Jewish World Review August 3, 2004 / 16 Menachem-Av, 5764
Peter A. Brown
Kerry's challenge: Closing the deal
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | The American people are skeptical enough about George W. Bush's performance to consider firing him. But they don't yet believe that John Kerry can handle the job.
Kerry's challenge over the next four months is to convince them without being so specific he turns off some who inevitably won't like his plans. That's required since his coalition is united by little other than a shared distaste for Bush.
Unfortunately for Kerry, he lacks the persuasive skills of Bill Clinton, who could claim the Earth was flat, and everyone would look to make sure they weren't close to the edge. But Kerry doesn't have to be another Clinton to win.
Kerry has to cement his appeal to those who assume that, because he is opposing Bush, he shares their views on how to make things better, and even what would constitute that end. However, given that this diverse group is composed of those with varying priorities - some contrary to Kerry's record or positions - he faces a tough task.
There is nothing wrong with campaigning like the football quarterback trying to run out the clock without making a fatal mistake. All's fair in war and politics, although the more this campaign goes on, the more it resembles the former.
But to close the deal, Kerry must offer more than a congressional career and admirable stint in the Navy 35 years ago. So far, his campaign - and especially his TV ads - have not ventured past that safe, noncontroversial message.
A Washington Post-ABC poll taken on the eve of the Democratic convention makes that clear. Almost half of Democrats and a majority of independents say they don't know where Kerry stands.
The last time an incumbent president named Bush lost it was because voters both liked the challenger more, and were confident of the challenger's plans to make things better.
There is no way that by Nov. 2 - or ever, for that matter - that Kerry will develop Clinton's charm. But, this Bush has inspired a great deal more animosity than did his dad, so that's not required.
The key is for Kerry to convince voters he is more than just the other candidate. Like Clinton, he must offer concrete plans that reflect mainstream views and values. That might be a tall order.
Kerry pledges to halve the $400 billion federal deficit, offer health care for the uninsured, address a host of his other domestic priorities and maintain a strong defense, presumably without cutting the Pentagon budget.
Yet, the only way he has suggested to pay for this is raising taxes on families with incomes of more than $200,000. The average voter correctly understands that just taxing the rich won't come close to funding his proposals, much less reduce the deficit. Being specific will require Kerry to reduce promised spending or raise taxes on more than just the wealthy - which might peel off some anti-Bush types.
He appeals to the anti-war crowd by criticizing Bush on Iraq, but less known are his calls for sending more U.S. troops there. Yet, the vast majority of those who support him want the troops brought home quickly.
Hot-button social issues are a big deal in the rural areas in key battleground states of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Wisconsin and West Virginia where Kerry has sought to attract blue-collar voters worried by the economy.
But many of them hold views on abortion and gay marriage that are anathema to Kerry's urban and upscale suburban supporters.
He is a longtime supporter of abortion rights, but has gone out of his way to say he believes life begins at conception, which is the pro-life view. Yet, when pressed, he says that nevertheless, he does not think ending that life before birth is wrong.
His dance on abortion pales compared to his two-step on gay marriage, which he says he opposes whenever he can.
Yet, Kerry does not support a proposed constitutional amendment to ban it because he says the Constitution should not be tinkered with. However, he also voted against simple legislation that would allow states to refuse recognition to same-sex unions performed elsewhere.
If forced to discuss either issue at length, Kerry will likely anger some shopping for an alternative to Bush.
Perhaps Kerry can be Clintonesque in his ability to make those who disagree with him on issues vote for him anyway.
Or, he can remain vague and hope there are enough Americans who dislike President Bush so much they'll vote for any alternative.
As they say at the track, that is what makes horse races.
07/29/04: Note to Prez: Customer's always right