The Corner

Kerry’s Problem

Most of the polls seem to indicate that the president’s lead is growing. Why? Adam Nagourney, in The New York Times, argues that the Mary Cheney mistake has canceled out Kerry’s supposed victory in the debates. That’s way too simple. No doubt Kerry’s been hurt by the Mary Cheney dustup. But there’s a lot more going on than that. For one thing, the president did far better in the debates than Nagourney lets on. In particular, the president’s been stressing Kerry’s liberalism. Kerry’s flip-flops aren’t just a matter of bending with the political wind. They’re an attempt to disguise his underlying liberalism. Kerry fell behind because the Swiftboat Vets and the Republican convention–especially Zell Miller’s speech–painted a true and persuasive picture of Kerry’s dovish record. Kerry’s Vietnam protests reveal him to be a McGovernite liberal, and his twenty-year Senate voting record confirms it. Electoral momentum shifted to Kerry after the first debate, when almost every question Jim Lehrer asked was about the troubles in Iraq. That put the president on the defensive and took Kerry’s record off the table. But the president turned Kerry’s record back into an issue in the next two debates. The Mary Cheney remark may be Kerry’s most obvious mistake, but Kerry’s real problem is that the president has put Kerry’s liberalism back into play. And the president did this, not just by highlighting Kerry’s record, but by laying out a real alternative. The Times would have it that Kerry’s victories on substance are being canceled out by the kind of minor cultural gaffe only flyover country types could care about. What Nagourney and the Times don’t want to admit is that, despite Kerry’s smooth performance in the debates, the public is just not comfortable with his extreme liberalism.