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Commentary :: Environment
Part 2, Raise Hell in Dixie
20 Mar 2004
This is the conclusion of a two part series on the 2004 Presidential Election.
-jeffery mcnary

(Martha’s Vineyard) In the months since the charismatic Senator from North Carolina entered the 2004 election contest, Edwards has quietly been viewed by some as the presidential contender most feared by Republicans. Much of the “punditocracy” began to dismiss him, however, due to early low poll numbers placing him near the back of the pack in Iowa and New Hampshire. His jolting second place finishes, combined with a South Carolina victory re-established him as a formidable contender. He plays well with others, and absent was the sonorous rhetoric of “frontrunner(s)” of the week. Edwards promised to do wonderful things for the nation, and in his 60 plus page, “Real Solutions for America”, he even ventured to point out how he would fund his proposals. Mr. Edwards didn’t hesitate to put the issues of poverty and racism out front. They do infect this society. His message fell not so much on deaf ears, as on desensitized ones. Rather than hang out a resume, the Senator preached a vision.

On March 2nd, “Super Tuesday”, the Democratic National Committee’s “front-loaded” plan to get a nominee as early as possible derailed the Edwards campaign, leaving it’s message and it’s de facto nominee unexamined in much of the South and other parts of the country.

This may come back to haunt them, and it shouldn’t be found all that perplexing. The lion’s share of the Southern primaries are scheduled late into the season. Arkansas, Kentucky, and North Carolina are in May, with Alabama in June. Even with brief stops in the remaining Southern primary states, debate was stifled. With Kerry’s nomination now secured, much of his campaign staff has turned to self aggrandizing kudos and speculation on the underside of the ticket. Not a good way to spend the Spring. John Kerry himself has never fared well in such a period, and since his “Super Tuesday” victory, his poll numbers have dropped from his six point lead, to a statistical tie with President Bush. His campaign has also struggled financially, and found themselves unable to respond to a Bush attack ad by going on air themselves. Instead they opted to post their response on their internet site. In the longest “general” campaign in the nation’s history, Kerry is preparing to vacation in Idaho, still undefined, short on dollars, and dodging withering attacks from Bush supporters relative to his claims of support by foreign heads of state. His alleged slip of the tongue in referring to the Republicans as the “most crooked…lying group I’ve ever seen”, while still wearing a microphone, may well have been a somewhat clever attempt at free media coverage. He’s yet to apologize.

Humorous stories about Kerry abound in Massachusetts, where folks publicly know him best. “Live-shot Kerry”, he’s been referred to. “He’s

never seen a camera or mirror he doesn’t like”, others have joked, “JFK stands for Just for Kerry”. But candidate Kerry can laugh at this ribald humor and snake through the rest of the season. The fact that he has change repeated on issues and that he has yet to be introduced to the broad expanse of the country may pose a more daunting task. There remains a great many places in the United States where some fellow smelling of Dewars and puke may walk up to him and say, “What’s up? What’s your name?”, vet or no. The Kerry Massachusetts knows is sometimes like a dubbed movie. His mouth moves, but all that comes out is Kerry speak, and good luck with that. Considering the republic’s current options, this can be sobering.

Contrary to advice the Senator is receiving from both advisors and those who would be the Dr. Phil’s of politics, picking a running mate, “right now”, may not be much help, depending on the choice. And this is decision may well have been made for Mr. Kerry, some time back.

The Edwards option is touted and expected by some. That Dixie issue still must be addressed, and Kerry still seems to be reading Fitzgerald and not enough Faulkner. Others have touted Indiana’s Evan Bayh, an articulate Senator from a family rich in the political tradition, but suffering from the same identification problem as the top of the ticket. Both Madeline Albright and Donna Shalala are interesting options, although they may be awaiting the incarnation of the Clintons or another pachem lama.This writer’s money is on New Mexico’s Governor William Blaine Richardson.

Born in California, Richardson was educated in Massachusetts at Tufts University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He served in Congress for 15 years from New Mexico and was a member of the Hispanic Caucus. Earlier he’d been a staffer to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is married to Barbara Flavin…a native of Massachusetts whose family still resides there.

Some years ago I’d met Bill Richardson. He had come to Boston to help out on a major fundraiser for Teddy Kennedy, and we had a somewhat elegant dinner at the venerable Parker House Hotel. Jose Perez, then the Commonwealth’s Assistant Secretary for Economic Affairs and my colleague in the Dukakis administration, was there, as was one of Kennedy’s new, young operatives, who’s still in the “business”. Everybody’s got their ‘guy’s’. In Chicago, they got Daley ‘guys’. Down South they had Burt Lance ‘guys’, the ones who brought us Jimmy Carter. I was a Dukakis ‘guy’. Jose was a Dukakis, ‘guy’. The kid was a Kennedy ‘guy’, and Richarson was a Kennedy ‘guy’.

