Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Life is like a box of chocolates

David Frum examines the contradiction at the heart of the Democratic convention. It is the voice of a single hatred in the absence of a single idea. "The Democratic Party arrived in Boston emotionally united and intellectually divided. Democrats are united in their rage against and disdain for President Bush, but they are radically divided in their beliefs and loyalties." Frum goes on the catalogue how the bilocation of ideas has become curiously unimportant. In Boston, the Athens of America of all places, it is possible to believe in two mutually exclusive ideas or better yet, avoid committing to a single one.

On foreign policy, Mr Kerry has criticized Mr Bush from every angle, without ever worrying much about consistency. It has been, in a way, an impressive performance: Mr Kerry has criticized Mr Bush both for offending America's traditional allies in the Middle East, and also for not being tougher on the Saudis; both for siding too much with Israel while insisting that he would side with Israel just as much; both for requesting too much money for Iraq and also for not providing enough support to the troops there.

Mr Kerry has been hard-pressed to find issues that can unite his discordant party. The issue on which he has again and again fallen back is Mr Bush's alleged failure to internationalize the Iraq war. Michael Moore Democrats, who want America to evacuate Iraq immediately, and Thomas Friedman Democrats, who want America to commit to Iraq for the next decade, can at least agree that they wish the UN, France and Germany had bigger roles. This message has been music to many European ears. But now imagine that Mr Kerry has won ...

Then we would get to find out what he really believed, if we were lucky. David Brooks, writing in the New York Times, argues that the Democratic Party doesn't know what it wants, doesn't care where it is; but that it is "just sober enough to realize it needs a designated driver like John Kerry to get it home at night." (Hat tip: NRG)

This is a whacked-out party that has spent the past year throwing back Howard Dean hurricanes, being gripped with Michael Moore fever and indulging in Whoopi-esque animosity binges. And yet there's that moment when you are drinking, before you get really blotto, when you realize that you have just enough sobriety for one last lifesaving act of responsibility. For the Democrats, nominating Kerry is that act -- and now he's running a professional, disciplined campaign.

If the convention program reflected the collective party subconscious, the first night would feature a life-size rubber Dick Cheney doll, and the speakers would take turns throwing it around the stage. And yet the Kerry party elite is insisting that everybody wear a responsibility corset. Restrain yourself. Be positive.

"But now imagine that Mr Kerry has won"; that the designated driver has swtiched off the engine at the final destination. Where would we be? Why, everywhere else that everybody else didn't want to go.


Hugh Hewitt thinks one reason the policy debate at the Democratic convention is so incomprehensible is that the discussion is conducted in code. Some delegates, at least, want things that they aren't prepared to spell out above a whisper. But the plaintext isn't exactly protected by Rijndael encryption. Hewitt notes:

Delegates are far more truthful than the party operatives patrolling the hallways and ferrying prepped guests to the various radio rows. The delegates hate Bush, want out of Iraq, want courts to impose same-sex marriage, and want taxes hiked on all but the poorest Americans. The policy on abortion rights is absolutist; on race-based remedies, the answer hasn't changed since 1978 – quotas by any other name will do.

I played a game on the radio show yesterday, the convention's first day. We played a version of Groucho Marx's "secret word." We were prepared to declare a winner when the first Democrat I interviewed mentioned al-Qaida. None did. It just isn't an issue with them. The consensus seems to be that if Bush is beaten, al-Qaida will no longer threaten Americans.

Now the electorate can choose whatever it wants, but fairness demands truth in packaging. Are the Democrats, in Andrew Sullivan's words, "the conservative party" and "to the right of Bush on the war" or are they really saying to each other in code that Osama Bin Laden is not America's enemy? There are probably a range of views held by different factions at the convention which the hundreds of reporters and bloggers in attendance will describe in excruciating detail. But at the end of the day John Kerry has to decide what he believes and select the platform on which he will run. Moore, Gore, Carter and the two Clintons have demonstrated the convention's many faces; but only Kerry can show us its soul.