The letter reads like it
was written by the caricature of John Kerry that George W. Bush
portrayed during the campaign: the indecisive, flip-flopping politician
who wants to be on every side of an issue.
“I will not be taking
part in a formal protest of the Ohio Electors,” Kerry wrote in an e-mail
to 3 million supporters on Jan. 5. “Despite widespread reports of
irregularities, questionable practices by some election officials and
instances of lawful voters being denied the right to vote, our legal
teams on the ground have found no evidence that would change the outcome
of the election.”
While rejecting the
efforts of Rep. John Conyers and other members of the Congressional
Black Caucus to demand a floor debate on the Ohio abuses at a joint
congressional session on Jan. 6, Kerry then calls on his supporters to
renew the fight for fair elections in the future.
“If you want to force
real action on election reform, we’ve got to demand that congressional
leaders hold full hearings,” Kerry wrote. “Make sure they hear from you
and help hold them accountable.” He then listed the office phone numbers
for Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader
This latest Kerry
recommendation – to avoid a high-profile clash with the Republicans now
in favor of some bipartisan hearings in the future – is sure to
infuriate much of the Democratic base that has been fuming about the
illegitimacy of the Bush presidency since five Republicans on the U.S.
Supreme Court handed Bush the White House in December 2000. [Despite
Kerry's letter, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., agreed to sign the House
motion, ensuring that a floor debate would occur.]
Based on e-mails that
we’ve gotten from scores of rank-and-file Democrats, they are sick of
national Democratic leaders who act as if the country is operating under
business-as-usual political rules. The rank-and-file sees a national
crisis that requires both strong leadership and creative strategies.
Mostly, they want to dig in and fight, not ask GOP leaders for anything,
let alone their agreement to hold hearings on election reform.
The obvious question in
response to Kerry’s proposal that his supporters call Hastert and Frist
would be: Why? What possible good would that do?
More likely, the impact
of Kerry’s letter will simply be to widen the chasm between the
Democratic base and the party leadership in Washington.
Time and again,
Democratic leaders have asked their grassroots supporters to get
organized for one more campaign. Then, those same Democratic leaders
pull their punches and try to squeak out electoral victories by the
narrowest of margins. That strategy created, in Elections 2000 and 2004,
the opportunity for the Republicans to use last-minute dirty tricks to
Democrats are sick and tired of these well-paid Washington-based
consultants who constantly advise Democratic politicians to finesse
controversial issues and not to be too shrill.
For instance, veteran
Democratic adviser Robert Shrum has been blamed for the mushy tone of
the Kerry campaign and its failure to sharply define the dangers of a
second Bush term. Still, Shrum, who has advised eight losing Democratic
presidential campaigns dating back to 1972, saw his consulting firm
collect about $8 million in fees from Election 2004. [Washington Post,.
Dec. 30, 2004]
As for Kerry, he put
himself on the Establishment track in the 1990s, reversing his earlier
status as someone known for speaking truth to power. In the 1970s, he
protested the Vietnam War as a returning veteran. In the 1980s, as a
freshman senator, he stood up to the Reagan-Bush administration over the
contra-drug scandal and conducted a courageous investigation.
For his work
investigating the Nicaraguan contra-cocaine smuggling, however, Kerry
was mocked by the Washington Establishment. Newsweek termed him a “randy
conspiracy buff” and the major media did nothing to rectify that
negative image when Kerry’s investigative findings were vindicated by
the CIA’s inspector general in a 1998 report. [See Consortiumnews.com’s
After the pounding he
took for his contra-cocaine probe, Kerry began listening to advisers who
urged a more cautious style as the route to a possible presidential bid.
So, by fall 2002, Kerry was on the lookout for safe, centrist positions.
As Bush charted a course clearly aimed at war with Iraq, Kerry accepted
an understanding with Bush that the president would exhaust all
diplomatic options before sending U.S. troops into Iraq.
At the time, millions of
Americans were in the streets calling for the Democrats not to give Bush
the authorization to go to war because the protesters recognized that
Bush wasn’t serious about avoiding war if at all possible.
Indeed, it was hard for
many rank-and-file Democrats to think that Kerry and other Democratic
leaders really believed Bush’s assurances either. Many Democrats
suspected that Kerry and other senators were simply ducking a fight with
Bush to protect their political “viability.”
Democrats saw the same
timidity when Kerry and his campaign advisers thought they could earn
brownie points from the major news media by running a largely positive,
issues-based campaign in 2004. To take the high road, Kerry’s advisers
even excised criticism of Bush from speeches delivered at the Democratic
National Convention, but all Kerry got for that was a rare “bounce-less”
Bush and his advisers
also had no intention of following Kerry on that high road. Pro-Bush
attack groups, such as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, aired
dishonest ads accusing Kerry of lying about his war record. Kerry’s
aides were shocked when big news outlets such as CNN rushed to play up
When Republicans turned
the GOP Convention into a Kerry-bash – complete with Purple Heart
band-aids to mock Kerry’s war wounds – the media largely fell silent or
marveled at the skillfulness of the negativity, rather than make Bush
pay any price.
'Bring It On?'
To the disappointment of
many Democrats, John Kerry who challenged the Bush dirty tricksters to
“bring it on” early in the campaign didn’t get mad when he had every
reason to denounce the smears against his service in Vietnam and the
criticism of his principled protests of the war once he returned.
If there was ever a time
for a straight-talking speech to the American people about how the
Republicans play dirty politics, that was it. Instead, Kerry asked Bush
to join him in urging supporters to refrain from negative advertising.
Kerry even called on pro-Kerry groups to pull ads criticizing Bush’s
ducking of service in the Texas Air National Guard. Bush, however, never
specifically disavowed the anti-Kerry Swift boat ads.
A Washington Post
analysis of Election 2004’s campaign financing concluded that the first
Swift boat ad – accusing Kerry of lying to get war medals – was one of
the key moments of the campaign as well as one of the most
cost-effective attacks on Kerry. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “It’s
the Media, Stupid!”]
Many Democrats also were
distraught when Kerry conceded defeat on Nov. 3, the day after the
election, even as reports were flowing in about voting irregularities in
Ohio and elsewhere. Though Kerry continued to say that all outstanding
votes should be counted, his concession undercut recount efforts in Ohio
where tens of thousands of votes were discarded and never examined by
hand to see if they did show a vote for president.
Now, Kerry has repeated
that hair-splitting approach to the election. He won’t support a
congressional challenge to the voting irregularities, but he wants the
Republican congressional leadership to hold some hearings. He also says
he will submit some legislation seeking reform of the electoral system.
To many Democrats, John
Kerry’s have-it-both-ways letter ends whatever hope he may still harbor
to be a national political leader.