Kerry Triangulates
Jude Wanniski
July 30, 2004


Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: The acceptance speech

When Senator John Edwards spoke Wednesday night, I tried to stick with him for the whole thing but finally snapped off the TV midway through his talk. My guess is that he will not wear well and that it was a mistake for Kerry to choose him, but the choice was part of the "triangulation" strategy that is at the heart of the Kerry campaign. Remember when President Clinton in 1994 faced the probability that he would be a one term president, when the Republicans took control of both House and Senate? Mr. Clinton made the bold move of turning to Dick Morris, a campaign strategist who had advised both left-wing Democrats and right-wing Republicans. Morris advised "triangulation," which came down to mean that President Clinton should forget about party "ideology" if he wished to be re-elected. Instead, he advised that Clinton should observe the positions the GOP was taking, and then take a position slightly to the left of the GOP (then dominated by House Speaker Newt Gingrich.)

This was a brilliant strategy. Every time Clinton moved from the left to only "slightly" to the left of Gingrich on economic issues, Gingrich and the GOP moved further right. This kept up until Gingrich led the GOP over the right-wing precipice, telling the electorate the GOP was determined to beat Clinton even if it meant closing down the government. Newt was not smart enough to see what was happening, and in the end he was bounced out of his leadership position, his seat in the House, and his leadership of an intellectual revolution. President Clinton easily won re-election with this strategy, as the GOP and its nominee, Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, was too dense to understand how they had been outflanked.

This isn't what presidential campaigns are supposed to be about, which is why Senator Kerry's acceptance speech last night, as nice as it was, could not be considered fulfilling. Lots of nice words, but lots of triangulation, and in the end we're still not sure where Kerry stands on incredibly important issues of war and peace, except that his positions are slightly different than Mr. Bush's. If this triangulation goes on to the wire, we will of course have a repeat of 2000, with the national electorate forced to choose between candidates who are almost identical in their agendas.

Here is Bob Novak's political take, in his post-Boston report.

What's Happening...Who's Ahead...In Politics Today
JULY 30, 2004, BOSTON, MASS.
Boston Convention
Overview: The convention was about, first, the administration of President George W. Bush, and, second, the war record of Sen. John Kerry (Mass.)

1) A tightly scripted Democratic National Convention ended on a bland note with candidate Kerry delivering a serviceable but not spectacular acceptance address that lacked a slogan and much memorable phrasing.

The controlled convention avoided conflict on the platform or anything else in an effort to give the country a message of unprecedented unity by the Democratic Party. It also succeeded in holding down the Bush-bashing.

2) Kerry's war record was a recurring theme in the convention, drawing a clear contrast with Bush. But that opened the way for conservatives to demand an investigation of what really happened during Kerry's four months in combat.

3) The speakers refrained from naming Bush or attacking him personally, but the attacks were at the heart of most speeches. Kerry was praised for being a President "who has not burned his bridges with our allies," or who "will not send jobs overseas." In short, Kerry was touted for being not Bush. Kerry's speech, for the most part carried on this message, and the nominee was not particularly compelling in that regard.

4) As an example of the party's desire to avoid personal attacks, one speaker had her speech returned by the party for being too negative. Her second, toned-down draft was similarly rejected, and in the end the party simply wrote her speech for her. Even Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell's speech was toned down, and he is a former national party chairman.

5) The theme of "strong at home and respected in the world," while not a bad choice, was mostly without substance. Those words, spoken dozens of times this week, were never really given content.

6) The export of jobs was a large topic, but speakers typically stopped short of advocating protectionism, reflecting a deliberate decision to avoid that election strategy.

7) After nearly a century of platform disputes, the Democrats -- in the interest of unity -- approved by voice vote a platform that ignored partial-birth abortion, capital punishment, gay marriage, ANWR oil drilling and global warming.

8) The Republican response, carefully orchestrated by Washington, was weak. The talking points attacked the Democrats for failing to talk about Kerry's Senate record.

Kerry: Kerry's speech was not bad, but it was certainly not the highlight of the week.

1) On the positive side, Kerry was less cold and off-putting than usual. This relative eloquence is reminiscent of Bush's 2000 convention speech. Still, Kerry was far less compelling than other speakers this weekend.

2) The text of the speech was bland. It was mostly thematic, avoiding specifics. But the themes were the same ones that the Party had presented all week.

3) Kerry, like all the speakers this week, refrained from direct attack, relying instead on the indirect attack, such as "I will be a commander in chief who will never mislead us into war."

4) Defense and national security was the dominant subject of the speech. Again, the criticisms of the war were broad.

5) The speech, with the "help is on the way" promise appeals only to those Americans who feel they need help. In other words, Kerry and the Democrats have put even more of their chips on bad news.

