Kerry Sacrificing Credibility for Political Expediency?

Mickey Kaus recently analogized comments made by John Kerry to those that sunk the presidential aspirations of George Romney. (Scroll down to the entry for Wednesday, June 18, 2003 to read Kaus’s oblique comparison.) That analogy seems particularly apt. Though the same effect doesn’t seem to be taking hold, it should.

For those who don’t know, George Romney was a dark horse Republican candidate for president in the 1968 elections. The governor of Michigan, he took the political establishment somewhat by surprise and was a front-runner for a while. (These traits apparently run in the family. His son, Mitt Romney, is the current governor of Kerry’s home state, Massachusetts.)

And then it happened. In a moment of inopportune candor and unfortunate word choice, Romney disavowed his previous support for the Vietnam war by claiming he had earlier been “brainwashed” into supporting the war. Suddenly, the bottom dropped out of Romney’s campaign, and he was no longer taken seriously as a candidate.

Admittedly, the analogy is imperfect. Romney probably had more in common with Howard Dean than with Senator Kerry. He was a governor considered a political maverick, not an established political insider. Additionally, Romney's word choice was particularly unfortunate because "brainwashing" was associated in the popular consciousness with religious cults, and Romney was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints at a time when Mormonism was regarded as less acceptable to mainstream America.

But there's enough to the analogy to make it work. Unlike Dean, Kerry campaigned early on for a strong U.S. military response to Iraq and at one time pledged not to attack Bush during the war. (Kerry apparently reversed this stance when he began saying that the U.S. needs a "regime change."). As recently as June 5, 2003, Kerry seemed to implicitly approve the war in Iraq when he told a group of Democrats:

I say to you unabashedly that I come to you as a Democrat who is unprepared to allow those who reflexively oppose any US military intervention anywhere, or who see US power as mostly a malignant force in the world, or who place a higher value on achieving multilateral consensus, than necessarily protecting vital interests of our nation.

Contrast this with Kerry's statement on June 18 that Kerry declared "[Bush] misled every one of us. That's one reason why I'm running to be president of the United States."

If indeed Kerry was misled, his gullibility predates the current administration. As Matt Drudge has noted, with cites to the Congressional Record, Kerry said in 1997 that

In my judgment, the Security Council should authorize a strong U.N. military response that will materially damage, if not totally destroy, as much as possible of the suspected infrastructure for developing and manufacturing weapons of mass destruction, as well as key military command and control nodes. Saddam Hussein should pay a grave price, in a currency that he understands and values, for his unacceptable behavior. This should not be a strike consisting only of a handful of cruise missiles hitting isolated targets primarily of presumed symbolic value.

For the most part, press and pundits haven't exactly dogpiled on Kerry. Other than Kaus, it seems only Christopher Hitchens has criticized Kerry for his expeditious changes in positions. Characteristically acerbic, Hitchens notes:

So, the junior senator from Massachusetts has finally come up with a winning line. "Vote for me," says John Kerry. "I'm easily fooled." This appears to be the implication of his claim to have been "misled" by the Bush administration in the matter of WMD. And, considering the way in which Democratic Party activists generally portray the president as a fool and an ignoramus, one might as well go the whole distance and suggest a catchy line for the campaign: "Kerry. Duped by a Dope."

In the end, it appears that Kerry's wavering is nothing more than political expediency. Kerry supported the war early on because the war was popular. As a favorite, Kerry kept his eye on the prize of winning the general election and thus avoided committing himself to any position that might look foolish or unpatriotic in hindsight. However, doing so left him vulnerable to attack from Dean, who has campaigned as the anti-Bush (and derided other Democratic candidates as "Bush-lite") and who consistently opposed the Administration's policy in Iraq. Through this strategy, Dean has been able to capture the progressive wing of the Democratic party, as demonstrated by the results of the much-discussed Internet primary (reported by WatchBlog here and here). Kerry, meanwhile, seems to have been ignored by his party's left wing.

Kerry's shift--the "I was misled" maneuver--therefore appears to be an effort to jump left and steal some of Dean's steam. In execution, however, the maneuver has been clumsy and transparent. Those who are paying attention should punish Kerry for his disingenuousness. Whether they will--and whether Kerry's candidacy will suffer a Romney-esque nosedive as a result--remains to be seen.

Posted by Greg at June 29, 2003 10:54 PM | TrackBack (1)