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Public Opinion Moving in Kerry’s Direction

by Pamela Leavey

How maddening is it to know that you were right on an issue, and you were way ahead of the curve and then to sit back and watch the public catch up to you? If you were John Kerry, right about now, you’d be taking it in stride, and keeping on doing what you feel is right in your gut. And that’s what Kerry is doing… while pulic opinion is finally catching up to him on Iraq and a few other issues. Last week after the latest Iraq vote, Paul Kane noted on Capitol Briefing:

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.): Few people might have realized this, but Levin-Reed — setting a timetable for withdrawing troops — was essentially the same amendment Kerry offered in June 2006. Back then, it got 13 votes. Now, 53. Of course, the 2004 Democratic nominee wasn’t given his due, relegated to speaking shortly after 5 a.m. Wednesday.

Who made the correlation before the vote that Levin-Reed was essentially Kerry-Feingold? No one, perhaps. But Kerry knew. Now, I can’t say how many times it has been said here on The Dem Daily, that Kerry was right, but I know it’s numerous and plentiful. In Tuesday’s Boston Globe, Globe Columnist, Peter S. Canellos lays out neatly what I have known for sometime, sadly… “Dividends of Kerry’s views come too late for ’08.”

In June 2006, when Senator John F. Kerry joined his colleague Russell Feingold in pushing for a phased withdrawal from Iraq, the bill drew a paltry 13 votes. Most Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, felt a deadline was irresponsible.

Last week, the same bill got 52 senators, a majority, voting to break a filibuster and force an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. Clinton was among them.

The vote failed because 60 votes are required to break a filibuster, but it nonetheless affirmed the growing impatience of Congress with the Iraq war. It also vindicated Kerry’s strategy in plotting his second presidential race: Move to the left of Clinton, thereby winning over liberals. Show more passion than in 2004, and a deeper commitment to Democratic principles. Most of all: Exert leadership on Iraq.

Kerry’s strategy seems ready to pay dividends. Another of his bold moves — leading the filibuster against confirming Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito — now looks very smart to liberals, after Alito provided crucial votes to eviscerate liberal positions on school desegregation, late-term abortion, and campaign finance restrictions.

But Kerry, of course, isn’t in a position to collect his dividends. His second presidential campaign never got off the ground.

In retrospect, Kerry’s presidential hopes ended with his “botched joke” about soldiers in Iraq, made in the final days of the 2006 congressional campaign.

For those who don’t remember, Kerry had been making some headway in showcasing his new fighting image by logging more miles than any national campaigner in 2006. He gave a speech that a focus group ranked as the best of all potential 2008 presidential contenders.

All this activity was important because most Democrats were dubious about another Kerry presidential run. In 2004, he had come within three points of President Bush in the popular vote and within one big state in the Electoral College, but that only made Democrats more fixated on ways he could have done better — mostly by fighting harder against Bush and his surrogates.

In 2006, Kerry worked hard to show he had learned from his mistakes. Then, eight days before the midterm elections, he quipped that students who don’t do well in school will end up in Iraq. He hadn’t meant his joke to come out that way, and provided his text to prove it.

When Republicans began demanding an apology, Kerry thought he saw a chance to fire back. “This is a textbook Republican campaign strategy,” Kerry fumed at a nationally televised press conference. “Try to change the topic. Try to make someone else the issue. . . . Well, everybody knows it’s not working this time, and I’m not going to stand around and let it work.”

Clearly, Kerry expected other Democrats to join him in turning the tables on the GOP. But he was no longer his party’s nominee, and Democrats had no desire to climb out on a limb with him.

Clinton, in particular, fanned the flames by declaring, the day after Kerry’s press conference, that his joke had been “inappropriate, and I believe we can’t let it divert us from looking at the issues that are at stake for our country.”

Kerry left the campaign trail like a pariah. Later, when he consulted supporters about making another run, many argued against it. He was old news.

But Kerry’s instincts now seem prescient — and worth noting because Clinton, now comfortably ensconced at the top of the Democratic polls, is behaving a lot more like Kerry in 2004 than Kerry in 2006.

The Kerry campaign’s big inhibition in 2004 was the fear that taking aggressive stands against the Iraq war, and endorsing a whole new approach to the war on terrorism, would inevitably mark the candidate as a dove.

