The Corner

The Last Election

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

exactly right.

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.


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