I have this in common with NPR, Michael Moore, the Black Caucus, and assorted other grasping, complaining, anti-capitalist victim lobbies: a burning desire to see George Bush’s fingers pried loose from the levers of power. This of course means that I, along with millions of others anxious to get rid of the Bush junta, want to like Kerry and his new trial-lawyer running mate named something or other.
Here’s the trouble. Kerry seems like a politician doll in 1930s garb. You pull the cord and he talks about the ways that the government is going to make your life better. He tells us that he will put Americans back to work with good paying jobs. He will bring good education to all our children and raise the salaries of America’s teachers. He will give all Americans access to quality health care at affordable prices.
Does anyone really believe this stuff anymore? It’s all very embarrassing, almost like Kerry is trying to discredit himself. With his list of dumb and dumber policy plans, he somehow comes across as anti-intellectual — even more so than Bush, which takes some doing.
The Kerry message, moreover, has no political resonance. Unemployment is darn low by any standard, educational alternatives are popping up everywhere, and health care has never been more accessible to the masses. Whatever problems remain, and there are plenty, can only be solved through market means. In education that means more private schools, more homeschooling, and more booster clubs. In health care, that means more entrepreneurial approaches, fee for service clinics, drug re-importation, and the like.
The old-line slogans voiced by Kerry are of course designed to pick up votes from the usual Democratic base of public employees, labor unions, and seniors living on public welfare. But this seems like bad politics. He already has their votes (presumably). They don’t need to be convinced to support the Democratic nominee. As to whether they actually believe the rhetoric, it’s doubtful. Does any living public school teacher really believe that Kerry will grant him or her a raise? Does anyone who is genuinely concerned about his or her place in the job market believe that Kerry will really find this person a good job that is well-paying and secure?
The whole theme of the Kerry ticket so far is maddeningly reactionary. It seems to date from yesteryear, when economic affairs were national as opposed to international, when government programs were large instead of bit players in the market, and when labor unions controlled a sizeable slice of the labor force. The Kerry ticket seems completely detached from the reality of the world marketplace and the growing implausibility of New Deal-style central planning.
Kerry’s comments on trade give the whole game away: he promises to be more protectionist than the incumbent, the most protectionist president in modern times. In this, Kerry has done the near impossible in making it appear that Bush, in relative terms, is the free-trade candidate. That’s pretty shabby politicking.
The same pattern repeats itself on Iraq. Here is Bush’s most vulnerable spot. And what does Kerry manage to do? In what is an amazing feat of disastrous political maneuvering, he has carved out a position that is even worse than Bush’s! He favors putting more troops in Iraq and putting them under the command of the UN. Now here is a position that seems perfectly designed to alienate every last red-blooded American, a position that can only meet with approval among some tiny segments of the Eastern Establishment intelligentsia. It seems to show that Kerry is completely out of touch, not just with middle America, but with any realities of American political culture.
This is not the way Clinton campaigned. Gore didn’t campaign this way either. They both worked to paint themselves as New Democrats who wanted tax cuts for the middle class and welfare reform. They were for free trade (in name) and spoke hardly at all about foreign politics except to generally avoid belligerent talk about foreign nations. They did their best to distance themselves from the parasites who make up the bulk of the base of the Democratic Party. They saw that the way to win was through capturing the middle class using traditionally Republican issues.
Now, I’m somewhat realistic, so I’m not expecting Kerry to come out tomorrow and endorse my preferred program of dismantling the entire welfare-warfare state. Neither do I suggest that his best political move would be to sing hymns to the glory of free enterprise, or otherwise attack the government as a baneful influence in American life. Still, there are issues he can campaign on that will attract new attention among regular Americans, not alienate his base, and even get him elected.
It’s called triangulation, and it’s worth a shot, because right now, he is slated to lose badly (proof 1, 2, 3). He can campaign on libertarian issues without actually bringing up the sticky problem of economic systems. He can pick up the following hugely important topics that have been left to languish.
The debt and deficit: Bush has plainly driven the fiscal health of the US into the gutter. Kerry could link this to the rise of inflation. This is an issue that clearly favors Democrats.
Iraq: Bush is being hurt very badly here. Kerry needs to shift to a position that Americans can understand: leave Iraq.
Free trade: Kerry should come out in favor of trade with all and against corporate welfare at the same time, thereby pleasing the merchant class and the new entrepreneurial class, and tapping into a populist message at the same time.
These four issues are all winners for the Democrats. They can be emphasized without abandoning their core issues. They would make the GOP squirm. As it is, even the people who are desperate to see Bush tossed out find nothing in Kerry to inspire confidence. Someone needs to reach this man with a dose of reality. Otherwise, the world will be stuck with another four years of a presidency that will be even worse if Bush perceives a mandate to wreck the world even more than he already has.