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John Kerry Will Make Things Less Bad

I find the whole business of bloggers issuing "endorsements" a little silly, although I guess if your vote is really a surprise like Drezner or Sullivan, or their opposite numbers who are surprisingly voting for Bush (yes, that's a joke), then it can be significant for those readers who have followed your thoughts. I only have two comments:

My support for Kerry is unqualified. I don't have any caveats like, "the least appealing candidate the Democrats have nominated for president in my lifetime" (which would be a dubious statement even coming from a 15-year-old). Kerry wasn't my first or second or even third choice for the nomination. From my time working in the Senate, I didn't have a particularly high opinion of him and never understood the logic of his running for president. But the way he has conducted this race made me fully appreciate his talents. He won the nomination more smoothly than any Democratic challenger in my lifetime, without being divisive and without depending just on a financial advantage. He's fundamentally right on most of the big issues: Iraq, on which his position has been consistent and only complicated in comparison to the Manichean simplifications of the White House. Health care, on which his plan is creative and would make a difference, but is also modest enough to be politically viable. The budget. And the rest of the Democratic agenda, environment, choice, rights, etc.

On terrorism, I think the case for Kerry is exactly as clear as Bush supporters believe theirs is: He "gets it." Bush doesn't get it. Getting it means understanding that huge international criminal conspiracies are not the same as states and must be fought with different means. Bush's Cold War mentality convinces him that it's all about states -- Afghanistan, Iraq -- and equally that states whose leaders are "with us" pose no problem whatsoever -- Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Russia. That is the most dangerous delusion of our times, and Kerry has understood it since his first investigations of global crime in the 1980s.

As a candidate, Kerry handled himself impeccably through four and a half hours of debate, with perhaps two slight missteps: "global test" and the mention of Mary Cheney (an off-note in my view only because he ascribed views to her without knowing her), neither of which would have mattered except that they gave Bush and Fox an excuse to make something of them.

I heard the other day that political analyst Charlie Cook had denigrated Kerry, saying that he didn't bring anything to the ticket that another candidate wouldn't have. Although I think that's the way you talk about a vice presidential nominee, not a presidential candidate, Cook may be right. Kerry doesn't bring a constituency or a particular angle, in the way that General Clark might have, for example. But none of them could have performed as solidly as Kerry did in the cauldron of presidential politics. None of them could have handled the debates as well. None of them could have understood and made use of the unity of the party as well. If Kerry loses, it will not be because there is some other hypothetical candidate who would have done better. One of the reasons that Dick Gephardt was perhaps my third choice for the nomination was that I respect his kind of professionalism about politics. He knows that it's a business not a calling, that mistakes get punished, and, as Al Gore used to say, "It's a day-to-day fight" to put together a working coalition. I think it's turned out that Kerry was the true professional in that field.

If Kerry wins, expectations will be low. And that's a great thing. Because all that can be done for a few years is to make things less bad. As anyone who's been reading The Decembrist knows, the early years of the Clinton administration were a formative experience for me. The sense of triumphalism in 1993 was ultimately a disaster. The White House didn't understand the limits of what it could do, in the face of a completely intransigent Republican bloc, and more importantly, key Democratic constituencies had been led to expect such a transformation of government that they were all too quick to write Clinton off as a sellout when he couldn't deliver. This all but forced Clinton to "triangulate" after 1994 -- to try to build a new governing coalition around a very dubious set of deals with the Republican majority and swing voters. This saved his hide but did not create a long-term basis for governing.

Kerry will not make this mistake, and the Democratic and independent constituencies that will come together to make his victory will retain their skeptical, no-illusions unity for some period into the next year. The memory of Bush-DeLayism will be so fresh (and will probably remain alive in the House) that the old infighting between DLC Democrats and labor Democrats, or between deficit-fearing "Rubinomics" and invest-in-America liberalism might be quiescent. This is a big deal. If Kerry can manage these conflicts, and if he can free up just a few Republicans who are willing to deal with him on an honest basis, then he can govern the country succesfully. Whether he can do that is as big a worry for me as the election outcome itself, but I believe the conditions are in place.

Finally, a less-predictable endorsement, for all of you in New York: Please vote for your candidates on the Working Families Party line, Row E. You don't live in a battleground state, and your votes for Kerry and Schumer may not have much immediate impact on the outcome of those races. But you can make a difference by supporting the idea of an independent political organization that is aligned with the Democratic Party when its values are right, and not when they aren't. For example, Working Families enabled an alternative to the Democratic nominee in the special election for City Council in Brooklyn last spring, who ultimately won, and Working Families offers alternatives to the corrupt system of judicial selection in Brooklyn. Further, when the labor and community activists of the Working Families Party can approach, for example, Senator Clinton and point out that the number of votes she received on their line was greater than her margin of victory, that's a message that no ordinary constituency group can deliver. WFP is only five years old, and it's still in many ways an experiment. If it works, perhaps we'll see interest in other states in opening up to "fusion" parties -- those that can endorse Democrats or Republicans sometimes, or their own candidates if they need to. This is a reform that will dramatically open up the electoral system and also create strong, modern organizations of the type that are winning this election for Kerry. Voting on the Working Families line sends a message to the New York political system, and also beyond.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on November 2, 2004 | Permalink

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Comments

Keep in mind that a lot of the post-1992 intraparty fighting was due to different funding sources (corporate versus direct mail) and the different institutional demands they placed on the pary. The internet has thrown this dynamic into a tizzy, as has the Republican Party's K Street project.

Posted by: Matt Stoller | Nov 2, 2004 3:28:16 PM

Maybe a little late to comment, however, I found this thread very interesting.

Posted by: Jennifer | Jan 16, 2005 1:48:47 PM

I love reading archives and laughing at you idiot Kerry supporters. I'm laughing right now.

Posted by: Chuck Warren | Nov 27, 2005 12:05:30 PM