on my own.).
As I write this, though, I’m cancer-free. Why? Because of the amazing new drugs produced by those “greedy” drug companies, and because those same acquisitive bastards gave me the drugs free of charge. The greedy pricks at my hospital picked up my bills, and one of their rotten nurses came in on her day off to administer my first round of chemo because I needed it so badly.
We don’t know how good we have it in this country, and I’m afraid by the time we figure it out that mob I saw in Boston will have gutted our healthcare system and crippled our drug companies. It makes perfect sense to me that their chosen candidate is a career politician who married money, and his running mate is a selfless white knight who’s made tens of millions of dollars by going after besieged doctors, nearly all of whom have contributed more to mankind than he ever will, and charging his clients 30% of the take.”

EMAIL OF THE DAY IV: “You’re becoming more and more of a shill for the Democrats. Your obsession with prancing down the aisle in a frilly pink dress doesn’t excuse referring to Kerry as a patriot. Please spare us. Maybe patriot means something different in merry old England. I guess Kerry is a patriot … like Guy Fawkes and the dynamiters.” More feedback on the Letters Page.

EMAIL OF THE DAY

“I’ve been thinking about Kerry’s real dilemma. What if he wins? Assume for argument’s sake that he is as committed to the war on Islamofascism as Bush. What will be the situation he finds himself in? First, his victory will be accompanied with videos of cheering islamofascist crowds – the Arab and Islamic worlds will (perhaps unfairly) interpret his victory as a defeat for America – after all, in the Arab world regimes tend to change only when the nation is defeated. Second, our enemies and friends will tend to perceive Kerry as the “weaker” candidate – the one less likely to agressively assert US interests. In high school terms, Bush is the “Crazy Motherf**cker” that nobody messes with – because everyone knows what happened to Omar and Saddam. Kerry is like a Student Council Treasurer – not a bad guy but no reputation for aggression, indeed a reputation for avoiding conflict, a guy you might be able to intimidate. Paradoxically, this puts Kerry in the position of needing to be more agressive than Bush in the next term – he needs to demonstrate his willingness to assert US interests and take out bad guys so that the benefits of intimidation that Bush achieved don’t evaporate. By contrast Bush doesn’t need to do nearly as much because everybody knows that he’s a “Crazy Motherf**cker”.
Of course this assumes that Kerry wants to aggressively fight islamofascism. If he doesn’t he faces no dilemma – we just lose.”

THE POST ON KERRY

This is the best assessment I’ve read so far. Money quote:

The responsibility of sending troops into danger should weigh on a commander in chief. But so must the responsibility of protecting the nation against a shadowy foe not easily deterred by traditional means. Mr. Kerry last night elided the charged question of whether, as president, he would have gone to war in Iraq. He offered not a word to celebrate the freeing of Afghans from the Taliban, or Iraqis from Saddam Hussein, and not a word about helping either nation toward democracy.

Noam Scheiber also homes in on the Cold War liberal rhetoric: tough abroad, liberal at home.

THE CANDIDATE

Well, I guess there was always going to be a reality check. The first and most obvious thing to say about Kerry’s speech was that it was far too long. You have to believe that this was a conscious decision, and not an accident. The man couldn’t edit it, or his advisers couldn’t decide whose soaring rhetoric was better, or no one had the authority to remove the third that should have been removed to give the rest of it time to breathe, and the audience to respond. But perhaps the result was, in some ways, beneficial. Kerry rushed through this speech and so lost some of the deeply ponderous boredom of his usual speaking style. But the effect was still hurried, breathless and because he kept having to calm the crowd down, condescending. There were passages toward the end when he picked up and seemed to do better. But it was a B – performance, not as disastrous as Al Gore’s rant in 2000, but nowhere near the level of the best. I mean, even Dole was better eight years ago. Some of it was so pompous and self-congratulatory I almost gagged. Can you believe he said this:

I was born in Colorado, in Fitzsimmons Army Hospital, when my dad was a pilot in World War II. Now, I’m not one to read into things, but guess which wing of the hospital the maternity ward was in? I’m not making this up. I was born in the West Wing!

One thought sprang into my mind immediately: what an arrogant jerk.

