Be still, my left-leaning liberal heart (or 20 reasons why Kerry will win)

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Twenty reasons you should keep your eye on John Kerry:

Twenty reasons you should keep your eye on John Kerry:

1. He is a decorated Vietnam veteran who turned against the war. Oh, you knew that. The thing is, every American voter does, too. And they also know that George Bush escaped the draft.

2. He is not as stiff as he looks. The fact that he has a face like an Easter Island statue carved out of solid gravitas does not mean he cannot do goofy. He slides down banisters after fund-raising dinners in grand hotels. He has been known to sing "Puff the Magic Dragon" on stage.

3. When he was a lawyer, before he became a politician, he set up a gourmet chocolate-chip cookie business in Boston.

4. Kerry and his heiress wife have five homes. "I am blessed to be in the top 1 per cent of income earners in America," he tells his audiences. "And I don't believe I deserve a tax cut."

5. He is not remote, though. His car is an 18-year-old Dodge convertible with a second-hand book value of $925. When his press officer, noting the discomfort of a profile-writing journalist in the back, asked: "Sir, have you ever considered getting a bigger car?" Kerry replied, "No, but I have thought about cutting all your legs off at the knees."

6. One academic study of his policies puts him to the right of Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and John F Kennedy. Of recent Democratic presidents, only Lyndon Johnson was more right-wing than him, according to Jeffrey Jenkins, a political scientist at Northwestern University. So much for having the "most liberal" (that is, left-wing) voting record in the Senate. If he is so liberal, why has Bush not torn him apart already? Because Kerry has never been a governor, there is nothing as concrete in his record as Michael Dukakis's policy of weekend parole for murderers for the Republicans to sink him with. The only specific example that sticks in the mind is his vote against the first Gulf war in 1991.

7. But what about the death penalty? Yes, Kerry is opposed to it.

8. Except for terrorists. The acute reader will quickly observe that this is not an intellectually comfortable position. Kerry opposes the death penalty because of the danger of miscarriages of justice. He tells the story of when he, as a lawyer, fought successfully to acquit someone sentenced to death for a crime he had not committed. Since 11 September 2001, however, he has made an exception for those found guilty of terrorist murders, on the grounds that America is at war. He has not yet been asked why miscarriages of justice are less likely in the case of terrorist offences. But he is running for president, not for a chair in jurisprudence. And this little side-step is an indicator of something quite important: Kerry really wants the job.

9. The Kerry campaign is aggressive, disciplined and effective. Commentators are so in awe of Bush's money that they assume his campaign will be slick and overwhelming. But one of the joys of democracy, even in America, is that, although money is important, it is not everything. The Kerry campaign has already set the pace with its "prebuttals", countering Bush's attacks even before they are launched.

10. The Democratic Party is in good shape. Although he is behind, Kerry has started raising money, fast. The party's core vote is motivated to get rid of Bush in a way that it simply was not in 2000, when it was lulled by the soft rhetoric of "compassionate conservatism". The rise of Howard Dean energised the party, while the fall of Howard Dean convinced the wider electorate that the party was serious about competing in the centre ground.

11. Kerry can win the presidency even if he does not take Florida, which was awarded to Bush by one vote four years ago.

12. Most people think Bush won Florida by 537 votes; in fact, he took it by five votes to four in the Supreme Court. It is worth remembering that the last election was effectively a dead heat, because Kerry is a better candidate than Al Gore, and Bush's negatives, as US pollsters call them, have gone up.

13. To get to the White House, Kerry must win New Hampshire, already regarded as a safe Democratic state, plus one swing state that Gore failed to win last time. He could take Arizona, Colorado, Nevada or even Missouri. As long as he does not lose any Gore states, he only needs one. (Nevada, with only five electoral college votes, could produce a tied election, but let us worry about that when we get there.) Above all, Kerry could win Ohio, a big rust-belt state with 20 electoral college votes, where Bush's jobs record really counts against him.

14. It is too late for Bush to avoid the fate of being the first President since Herbert Hoover to have ended a term with fewer Americans in work than at the start. It may be relevant that Hoover was a Republican president who ran for re-election and lost.

15. The opinion polls are touch-and-go. The lodestone of US polling is the uniquely American "right track, wrong track" question: 54 per cent of Americans now say that the country has "gotten off on the wrong track".

16. The war on terror is not the electoral trump card that the Bush campaign hopes it is. It is true that American voters say (by a margin of 51 per cent to 40 per cent) they would prefer to be led by Bush than Kerry in the event of a major terrorist attack. But Kerry is seen by 61 per cent as a strong leader, and his foreign policy experience reassures floating voters worried about US isolation in Iraq and elsewhere. And he has fought, and killed, for his country. Not easy to portray as soft.

17. Kerry is a waffler and a flip-flopper who makes mistakes. His recent clanger on the bill for the Iraq war: "I actually did vote for the $87bn before I voted against it", was a classic. But he is up against George Bush, not Abraham Lincoln.

18. It would make a difference if Kerry won, even if Ralph Nader cannot see it. In fact, Nader, the left-wing spoiler candidate, admitted last time that Gore would be a better president than Bush, yet he ran anyway, knowing it could hand the election to Bush, which it did. To take just one extremely important example: Kerry's green record is as strong as Gore's, and he has threatened to filibuster any bill that permits drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

19. There is a defensive cringe among left-liberal journalists, deeply scarred by four consecutive Labour defeats in Britain and the trouncings of Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis in America, and deeply uneasy about the compromises made by Tony Blair and Bill Clinton to win. This lack of confidence means that they assume that Kerry will not stand up to the financial and ideological onslaught from an aggressive Republican Party. There is simply no reason why he should not.

20. John Kerry will win in November.