Whither John F. Kerry?
He is his party’s most recent presidential nominee. He came tantalizingly close to winning. And yet no one is looking for him to put his stamp on the 2008 Democratic primary or wondering aloud who he’ll endorse — even though Al Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile says that in the early-state contests, “most of the voters would be thrilled to know who Kerry would back and why.”
But the lack of an audible clamor for an endorsement by Kerry is more than a bit deceiving, as is the perception that he’s still wandering around in that wilderness to which all losing Democratic nominees are cast. The two top candidates who aren’t married to Elizabeth Edwards are quietly seeking his advice and support. An associate suggests that Kerry may hold off on endorsing until closer to the primaries, but when he does make his choice, that candidate will get access to a 3-million-name e-mail list, possibly the largest in the party.
When a Defense Department official accused Hillary Rodham Clinton of “reinforcing enemy propaganda” after she asked the Pentagon to start preparing for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, the Kerry associate says it was the Clinton team’s idea to have Kerry out front denouncing that accusation.
Kerry’s road back from the ashes of 2004 has been studded with self-inflicted setbacks. Ultimately, it won’t be as triumphant as Gore’s.
But nor will it take as long — and there are growing signs that the events of the post-2004 period have granted Kerry at least the right to say, “I told you so.”
Kerry’s vindication is coming quicker, if more quietly. His party already has embraced his position on Iraq. His argument that no military solution exists for the situation there is now the de facto Democratic stance. In June 2006, when Kerry helped force a vote on a phased U.S. troop withdrawal, his colleagues gave him a serious razzing and only 13 votes. Just over one year later, this past July, the same measure got 52.
Delaware Sen. Joe Biden recently sang Kerry’s praises during the Senate floor debate over Biden’s proposed “soft partition” of Iraq: “I wish to tell him how grateful I am for his joining in this amendment ... because an awful lot of people around the world look to my colleague for his insights into what we do about the most critical issue facing American foreign policy today.”
The Bush administration recently achieved a new nuclear pact with North Korea by using the approach Kerry advocated in 2004. The Washington Post noted on Oct. 4, “The agreement was reached after bilateral negotiations between the United States and North Korea, held in parallel with the six-nation talks, just as Kerry had suggested.”
Elizabeth Wilner prattles some and then goes on to say:
Then, after a laudable effort to help elect Democratic candidates in 2006 — the kind of effort Gore didn’t undertake after his loss in 2000 — came one botched joke about U.S. troops serving in Iraq. Donations of $14 million and visits to 35 states were instantly obscured a week before Election Day. The blowback was so severe that a few months later, Kerry had to exit the 2008 field before he really entered it.
His recovery has since been gaffe-free. Not coincidentally, his Senate colleagues who hope to trace his steps to the Democratic nomination seem to be recognizing the assets he brings to the table.
Which is the flip side of the swift-boat coin: The tactic may have damaged Kerry’s own chances in 2004, but his support could help inoculate other Democratic candidates against similar efforts to impugn their patriotism in 2008.
He also brings brass to the table — not only his own Vietnam service but also a small army of veteran supporters built during his presidential campaign and his efforts to support veterans who ran for office in 2006.
Kerry’s assets are not inconsiderable given that the current president plans to hand off the Iraq war to his successor and the top Republican candidates seem to be lifting the weak-on-terror charge from the Bush campaign playbook. It seems unlikely that between 2004 and 2008, the need for Democrats to show some trappings of strength will just disappear.
Maybe not worth a Nobel Prize, but certainly worth a little respect.
Having spent nearly two and a half years since the '04 election chronicling most of Kerry's work in the Senate and many of his speeches over that time (not to mention covering events with Kerry here in L.A.), I would have to no doubt claim bias that Kerry's endorsement does indeed hold a lot of weight for whoever it goes to. Kerry has been vindicated many times over that time period, and more so in the past few months it seems. I can't count how many times I have said here on The Dem Daily that "Kerry was right," but it is numerous.
All that said, as for now, still undecided on an '08 candidate myself, I must say that most likely, whither go John F. Kerry's endorsement, will probably go mine. Stay tuned...
Cross posted from The Democratic Daily.