THE MESSAGE: This was also, it seems to me, a very liberal speech. Domestically, there was no problem the government couldn’t help solve. There was support for protectionism, and for penalizing the drug companies. Government-funded research into stem cells was described as revolutionary. But private drug research that has cured millions and saved my own life must be throttled to placate constituencies like the AARP. There was no mention of welfare reform in his past; no mention of education reform; and no firm commitment to seeing the war through in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is obviously what worried me the most. His goal in Iraq is to bring the troops home. Three words: not good enough. Here’s the passage about the war:

I know what we have to do in Iraq. We need a President who has the credibility to bring our allies to our side and share the burden, reduce the cost to American taxpayers, and reduce the risk to American soldiers. That’s the right way to get the job done and bring our troops home.
Here is the reality: that won’t happen until we have a president who restores America’s respect and leadership — so we don’t have to go it alone in the world.
And we need to rebuild our alliances, so we can get the terrorists before they get us.
I defended this country as a young man and I will defend it as President. Let there be no mistake: I will never hesitate to use force when it is required. Any attack will be met with a swift and certain response. I will never give any nation or international institution a veto over our national security. And I will build a stronger American military.

No mention of democracy in Iraq or Afghanistan. No mention of the terrorist forces that are amassed there. No reference to the elections scheduled for January. No mention of Iran. And the whole point is about process – about how to wage a war, not whether it should be waged. This is a man who clearly wants the U.S. out of the region where our future is at stake, and who believes that simply by taking office, other powers can somehow pick up the slack. Memo to Kerry: no other powers can pick up the slack. They don’t have the troops or the technology or the will. His strategy is pure defense. This sentence is his strongest threat: “Any attack will be met with a swift and certain response.” So let’s wait, shall we?

WHAT I LIKED: But it was an optimistic speech, even though it kept telling us that again and again. And it was not too divisive, although it had barbs directed at Enron and asserted that those who disagreed with him somehow didn’t have a conscience. It was halfway between Al Gore’s leftist address in 2000 and Bill Clinton in 1996. He was strongest in his invocation of patriotism and unity:

I want to address these next words directly to President George W. Bush: In the weeks ahead, let’s be optimists, not just opponents. Let’s build unity in the American family, not angry division. Let’s honor this nation’s diversity; let’s respect one another; and let’s never misuse for political purposes the most precious document in American history, the Constitution of the United States.

I’m glad that Kerry has decided to use the FMA against Bush, as he should. I also liked his view of religion:

I don’t wear my own faith on my sleeve. But faith has given me values and hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day, from Sunday to Sunday. I don’t want to claim that God is on our side. As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God’s side. And whatever our faith, one belief should bind us all: The measure of our character is our willingness to give of ourselves for others and for our country.

Beautiful. And important. The damage that president Bush has done to the delicate but vital boundary between religion and politics is one reason I cannot support him for another term. He is simply playing with a terrible fire with good intentions but fateful consequences.

THE IMPACT: I really don’t know what the impact of this speech will be. I doubt it will help him much. I definitely liked Kerry less at the end of it than at the beginning. To me at least, he is a deeply unlikable guy: arrogant, dull, pompous, mannered, self-righteous. I suspect that the more he is front and center the more this will count against him. But I’m just one person and others may react differently. And politics shouldn’t just be about likability. He certainly seems sane, and prudent and presidential. There will be time to judge his proposals against Bush’s and to observe the progress of the war in the next few months. At some point both he and Bush will surely be asked what they will do about Iran. Their responses will be revealing (and probably indistinguishable). Until then, I think this convention has been a huge success, tempered by a bad candidate. They have found the right stance in general, but they may not have found the right general for the stance. Bush, in other words, may remain the luckiest man alive.

MY CHEAP SHOT

Glenn takes me to task for a dumb kicker to a posting. He’s right. I take it back.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The time is now to resolve that the basis of a firm and principled foreign policy is one that takes the world as it is and seeks to change it by leadership and example; not by harangue, harassment or wishful thinking. The time is now to say that while we shall seek new friendships and expand and improve others, we shall not do so by breaking our word or casting aside old friends and allies.” – Ronald Reagan, in his nomination speech in 1980. Doesn’t it sound a lot like what you’re hearing in Boston?