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Commentary :: Environment
27 Feb 2004
The 2004 election cycle has had it twists and turns. The upcoming Southern primaries, however, will clearly hold a defining moment.
“Raise Hell In Dixie” (Part I)
-jeffery mcnary

(Martha’s Vineyard) With the prospect of a Howard Dean nomination by the Democrats as their standard barer asleep, elements of the Party appear to have regained their reasoning. In spite of early high poll numbers, the former Vermont Governor stumbled all over himself in the close-up world of retail politics. No corner awaits him in the pantheon of American politics, as he can soon close his fetish fair, wipe away his “fuck you” smirk, pocket his quick temper and disappear. It will take more than a good cry to heal this man.

With the hopes of dispatching a low and dishonest administration, the Democrats have turned up the volume on the “electability” factor. What that means, of course, varies. What should be obvious to all is that a second season of the Bush cabal’s reality show could find Americans kissing their republic, as well as their free will and mobility, goodbye.

Nobody really falls in love in New Hampshire in winter in a “primary” season. In lust, maybe, but not in love. It’s just too gritty and divisive. It’s build-up hides a dark tambour. People hang with their own crews, leaning into thin air and whispers. Into this rode the well-oiled operation of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, fresh from an Iowa victory with hordes of volunteers crossing the neighboring border. This was a changed campaigner from early December. Then his effort appeared near face down and he often lashed out at the media when questioned on poll numbers.

The Kerry camp settled into a place where fights break out, and many of them were experienced fighters. Much of his senior staff and team of advisors had labored for Al Gore, Clinton, Dukakis, and Mondale before them. New Hampshire, these knew, was a ground game, and the place to kill the wounded and battered. Under the eyes of these “handlers”, Senator Kerry appeared to have “found his voice”. He also remained wedded at the hip to his colleague and legend, Edward M. Kennedy. Kennedy, Kerry said, “is the Democratic voice of the Democratic Party”. It was also at this time that Kerry began attacking Bush directly rather than his primary competitors. “This is the most anti-science administration in the history of our country”, he repeatedly said. “I’m here to mark the end of the Bush Presidency, an administration with the most arrogant, inept, reckless, isolationist foreign policy of this country.” It has worked well for him.

Up close, Kerry and his wife Teresa Heinz, tend to make one feel like a guest at a late afternoon lunch, a guest they’re fond of. Heinz shared her wealth of knowledge on southern Africa while I waited my turn to interview the Senator. She expressed her concern over Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, her tepidness for South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, and her absolute love for Cyril Ramaphosa, a former Mandela lieutenant and ANC radical. She also demonstrated a familiarity with the late Miles Davis. Anyone that can bundle that group has got something good going on.

Kerry himself, on the other hand, although warm and attentive, displayed a dangerous ignorance of electronic voting, Diebolt, and the proposal for the military to move toward internet voting. He also failed to adequately address his 1992 Yale speech challenging affirmative action. It’s been said, Massachusetts has three Senators, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, and John Kerry’s record.

The season has not proven fertile for most of the Democrat field. Braun, Kucinich, Liberman, Sharpton and Clark all brought blurred agendas if not visions to the 2004 race. The former ambassador, former senator Carole Moseley Braun never put forth any substantive policies or issue statements and campaign very little. Her pasted smile was that of an applicant in search of a job opportunity…any job.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) could have made a splash, particularly with his progressive stances on a broad spectrum of issues. There appeared to be promise. But Kucinich has failed to date to structure his campaign. A rally at the University of New Hampshire at Durham took on a Woodstock-esque quality, complete with candles and incense, a hemp product booth, a bio-degradable goods exhibit, and rock guitarist Tim Reynolds who shared with me his feeling that “Dennis” reminded him of the Dalai Lama. Representative Kucinich danced, he beat upon drums, he embraced his followers, and he did everything short of a quick read from the Ramayana. Yet minus the order and balance that makes things work, sat guru will continue, in spite of some sound positions on many critical issues, to drift…and drift. Om.

As for the others, Connecticut Senator Joseph Liberman’s campaign appeared to have been dipped in nitric acid early on. The Gore endorsement of an opponent merely doused his effort with a flame retardant, leaving Joe’s staff and volunteers to walk about like ghosts, avoiding eye contact, and decapitation.

Rev. Al Sharpton continues to both amuse and threaten. The Reverend, it has been reported, has made it quite clear that he’ll either make his prime time address at Boston’s convention either “from the podium or from the parking lot.” There you have it. As an activist, a candidate for U.S. Senate, and a candidate for Mayor of New York City, New York knows him. New Hampshire never got the chance to. I believe Sharpton’s quest is noble. Last summer he shared with me, “I’ve been the ultimate outside guy projected in this country. Angry outside is nothin’ but an attitude. You gotta be able to use that anger to energize a real movement.” Yet what some refer to as the “maturation” of Black and Latino electorates has cancelled out and made void his early strategy. He has not galvanized a base at all. He has not evolved as a significant player. As addressed in an earlier work, 35% of the Latino vote went to President Bush in the 2000 election, and a study conducted by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies pointed out that a significant number of Blacks between 18 and 35 see themselves as independents, and therefore out of Sharpton’s catchment area for most primaries. It is difficult to tag the Rev.’s campaign event “arc”. He may well speak from both the podium and the parking lot.

Retired Army General Wes Clark needed a New Hampshire victory, or at least a strong second. He garnered neither. Instead, after bypassing the Iowa caucuses, Clark was introduced to the chill of far off Portsmouth, Manchester, and “tiny” Dixville Notch. His message, whatever it was, did not resonate or spark the mass appeal needed. In a sense, one could say Wesley Kanne Clark was the fall-back guy…the anit-Dean…the option to the then stumbling Kerry. At the bar of the Nashua Holiday Inn, exhausted but enthusiastic Clark workers from Seattle, to Texas, to parts of New England gathered for a late night drink. “Kucinich is the ultimate truth teller, but Clark can kick Bush’s ass”, said one. “Dean’s anger comes off as contrived”, said another, “I liked Clinton, but I love Clark.” There’s was a spirit akin to the young men of Paris who, in 1916, left the café’s and brassieres and caught taxis to Verdun. “I’m glad you could come”, was the General’s repeated welcome. He’d been a “4-star” and had been groomed for great things since his days at the United States Military Academy at West Point. There he was first in his class. Then it was off to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, followed by Vietnam, four gunshot wounds, and a Silver Star. He had traveled the world and embraced other cultures, but for reasons history might tell, he entered the 2004 race for the Presidency with a false set of assumptions.

Comes now North Carolina Senator John Edwards. I found Shakespeare’s line, “Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look about him”, fitting upon my first encounter with this self-made pillar of the “new South”.


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