At one of the panel discussions on the recent (sigh) cruise, we panellists
were invited to opine about what GWB did right this election, and what JFK
did wrong. I laid out my own contribution in the form of a Letterman-style
Top Ten. Several people have asked me to post it. Here is as much as I can
glean from my notes.
—What Bush did right
10. Married Laura. She was a great asset to W’s campaign, a natural.
9. Showed humor. Steve Sailer argues that W is a teaser on humor — always
seems on the point of making a joke but never quite does so. This is asking
too much. W gives the impression of being a *humorous man* — a man who
likes to laugh, and who could probably tell a joke if he felt inclined, but
at any rate will laugh heartily at someone else’s joke. For campaign
purposes, that’s quite sufficient to give him a big likeability boost.
8. Went on The O’Reilly Factor. That was W at his best: relaxed, charming,
engaging. I have never seen him present himself so well. I don’t know if
it was something O’Reilly did, or something the producers did, or perhaps we
just caught W on a good day. Whatever it was, it must have been worth half
a million votes.
7. Kept Cheney on ticket. I doubt there was ever a thought of taking
Cheney *off* the ticket, but if there was, it was a thought well discarded.
6. The convention. What a convention! It was my first, and seemed to me
really good; but because it was my first I wasn’t sure of my impressions,
and checked with colleagues. Yes, they all agreed, theis was a *really*
good convention. Zell Miller… Arnold… Rudy… Cheney… Oh boy!
5. Stood aloof. From the dirty stuff. The new wild card in this campaign
was the 527s. W mildly dissed the Swifties, but otherwise gave the
impression of paying no attention to the 527s. Which was the right thing
for *him* to do. (But see my point on Kerry below.)
4. Steered straight on Iraq. Unusually for a conservative magazine, NR is
right where the broad US public is on Iraq: Willing to be patient & see if
the current strategy bears fruit. If it doesn’t (in a few months), willing
to clamor for a new strategy. So the course through Sept-Oct-Nov was steady
as she goes. It was what we wanted; it was what the public wanted; it was
3. Cut taxes. What people expect from a GOP administration is tax cuts.
Even people who don’t vote Republican expect them, and are disturbed if they
don’t get them. (“Darn it, the GOP got in. Oh, well, at least we’ll get a
tax cut…”) To some degree, a party must live up to expectations,
otherwise the electorate gets queasy. Compare Bush 41…
2. Got out the vote. What a great ground game we played! I had a chance
to talk to some of the foot soldiers on the cruise. They did a MAGNIFICENT
job. God bless you all (especially you, Shawn).
1. Was himself. W is not always an attractive character. He has a mean
streak — remember all those Church Lady faces in debate 1. There is,
however, a core of great steadiness and sincerity there, and the campaign
brought it out. Say what you like about the “intrusiveness” of modern
presidential campaigns, but we really get to know these guys. As we should.
—What Kerry did wrong.
10. Windsurfed. Kerry carries around with him a whiff of the old WASP
sportiness (as did Bush 41). It’s a net negative, and windsurfing in a
$1,000 wet suit really didn’t help.
9. Married Teresa. I’m going to be a gentleman and say no more, but you
all know where we are here.
8. Goose hunted. In camouflage! Dukakis redux! Don’t they ever LEARN?
If there’s anything worse than a WASP showing off WASP sportiness, it’s one
faking red-state sportiness.
7. Picked Edwards. America has a complicated psychological relationship
with trial lawyers — all those lawyer jokes, yet still they can pull off
the thing about standing up for the little guy against those big, evil
corporations. Being a trial lawyer could be made to work in a campaign
context, I am sure, but Edwards didn’t find the right formula. He came over
as phoney, I think. In part this was his boyishness. Guys in their 50s are
not SUPPOSED to be boyish. Gravitas deficit without any compensating
6. Did NOT go on The O’Reilly Factor. I know, you want to argue with me
all day about what O’Reilly is and isn’t. Fact is, though, that a lot of
thoughtful, persuadable people watch his show. W went on there, K should
have done so too, else the assumption is: (a) he’s chicken, or (b) he
disdains the kind of people who watch O’Reilly.
5. Stood aloof. For Kerry, this was the WRONG way to deal with the 527s.
He should have held a news conference and laid out his side of the case
forcefully, then left it alone.
4. Gravitas overload. He just overdid it, became the visiting judge in Tom
Sawyer, too grand to approach. His physical appearance was all against him
here — he couldn’t even smile convincingly, and his laugh made me cringe.
This is unfair, but hey.
3. Flipped & flopped. In contrast to W’s strong clear line. Not a man of
firm convictions — who ever thought so? In times like these, that won’t
2. He lawyered up. The shadow of 2000 loomed — fears of a constitutional
crisis. That got the GOP lawyers out — yes! there are lots of them!
Whatever we think of lawyers, we are pretty unanimous that we don’t want
them deciding our elections for us.
1. Was himself. Every time I saw John Kerry’s face on TV it brought to
mind Dr. Johnson’s remark about Mrs. Thrale: “Sir, the insolence of wealth
will creep out.” Yes, it will. It did.