I want to here finish up my series of Commentaries wrapped around daily and admittedly summary accounts of the proceedings of the 2004 Democratic Party National Convention by addressing that which I discussed before the Convention had even been gaveled into its first session...
The first issue I addressed in my "Convention Preview" Commentary entitled "IN THIS CORNER, THE CHALLENGER...", was that of abject Bush-bashing which, in my opinion, is pretty much little more than the proverbial "loser's gambit" on the part of Democrats. To this end, I wrote therein:
To his credit, Senator John Kerry... seems to have done his level best to keep the anti-Bush rhetoric... to a minimum. However, even now- as the Democrats get set to open their National Convention in Boston- this might be more easily said than done...
So far, Kerry has played it pretty smart. He tacked clear of the whole controversy involving just what was or wasn't President Bush's National Guard service back during the Vietnam era, saying- simply- "[Bush] served his country, as did I"; he has also stayed away from much of the more strident anti-Bush rhetoric of the activists. Yet there have been slip-ups...
This year's Democratic National Convention, therefore, is the one clear opportunity for John Kerry and his Party to make clear that there is far more to both the candidate and his Party than simply being "the Anti-Bush"... This is one chance in the course of the 2004 Presidential Campaign for the Democratic Party to so openly speak to the average American voter with a largely uninterrupted voice.
So, as former New York City Mayor Ed Koch himself might have asked: "How're they doing?"
Well, on this particular score, pretty darn good! The Bush-bashing was muted. Most of it was indirect: that is- where 'X' is something Democrats support that they don't think President Bush is doing at all well and 'Z' is something the current Administration is doing that is, especially by the more abject Bush-bashers, decried- one heard quite a lot of statements more or less along the lines of "We need a President who will do X and not do Z"- implying, of course, that Bush does not do X and, indeed, does do Z.
Even the potentially more strident speakers were largely toned down. 'Florida 2000'- still a nagging thorn in the side of Democrats, especially African-Americans- was mentioned, but often almost as a mere aside in the midst of other complaints about the current Administration. Even Representative Corinne Brown seemed more upset with the Republican leadership in the U.S. House who expunged her remarks in protest of what she claimed re: Florida 2000 from the verbatim record than with what she felt had actually happened there (though she was certainly upset about this as well; I don't mean to here imply her feelings about both were not equally heartfelt!).
I have to say that, overall, I heard far less, at this Democratic Convention, of the more biting commentary within the early "pre-Prime Time" speeches than I remember from the one four years ago. Nothing quite on the level of, say, New York State Assemblyman Roberto Ramirez complaining about all the Spanish-speaking at the Convention of then-still Governor Bush as a fake reality and the like. There were still some sharp tongues, to be sure: just to mention two obvious ones, openly gay Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts was full of his usual fervor mixed with pugnacity, while Planned Parenthood's Gloria Feldt appeared to go a bit "off script" (though one has to wonder if this "off-scripting" was itself scripted). And the only truly (admittedly minor) negative moment of John Kerry's Convention was Representative Raul Grijalva of Arizona's seconding speech for Senator John Edwards' nomination for Vice President, one in which he scored what he called the Bush political landscape... built on division and misguided personal privilege.
I did not quote extensively from Congressman Grijalva's remarks in my account of the Convention's final day because I wanted to especially address them in the context of this piece. Mr. Bush, where is your moral imperative to the Truth?, the Arizonan asked...where is the compassion? (an obvious reference to George W. Bush's 2000 campaign having been based on a concept of "Compassionate Conservatism") We cannot and will not allow you, Mr. Bush, to turn back the clock... The current Administration has successfully divided our country and this is one division too many. It seemed to me, at the time, to be an oddly strident tone coming so soon after Charlotte, North Carolina Mayor Harvey Gantt's nominating speech extolling Senator Edwards' appeal to our best instincts as citizens, harnessing our hopes and our aspirations... His positive campaign, his optimistic outlook and his can-do spirit that have infused us all and invigorated us all: he appeals to our best hopes, not our worst fears. But weren't Congressman Grijalva's comments themselves an obvious appeal to the "worst fears" of the anti-Bush Democrats? Assuming this was so, just what was he doing speaking on behalf of Senator Edwards' nomination?
