Kerry's box

The Kerry campaign is in crisis. Polling data is beginning to reflect a turn against his candidacy by the uncommitted and weakly—committed voters. The temptation for the campaigners is to blame the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth television commercials. But the real problem is much deeper, and relates at least as much to the candidate's behavior, including his reaction to the commercials, as to the specifics of the commercials themselves.

Prior to running for President, John F. Kerry did not loom large in the public's mind. His mediocre record in the Senate, where no major legislation bears his name despite a twenty year career, left him a blank slate as far as the national electorate was concerned. So he and his handlers understood that they were required to define his image in the public's consciousness, before the Bush campaign had a chance to do so. Given his Senate voting record of opposing defense and intelligence spending and favoring tax increases, it must have seemed a wise choice to emphasize his much—decorated four months in Vietnam, in order to build an image as a brave warrior for the cause of America.

Kerry clearly knew prior to the Democratic Convention that there were risks in his warrior pose. But his experience in the realm of Massachusetts politics had taught him that he could override challenges to his record by waving the bloody shirt of his wartime decorations, or pulling status on his antagonists. Howie Carr, Boston Herald columnist and a radio talk show host syndicated in New England, has collected anecdotes over the years of Kerry bullying people with the question, 'Do you know who I am?' in crowded restaurants, box office lines, and other situations where ordinary mortals are required to wait their turn.

Kerry had also been able to get away with prevarication for so many decades that he assumed he could continue to do so in the national arena. Despite having not a drop of Gaelic blood, he traded on his Irish—sounding name (actually, a corruption of Kohn) to attend St. Patrick's Day events in South Boston, with no ill effects. His Christmas in Cambodia fantasy escaped challenge for decades, despite the obvious fact that his claim that President Nixon sent him there was easily falsified by reference to the inaugural date of his Presidency.

So, when the Swift Boat Vets challenge arrived on the scene, it was all too easy to fall back on the familiar tactic of ignoring it, in concert with the establishment media which pretended for over a week that it didn't exist,  trying to silence it via threatening letters to television stations, attacking the accusers, and finally claiming that it was unfair and disrespectful to his wartime brave service.

The problem for Kerry is that the public is now paying close attention. They are evaluating the character of the man who wants to be the next President, precisely because everyone knows that the next President is likely to face serious threats to our national welfare and even survival. The Clinton Presidency also heightened the appreciation of the importance of personal character.

Pretending that a threat doesn't exist, denouncing it, claiming it is unfair, and trying to make it go away without directly confronting it, won't work with al Qaeda. The public wants a strong leader who will take on and destroy those who would destroy us. John Kerry's response to his political threat is exactly the wrong approach to use against a terror threat. He has defined himself negatively, in terms of the biggest issue facing Americans.

Running four years after Al Gore, Kerry has also committed a grave error in appearing to exaggerate his accomplishments. Claiming that he doesn't fall when he skis, for example. Al Gore's boasts about being the model for Love Story and about being responsible for the internet's genesis made him into a national laughingstock. Kerry now stands at the edge of a precipice, with Braggart Canyon looming below, inches away from his foothold. Pomposity simply doesn't sell.

There may be time enough for him to rescue his image. But it would take bold action, including a no—holds—barred press conference, exhaustively confronting the charges against him. But Kerry has no history of directly addressing his critics and seriously responding with facts. Given the inconvenient circumstance that his campaign has already retreated on the issue of Christmas in Cambodia and his first Purple Heart medal, he probably sees only humiliation at having to admit his exaggerations as looming worse than toughing it out.

But the problem with toughing it out is that he reinforces the notion that he can't directly take on his enemies.

Kerry is in a box. He built it for himself. But he is so far unable to climb out. Unless he changes course promptly, he may not be able to recover. The clock is ticking.

The Kerry campaign is in crisis. Polling data is beginning to reflect a turn against his candidacy by the uncommitted and weakly—committed voters. The temptation for the campaigners is to blame the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth television commercials. But the real problem is much deeper, and relates at least as much to the candidate's behavior, including his reaction to the commercials, as to the specifics of the commercials themselves.

Prior to running for President, John F. Kerry did not loom large in the public's mind. His mediocre record in the Senate, where no major legislation bears his name despite a twenty year career, left him a blank slate as far as the national electorate was concerned. So he and his handlers understood that they were required to define his image in the public's consciousness, before the Bush campaign had a chance to do so. Given his Senate voting record of opposing defense and intelligence spending and favoring tax increases, it must have seemed a wise choice to emphasize his much—decorated four months in Vietnam, in order to build an image as a brave warrior for the cause of America.

Kerry clearly knew prior to the Democratic Convention that there were risks in his warrior pose. But his experience in the realm of Massachusetts politics had taught him that he could override challenges to his record by waving the bloody shirt of his wartime decorations, or pulling status on his antagonists. Howie Carr, Boston Herald columnist and a radio talk show host syndicated in New England, has collected anecdotes over the years of Kerry bullying people with the question, 'Do you know who I am?' in crowded restaurants, box office lines, and other situations where ordinary mortals are required to wait their turn.

Kerry had also been able to get away with prevarication for so many decades that he assumed he could continue to do so in the national arena. Despite having not a drop of Gaelic blood, he traded on his Irish—sounding name (actually, a corruption of Kohn) to attend St. Patrick's Day events in South Boston, with no ill effects. His Christmas in Cambodia fantasy escaped challenge for decades, despite the obvious fact that his claim that President Nixon sent him there was easily falsified by reference to the inaugural date of his Presidency.

So, when the Swift Boat Vets challenge arrived on the scene, it was all too easy to fall back on the familiar tactic of ignoring it, in concert with the establishment media which pretended for over a week that it didn't exist,  trying to silence it via threatening letters to television stations, attacking the accusers, and finally claiming that it was unfair and disrespectful to his wartime brave service.

The problem for Kerry is that the public is now paying close attention. They are evaluating the character of the man who wants to be the next President, precisely because everyone knows that the next President is likely to face serious threats to our national welfare and even survival. The Clinton Presidency also heightened the appreciation of the importance of personal character.

Pretending that a threat doesn't exist, denouncing it, claiming it is unfair, and trying to make it go away without directly confronting it, won't work with al Qaeda. The public wants a strong leader who will take on and destroy those who would destroy us. John Kerry's response to his political threat is exactly the wrong approach to use against a terror threat. He has defined himself negatively, in terms of the biggest issue facing Americans.

Running four years after Al Gore, Kerry has also committed a grave error in appearing to exaggerate his accomplishments. Claiming that he doesn't fall when he skis, for example. Al Gore's boasts about being the model for Love Story and about being responsible for the internet's genesis made him into a national laughingstock. Kerry now stands at the edge of a precipice, with Braggart Canyon looming below, inches away from his foothold. Pomposity simply doesn't sell.

There may be time enough for him to rescue his image. But it would take bold action, including a no—holds—barred press conference, exhaustively confronting the charges against him. But Kerry has no history of directly addressing his critics and seriously responding with facts. Given the inconvenient circumstance that his campaign has already retreated on the issue of Christmas in Cambodia and his first Purple Heart medal, he probably sees only humiliation at having to admit his exaggerations as looming worse than toughing it out.

But the problem with toughing it out is that he reinforces the notion that he can't directly take on his enemies.

Kerry is in a box. He built it for himself. But he is so far unable to climb out. Unless he changes course promptly, he may not be able to recover. The clock is ticking.