September 5, 2004

The Kerry that didn't roar.

Regular readers of this blog will know why this paragraph--from an article written by Adam Nagourny and Jodi Wilgoren--on the front page of today's NYT caught my eye:
President Bush roared out of his New York convention last week, leaving many Democrats nervous about the state of the presidential race and pressing Senator John Kerry to torque up what they described as a wandering and low-energy campaign.
Yes, it's "roared." Friday's New York Times had an article, which I blogged about here, that began:
Roaring back at his Republican rivals, Senator John Kerry called President Bush "unfit to lead this country" for "misleading'' America into war in Iraq and said Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney avoided fighting in the Vietnam War.
I found it a little hard to believe that Kerry was "roaring," and today, with two days to cool off from the post-convention mania, the Times is seeing Bush as the roaring one, and Kerry as still having failed to roar. I was thinking of roaring in terms of a lion, but now I'm thinking it's more of a motorcycle: Bush "roaring out of" New York, and Kerry needing to "torque up." As I wrote on Friday, the Kerry roaring was mostly a matter of the Times's wishful thinking. I've watched the whole Kerry midnight speech, and I don't think it's much of a roar in the sense of the lion (noise and fierce fighting) or the motorcycle (noise and momentum).

But as to this article today, the one that has Bush doing the roaring and Kerry "wandering and low-energy," it seems that everyone is constantly badgering Kerry to fight harder, to do more, to emphasize domestic policy and not national security or vice versa, and telling him to become "more engaged." What is the poor guy supposed to do? He was already trying to do all of that with the midnight speech. How can he do more without seeming unhinged, which is the kiss of death, as Howard Dean knows? Do something! Anything! people seem to be telling him. Don't be so "cautious," so stodgy! But isn't all of that to say, his style and image were never very good? He got the nomination when Dean's candidacy imploded, and he got it because he was just standing around, being the most normal, solid, grown-up person left on the stage. He is what he is. If he tries to change, he will seem bizarre. Remember in 2000, when Al Gore radically changed his style after each debate? Long ago, it was a brilliant strategy to "let Nixon be Nixon." Let Kerry be Kerry.

Of course, Kerry does seem to be on the path to defeat right now, so his supporters can't help panicking and find it hard not to yammer a lot of (conflicting) advice at him. But I think his best chance lies in continuing to be the lumbering, dull but solid and grown-up guy that he is, so that when election day finally comes and the excitement-seeking is over, people will look at him and say--perhaps: Yes, he's a frightful bore, but put him in the office and he'll probably earnestly work hard and make a decent share of good-enough judgments, which is all we really ever hope for anyway.

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