To be fair, however, there were very few missteps along these lines at John Kerry's Convention, especially compared to Al Gore's Convention four years ago in Los Angeles. And at least some of the anti-Bush stridency was, in fact, so richly deserved. For instance, Kerry's own comments taking on Republicans in general, and the Bush Administration in particular, for their evident strong belief that only they can properly extol the virtues of Patriotism and Constitutionalism, of God and Country (all the utterest nonsense, truth be told!-- talk about GOP "preaching to the choir"!!), when the Massachusetts Senator said: You see that flag up there?... I fought under that flag... That flag flew from the gun turret behind my head and it was shot through and through and tattered but it never ceased to wave in the wind. It draped the caskets of men that I served with and friends I grew up with. For us, that flag is the most powerful symbol of who we are and what we believe in- our strength, our diversity, our love of country- all that makes America both great and good. That flag doesn't belong to any President, it doesn't belong to any Ideology, it doesn't belong to any Party. It belongs to all the American People!
Yet, there were rather darker expressions of this same sentiment at this Convention. For example, retired General- and unsuccessful 2004 presidential contender- Wesley Clark, in Prime Time, while pointing to the same flag in the rafters to which Senator Kerry would be pointing later that same evening, declaiming (in comments I have also purposely not quoted until now): That flag. We saluted this flag. We rose up in the morning and stood Reveille to this flag. We fought for that flag. We've seen brave men and women buried under that flag. That flag is ours- and nobody, nobody is going to take it away from us! A comment fairly suggesting that this Presidential Election is all just a giant "Capture the Flag" game with the Democrats trying to get "their" American flag back (and underscoring an idea that Democrats are better than Republicans at Patriotism, a concept just as ludicrous as anything the GOP might opine on this score re: the Democrats).
All in all, however, the Kerry/Edwards campaign dominating the planning and execution of this year's Democratic National Convention generally managed to keep from going very much "over the top" in their criticism of the Bush Administration. It is only fair that this be commended.
But let's now turn to the second issue I brought up in my Convention Preview:
It is my considered opinion that the likelihood is that this will not, in the end, be a very close election and I will gladly explain and expound upon my reasons for so thinking on this very website at the appropriate time as the Fall Campaign gets underway: I will not, however, do so now. I will here only note that, despite polling numbers which have suggested the existence of a "sliced n' diced" 2000-style electorate with but a relatively narrow sliver of Independents and the Undecided over which President Bush and Senator Kerry must do political battle, I honestly believe that- in the final analysis- the eventual victor in 2004 will enjoy a significant margin in at least the Electoral College (no repeat of the five weeks of Florida 2000 this time!): I do not now pretend to know, however, who that eventual victor might actually be.
On what major issue is this year's Presidential Election likely to turn? (That is, which political issue- more than any other- is going to so galvanize a significant chunk of the bell curve of average voters to give themselves over to one candidate or the other?)
Surely not the Economy. The U.S. economy is currently in what can only be best described as Retarded Recovery- a rather sluggish, almost sleepy, upturn. We are now so close to Election Day (in economic terms- Quarters: the last completely pre-Election Quarter is already underway and will not be fully discerned until well after 2 November!) that, absent some incredible and sudden downturn or uptick (which would almost certainly be predicated on outside events having nothing directly to do with the economy), the economic situation- as perceived by the voter come Election Day- is not likely to have changed significantly by then.
Thus, this is an economy in which one can see it as either half-empty or half-full and, nevertheless, still always be right- where jobs in one sector have been lost and/or outsourced while another sector has gained new jobs (the sector of one's skills, training and expertise influencing just how one sees the economy). Thus, President Bush is largely going to claim credit for any good financially-related statistic whilst Senator Kerry pretty much scores any economic negative; the voter is going to be left to determine whether his or her bread is actually buttered and how much that might play into whom that voter might choose. There will be little out there on which to prove that either presidential candidate might actually be wrong.