Clinton, as the first woman to mount a serious challenge for her party’s nomination, seems to perceive the same political threat. She has distanced herself from the antiwar sentiments of her rival John Edwards in much the same language as Kerry moved away from his rival Howard Dean.

But Kerry came to understand that forcefulness in fighting terrorism isn’t just shown by expressing willingness to use force; it can be demonstrated by the clarity of one’s position and the courage with which one sticks by it.

Like Kerry in 2004, Clinton has become more and more critical of the Iraq war. But she’s been wary about moving beyond public opinion. Kerry, for all his woes, did just that in 2006. And now public opinion is moving in his direction.

Yes, Kerry’s instincts have frequently been “prescient.” And Cannelos draws a good analogy to Clinton’s unwillingness to step out on a limb. She stepped out on the limb when she put her ambitions first over the “botched joke,” but now we all know she could learn a thing or two from the always gracious Junior Senator from Massachusetts who came to her defense last week when the GOP went after her.

And yet, there are some that do believe (contrary to the mocking views of others), that it’s not too late for Kerry to jump into the race, though sadly, I don’t think that he will. We can dream, we can wish and we can see from Cannelos analysis… what might have been.

8 Responses to “Public Opinion Moving in Kerry’s Direction”

  1. Yeah, Pam… it’s funny that you posted this – my cousin and I had a 2 hour conversation earlier today about just how right Kerry was, all along. My cousin, who is an independent, and who I never really thought of as an exceptionally large fan of Kerry surprised me when he said, “I think Kerry should run in ’08.” I could not have agreed more.

    The “botched joke” incident was, in and of itself, a joke and, you know, the saddest part of it was the fact that his own “friends” and colleagues turned their collective backs on him when he needed them. It was a disgrace – to him – to our party – and to our nation. No one worked harder in 2004, 2005, and 2006 than John Kerry. No one. It is obvious that it wasn’t just the Republicans who saw Kerry as a threat (otherwise, why would they have latched onto this botched delivery?) – Democrats, like Clinton, we’re equally as scared. Kerry would have run circles around them already. Why must fate be such a cruel mistress?

    But, you know, if by some chance Mr. Kerry is actually reading this, I want him to listen, and listen closely: Yes, you were knocked down, yes you were betrayed, but you’re still the best we’ve got. Get back up, dust yourself off, tell the establishment to go f— themselves, and, for God’s sake, do what you were meant to do: Become our next President of the United States. Please.

  2. I could not agree more. It is absolutely galling to see John Kerry’s views on a variety of subjects to be vindicated night-after-night on national news, without that acknowledgement. John Kerry has too much class to say “I told you so”, but it frustrates me, that when I bring up these items, even with fellow Democrats, they don’t remember his statements. But they do remember “stuck in Iraq”, thanks to the choices made by our national media on what news to emphasize.

  3. I so agree with your post, Pam, and your comments, Andy and Bob. Kerry is still the one who could bring this country back from the precipice. We just need more and more of the self-proclaimed pundits and, yes, more of the corporate wing of the democratic party, to admit their blunder in not seeing that Kerry was the most capable man running for president in ’04, (and maybe in ’08?!). As JK received more votes than any other democratic presidential candidate in history, I would have to say that the people did see that!

  4. Am I the only one who completely missed “the joke”? If not, Kerry may have done a Gray Hart, and let something affect his decision that the voters were completely ready to over look.

  5. It’s not just Iraq. Kerry was ahead of his time on terrorism, climate change, and his approach to heath coverage.
    He would have had to do some repackaging, but he could have won the nomination this cycle.

  6. I just read the Lee Iacocca chapter that you so kindly provided on another thread. Just that one chapter.. ..Iacocca’s definition of a leader. And, yes, it fits John Kerry to a T.
    In my disgruntled opinion, none of the current candidates fill all of Iacocca’s 8 leadership criteria.

    White House or no White House, Kerry is leading anyway. He’s doing a fabulous job. He’s speaking his mind, and it’s beautiful.

    But I still wish he were president..

  7. There’s no doubt that JK is still shoulders above the ’08 candidates (no pun intended) but I really feel he is doing what he believes in and that is what counts. I’d be on his team in a split second if he decided to jump in and still wish like the rest of you that he would.

  8. Thank you, Pamela!

    Our response to the “mocker” is here.