Politics & Policy

Bush’s Virtues, Kerry’s Promises

When imitation isn't exactly the highest form of flattery.

The convention eve USA Today/CNN poll provides a preview of how the Democrats hope to boost their guy this week in Boston. Though tied in the match-up, the poll reveals that President Bush enjoys a persistent advantage in the virtues that will be pounded on from the podium at the Fleet Center beginning tonight.

Bush is seen as the stronger leader by a margin of 17 points. He bests Kerry as having the strength of his convictions by 22 points, and is seen as better in handling terrorism by 18 points. Bush even enjoys a 5-point advantage on handling Iraq. Kerry is seen as a liberal by 46 percent (only 20 percent of those polled identified themselves the same way), while Bush is seen as conservative by 67 percent (as were 39 percent of the respondents). A Kerry adviser explained that they also hope to add “smart” to the “strength” the candidate will pledge to bring to the war on terrorism.

So, it’s obvious what Kerry has to do here. He has to shed the liberal voting record of Senator Kerry and emerge as the moderate, electable candidate Kerry. There will be so much talk about strength, viewers will be forgiven for thinking they’ve tuned into an infomercial for a health club. The delegates here put a low priority on the war on terrorism, but it will be featured as the central rationale of the Kerry candidacy because it remains at the top of the list for voters. A mark of their desperate desire to win will be their enthusiastic response to the make-over, their emphasis on strong leadership rather than feeling everyone’s pain, and their highlighting of national security when they’d prefer a call to arms on global warming.

John Kerry needs the Bush-hatred passion in his ranks to turn out his voters in November, but he can’t let it turn off viewers this week. So the antipathy that fuels his candidacy is off-limits at the Fleet Center–but it’s not banned in Boston. The most popular buttons and t-shirts adorning delegates are stridently anti-Bush, accessorized by the sensible shoes favored by aging feminists who appear to be over-represented in the crowded hotel lobbies.

This year, it doesn’t seem as though party activists have convened merely because the time to do so rolled around. There is a determination to see “Regime Change 2004,” as one popular button has it. If that means John Kerry has to ape the despised George Bush, that’s okay with the angry rank and file.

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