Surely not the Environment. The two Parties are far enough apart on environmental issues (though the Republicans will likely present their policies as "balanced"- protective of the environment while, at the same time, not overly inhibiting Free Market business ventures; whereas the Democrats, in turn, will probably insist that their support of more vigorous environmental regulation will not much harm the ability of Capitalism to function) that the voter who is so inclined will pick his or her "poison" largely on the basis of their overall commitment to Environmentalism as a philosophy, as opposed to a rank political issue.
No, the issue that will be the main one to be joined in this Presidential Election will be Defense and National Security, Homeland Security and the War on International Terrorism and, within those contexts, Iraq and its ramifications. This is precisely why I made this an important issue upon which Senator Kerry had to be expected to expound at his Party's Convention in my 26 July Commentary, where I wrote:
[The Democratic] Party will now have to use its voice to show it well knows that, while being the "Anti-Bush" might satisfy a whole host of Democratic constituencies, it will do little- if anything- to actually help elect the Kerry/Edwards ticket. John Kerry, John Edwards and their fellow Democrats have to boldly demonstrate that they have much on which to run for the Presidency besides "At least we're not George W. Bush".
There are still plenty of potential pitfalls, however: for instance, one of the themes of this Convention is "Stronger at Home, Respected in the World" and Senator Kerry himself has often talked, while campaigning, about how he would get the world as a whole (via NATO, if not the UN) much more involved than President Bush himself did in decisions involving issues such as those behind the war in Iraq. But the Massachusetts Senator has yet to really address two fundamental questions that naturally flow from his position: 1. how much should the U.S. actually yield in its exercise of its sovereign rights of self-defense, as it sees these itself, to international pressure? 2. what happens if one asks the rest of the world to help in some military endeavor one- even a John Kerry- sees as most just and they then simply say 'no'?
We obviously do not know whether or not there might come a terrorist attack, or series of attacks, either here in the United States or against Americans and/or their allies abroad, timed so as to intend to disrupt, where not also even influence, the 2004 Presidential Election. In addition, despite the experiences of that terrible day- 11 September 2001- we cannot know what effect such an event, or events, might thereafter have on the actual outcome come Election Day: whether such a thing would create a groundswell of support for the incumbent President or push the electorate to install the challenger.
We can know, however, that any such replication of a "Madrid 3/11", for purposes of trying to influence the election, would be a wholly misguided venture, if only because each of the Major Party candidates for President have already indicted his respective strong resolve to pursue the terrorists, with or without such attack occurring. Unfortunately for the potential victims should such attack take place, Al-Qa'eda cannot possibly understand this most outward expression of a system of governance- Republican Democracy- they themselves so despise.
Absent such an incident, or incidents, this coming Fall, one still has to ask and then well answer the question as to whether or not Senator John Kerry- in the course of his National Convention- did, indeed, address the two questions I posed at the beginning of this week:
Question 1: how much should the U.S. actually yield in its exercise of its sovereign rights of self-defense, as it sees these itself, to international pressure?
Senator Kerry, in his Acceptance Speech, declared the following: I defended this country as a young man and I will defend it as President. Let there be no mistake: I will not 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 any institution a veto over our national security. This notion was reinforced by others who spoke before the recently concluded Democratic Convention- to take just one example, from the remarks of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: [H]ave no doubt- John Kerry will do whatever it takes to defend America, whether others approve or not.
Words all well and good but these still beg the question: at just what point does Senator Kerry's concept of "defending America" depart from President Bush's? Let me use a concrete example to illustrate my concern: North Korea.
North Korea is known to have a nuclear weapons program that is as, if not more, destabilizing in East Asia as weapons of mass destruction (or the claim to have weapons of mass destruction, even though none so far have been found) in Saddam Hussein's Iraq were within the Middle East (there destabilizing because the pervading belief that such weapons existed in Iraq overly influenced the Geopolitics of that region, not to also mention the Foreign Policy of quite a few Nations, over the course of the more than a decade following 'Desert Storm'): the only major difference with North Korea, as compared to Iraq, is that we know for certain this nuclear weapons program exists (Senator Kerry clearly knows it, President Bush certainly knows it).