He’s done well for himself since that dinner. For a while he was “Mr. Fix It” in the Clinton administration. He calmed the North Koreans during one of their manic episodes, served as Ambassador to the United Nations, and as Secretary of Energy. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize
four times, and he is the only governor to pass a tax cut and his state in one of three states with a budget surplus.

Bill Richardson is Permanent Chairman of the forthcoming convention in Boston. Recently, at the Democratic National Convention Committee’s Media reception, I ran into the Governor. I recalled the dinner and mentioned it and the ‘guy’ looked me right in the eye, put his arm around my shoulder and said all so personably, “Yea, I remember. Jeff, of course I remember.” He’s good. He’s real good.

In his, “Junk Politics”, Benjamin DeMott decries that, “Junk politics personalizes mainly through tropes of heart…feel-your-pain chatter and touchy-feely personal testimony.” Kerry does it with veterans and Viet Nam. Edwards did with his rags-to-riches saga and the tragic loss of a son. And Lieberman did it with…well with just being an Orthodox Jew in America. Richardson doesn’t have that in his arsenal…yet. But if he plays that card come Boston, there won’t be a dry eye in the place. Kennedy will keep the placards bobbing. Even still, Governor Richardson will have to once again revisit his Watergate breakfast with Monica Lewinsky when the largest of the Clinton sex scandals began to unfold, as well as the debacle around Dr. Wen Ho Lee at Los Alamos, which occurred on his watch at Energy.

Clearly visible nationwide and throughout the Kerry campaign has been the fingerprints of the senior senator from Massachusetts. In the darkest periods to date of that effort, Mr. Kennedy sent his ‘guy’s’ to the rescue. Both the current campaign manager and campaign press secretary came directly from the Kennedy staff. His own insurgent run for the White House, against incumbent Jimmy Carter of Georgia, was a dismal failure, leaving him to address the Convention and point to some nebulous “dream” enduring. Now the Senator is stinging from the Bush administrations shenanigans with Medicare and education in the No Child Left Behind façade. Both areas are long time staples of his policy agenda.

Kennedy’s presence in the presidential runs of the other most recent home town boys, Dukakis and Tsongas, was pallid in contrast to his present occupancy in the Kerry camp. What’s more, Kennedy was instrumental in landing the DNC’s convention in Boston. Whether rueful or jubilant, whether from Delaware to Denver to Dakar, the assembly will know who

this large, white-haired man is. What remains not so apparent is this man’s raison d’etre. Could this be Ted’s last hurrah? Has this pylon of Democrat liberalism found it in his charge to wrest the Party from the Foucault driven heretics of the Democratic Leadership Council and return it to it’s rightful place, to the Kantian faithful of reason and dignity, of Roosevelt and Truman, and of his “sainted” brother Jack? If Senator Edward M. Kennedy has such an agenda, and if he is aiming to be the cat, handing out absolution and dispensation, he has placed himself splendidly. Teddy’s ‘guys’ can be found everywhere.

A peculiar truce now exist within the Democratic Party. It is hardly as unified as it’s leadership would have us believe. Dean has recently founded his own organization, while Sharpton and Kucinich have yet to formally drop from contention. There is little actual enthusiasm for Kerry as much as there is dislike for Bush among the Dems. The Kerry record in the Senate is as mundane and confounding as most who muddle through that chamber. He’s never been an impact player or a go-to-guy for that matter. He’s been a loner. In a sense he has secured the nomination by default, a season regionally tailored to suit him, and a rather large infusion of his own cash. He now has “clients”, chits are out, and a “vig” is outstanding. The alleys of American politics are legion, and in them are positioned donors wanting ambassadorships, the D.C. permanent sect desirous of influence, and bottom feeding hacks wanting anything from White House cufflinks to Air Force One playing cards.

It is doubtful that Senator Kerry will experience a metamorphosis in the next few months which will infuse him with a visible passion for the electorate and the denizens of the republic. He will never, “feel” their pain. But he would do well to read Baldwin and Faulkner and maybe catch a Spike Lee film. He should also probably give “Speedway” (John Edwards Secret Service tag) a call and spent some quality time in Dixie. There are direct and historic bonds between Southern voters and those who reside in Northern inner-cities. Loose them, loose the election.

The Bush campaign apparatus, according to some media reports, has a lock on that region. That being true, Senator Kerry may experience a Gettysburg syndrome, with Republican operatives free to kick his ass all around Pennsylvania, Ohio, and perhaps even Michigan.

Once upon a time, as a young Marine based in a distant duty station, I celebrated November 10th, the Corp’s birthday with a somewhat rowdy cluster of grunts. Clad in the signature finery of dress blues, and with the liquor flowing, we turned to talk of home. As the evening grew late,

Corporal Fred Yates unbuttoned the top of his tunic, climbed atop a table, and yelled, “Raise hell in Dixie”! “U-rah”, came the response. I had absolutely no idea why or what I was “u-rahing”, but I do now. And if Mr. Kerry doesn’t know, somebody better tell him.

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