Edwards: The speech by Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) was very good as an introduction to the country both of himself and of his message.

1) At heart, Edwards' podium speech was a longer version of his stump speech that he gave on the primary campaign trail on the run-up to Iowa and New Hampshire. This pitch was new to almost the whole country while not to the press. On the primary trail, it was the best stump speech, and in the FleetCenter it was just as good.

2) Edwards presents a message that at its core is divisive, but delivered with a smile and peppered with the words "hope" and "promise." The talk of "two Americas" is effective in a time of employment troubles and a divisive war.

3) Edwards delivered the speech well, showing off his slick style and earning glowing press coverage. He was at his least effective and convincing when he promised to eradicate al Qaeda.

The Clintons: Monday night's main event was former President Bill Clinton's fifth straight convention speech.

1) Clinton is still the rock star of the Democratic Party. His entrance onto the stage was the first time the FleetCenter crowd got rowdy. None of the scandals at the end of Clinton's tenure or afterwards has dulled the enthusiasm the party's base has for their only President elected in the past 28 years. Especially with most of the base's energy coming from anger at the GOP, the Republicans' former No. 1 enemy is loved as much as ever.

2) Relatively speaking, Clinton did not steal the spotlight. Unlike his previous convention appearances, Clinton kept within his allotted time. Also, his remarks dealt with broad issues and general barbs. While not speaking strictly about Kerry, Clinton's role was primarily to fire up the crowd at the start of the week. The crowd was ready to be fired up, and Clinton filled that role fine.

3) Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), the only one in the family currently holding office, found herself playing dutiful wife, introducing her husband rather than giving a speech in her own right. Still, she couldn't avoid giving her own mini-speech that had nothing to do with her husband or the nominee.

4) Politically, this wifely role was a good one for Hillary. The last thing she needs now is to appear any more ambitious than she already comes across. Showing she is not above honoring her husband makes her more palatable to many women and men around the country. However, the speech was not memorable.

Other Speakers: The convention provides Democratic officials with a chance to impress the national media as well as the party base.

1) The biggest win this week was for State Sen. Barack Obama, the currently unopposed Senate candidate in Illinois. Obama was remarkably relaxed and composed for his first time on a national stage.

2) Obama's style and substance were excellent, and his was probably the best speech of the week. Many networks did not air Tuesday night, however, and so only cable viewers saw him. Obama is a star, in large part, because he is African American. He is very far to the left, which is forgotten in his laudatory treatment.

3) The worst speech may have been that of former President Jimmy Carter. At nearly 80 years old, Carter lacked any energy. His speech and his demeanor were the height of bitterness for the week. While it played decently to the partisan crowd motivated primarily by disdain for Bush, it was not what the Kerry high command wanted.

4) Former Vice President Al Gore delivered a good speech, but did not deliver it well. While it came across well in the hall as a good mix of rage about the past (much of it joking) and a call to action, on television, Gore's awkward, stiff style took away from an otherwise well-written and well-balanced speech. Democrats' fondness for Gore is as the victim of the 2000 Florida recount fiasco, but there is no eagerness to have him back.

5) As was the case on the primary and caucus trail last year and this winter, the most inspiring speaker was Rev. Al Sharpton. Sharpton, a professional demagogue, deviated from his script and went long over his allotted time. The biggest single applause line of the entire week may have been Sharpton's assertion that "if George Bush had selected the court in '54, Clarence Thomas would have never got to law school."

6) Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (Vt.), by contrast, behaved. Dean was much toned down from his performances on the campaign trail. Without the fire, Dean was uncompelling and flat. His Deaniacs were already on board with Kerry for the most part, and Dean's speech probably made no difference in shoring up the left-wing base. The best thing he could find to say in Kerry's behalf was that Dean supported him.

The Delegates: While convention delegates are true liberals, they were not dissatisfied with the relative lack of red meat.

1) Delegates told us: "These speeches are not for us. They are for the television audience." The real left-wing rhetoric went on in events around town outside of the FleetCenter with Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) railing to wild crowds of former Dean voters.

2) While satisfied with the scripted, toned-down podium speech, the crowd erupted joyously at every backhanded dig at President Bush and his administration. Similarly, references to Florida in 2000 energized the crowd.

3) Aside from Kerry-Edwards pins, the most prominent decoration on delegates' clothes has been Planned Parenthood pro-choice stickers. Along the same lines, most delegates consider the courts to be a top-tier issue. Neither issue was discussed at any length on the podium.

4) The same is true with the injustice of the Iraq war and immediate withdrawal of troops. Almost all delegates believed the war was wrong from the start and want the troops home tomorrow. Kerry and Edwards, of course, voted for the war resolution and would never propose immediate withdrawal.