Let's say, for sake of the argument, that North Korea plays the same games as Saddam once did- jerking UN weapons inspectors around, dog-dancing about the issue of exactly what the country has and doesn't have and might have, etc. Here, the stakes are clearly much higher (unlike Saddam's Iraq, there is less debate over this being a potential threat to the United States): after all, reports are that North Korea has developed a ballistic missile the range of which includes the Western United States- or, at the very least, the North American West Coast (although it appears its current guidance system leaves much to be desired: "aim for San Francisco, land off the coast of Chile").
This now takes us to the second of the two questions I posed in my Commentary of 26 July: what happens if one asks the rest of the world to help in some military endeavor one- even a John Kerry- sees as most just and they then simply say 'no'?
Say a Secretary of State for a Kerry Administration goes before the UN Security Council and, in a presentation reminiscent of that given by current Secretary of State Colin Powell back in February 2003, shows as much evidence of North Korea's perfidy (including, just to make this hypothetical the more interesting, that nuclear material provided by North Korea has ended up in the hands of agents of Al-Qa'eda) as possible without at all compromising sources and methods of intelligence and France, let's say, remains singularly unconvinced that there is any link between North Korea's nuclear weapons program and the War on International Terrorism so that any Security Council resolution authorizing a U.S.-led coalition to protect South Korea and seize and dismantle North Korea's nuclear facilities or anything related thereto faces a veto. Aren't we pretty much back in the situation in which the Bush Administration found itself back in mid-March 2003? One has to then assume that many, if not most, of those who had protested the extension of American military power represented by the war in Iraq (whether here in the United States or elsewhere throughout the world) would be protesting once again were a Kerry Administration to take military action absent such a UN Security Council resolution, especially since- once again- an ostensible European ally of the United States, France, has put the ol' KI-bosh on said resolution in this scenario.
Factor in the obvious split within John Kerry's own Democratic Party (however muted it might have been at the Convention- though let's not forget that just about 1 percent of the delegate votes still went to Dennis Kucinich despite the Party's pretty much unified support for its presidential nominee) on just how Iraq (to which my use of North Korea in the above hypothetical is an analogy) fits into the jigsaw puzzle that is the War on International Terrorism. Simply compare the plaintiveness of a Reverend Jesse Jackson insisting that it's time to bring our troops home and send Bush back to Texas to a Senator Joe Lieberman arguing before the Convention that our brave troops... [in] Afghanistan and Iraq... [are] fighting tonight in both of those nations to defeat terrorists... John Kerry and John Edwards are committed to finishing that work.
Well, it can't possibly- at least so immediately after next 20 January- be both!
Senator Kerry himself offered no clear answer, for he himself said to his Convention: 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... 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. But this statement does not make a clear choice between the 'Jacksonesque' or 'Liebermanian' position on this issue-- if the Kerry position is neither (certainly the actual case), we have not yet been told by the Democratic presidential nominee precisely how it is neither, nor have we been told just what "neither" implies.
This is something that the Kerry/Edwards campaign is going to have to clearly and articulately address this coming Fall if they expect to win this election. Simply saying that Senator Kerry will have better judgment than President Bush doesn't necessarily make it so-- and, to all those out there who might want, in their heart of hearts, to believe this to be so nonetheless, I remind them of Madeleine Albright's own words preceding those of John Kerry's: Wanting something is not the same as doing something- you have to have a strategy that works. In other words, such well-intentioned belief about Kerry on the part of hard-core Democrats is not going to help win over the Independents and Undecideds that Kerry/Edwards is going to need to best Bush/Cheney come 2 November!
So, now that the 44th quadrennial Democratic National Convention has fully passed into History, what are we left with? Clearly, a Kerry/Edwards campaign that- while it has raised the bar and made it at least a bit more difficult for Bush/Cheney to all-out "go negative" at their Convention a month from now without turning off more than a few Independent and Undecided voters- also, at the same time, has- at least as far as the important issues of War and Peace (and the concomitant issue of Terrorism) are concerned- not really given all that much to the neutral observer from which said observer can then clearly discern just why a President John F. Kerry would be a significant improvement over a President George W. Bush. And, should this- indeed- be the case, then the two Major Party candidates will be left to fight over the scraps left behind by an Economy both worsening and improving- scraps which, at least as of this writing, appear not to be giving either candidate all that much political advantage.
There is no doubt that, even with a rather successful Convention, the Kerry/Edwards team still has much work to do!