Is Kerry "getting it"?
I've been critical of Sen. Kerry of late because I felt he was taking his candidacy for the nomination for granted (the same kind of mistake Gore made in the early 2000 campaign). I've also sided with Dean in his criticism of Kerry when the former said that we don't need a Dean-Lite either. Kerry's campaign up till now has been coasting and he has suffered for it (first in allowing Dean to pull even with him in New Hampshire and now losing ground in the polls in Iowa). However, I don't want to leave the impression that I don't think Kerry is incapable of getting fired up or firing up the base. Maybe he just needed someone to re-kindle his pilot light, because this Salon report of his appearance before the Take Back America conference indicates that Kerry may be starting to "get it" and isn't just trying to imitate Dean's angry-Democrat campaign.
Kerry, seriously seeking mainstream support, had to steer clear of crack house metaphors, but he was fairly masterful at rousing the crowd while tearing into Bush without pandering to the peacenik contingent in the house. He began by mocking Bush's Top Gun stunt, saying, "Landing on an aircraft carrier doesn't make up for a failed economic policy … Americans don't want photo opportunities, they want job opportunities." He went on, "Never before in American history has there been a reversal of economic fortune as in these last two years." Speaking of low-income families left out of the president's tax cut as a gift from heaven for campaign speechwriters -- he vowed to "crisscross this country" and hold the president accountable "for making a mockery of the words, 'leave no child behind.'" Kerry touched on several other progressive issues. He pledged support for alternative energy and spoke to war opponents (without criticizing the war) by saying, "We will never again have our young men and women in uniform held hostage to our dependence on Middle Eastern oil." He took a mandatory swipe at the one man progressives hate more than the president by saying, "It's imperative that we have a president who will appoint an attorney general who respects the Constitution." And he promised a "bold progressive internationalism for a new age," even as he criticized "those who see U.S. power as a malignant force in the world" and argued, à la Paul Berman, that "terrorism is the new fascism, the new communism, the new totalitarianism," bringing the whole thing off with such brio that even those who do see U.S. power as a malignant force ended up applauding.
I'm still a Dean man. Dean didn't need the scare of an insurgent campaign to put the fire into his spirit. He had it to begin with and is thus more likely to keep it burning through the long campaign ahead. Kerry still has to do a lot of work to show that he really does "get it". But this is a good start and I am glad for it.