- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2004

To sum up the oh-so-big news Tuesday: John Kerry carried New Hampshire, Howard Dean carried the firebrands, John Edwards carried those in the market for a fresh face, Joe Lieberman carried whatever moderates vote in a Democratic primary, and Wesley Clark carried Dixville Notch.

The results were all too predictable, which is no fun. What should happen now is all too predictable, too. Having conducted a nice, humble campaign, Mr. Lieberman should now deliver a nice, humble concession speech. And get out of the way. If an entry out of Connecticut can’t even show in New Hampshire it’s time to scratch the whole enterprise.

If there was a surprise in New Hampshire, and there really wasn’t, it was John Edwards’ not doing any better after his strong showing in Iowa. Some of us think he’s a real comer. He’s articulate, photogenic, young and, even better, young-looking. A Dan Quayle with a mind. Mr. Clark, on the other hand, is proving a Bob Dole without the wit.

Still, Mr. Edwards may have sewn up the vice-presidential nomination, which is a nice consolation prize. It might have gone to Wesley Clark at one point, but by now you would have to be a little crazy yourself to pick Wesley Clark for vice president after all the crazy things he has been saying.

A vice presidential candidate is supposed to be an ax man, but he’s not supposed to cut off his own foot every time he takes a whack at the opposition. A Dean-Clark ticket would have been ideal for the Republicans. You can hear them mourning its demise already.

It was Iowa, strangely enough, that has provided the surprises in this campaign: John Kerry and John Edwards. Yes, solid, Midwestern, dependable, supposedly predictable Iowa shuffled the deck and put the other senator from Massachusetts in play. Plus a new face out of the Carolinas.

It was satisfying to see how little all those big names who endorsed Howard Dean really mattered in the Iowa caucuses. New Hampshire’s voters wound up only seconding Iowa’s motion.

If there was a second winner in New Hampshire, it was, yes, Howard Dean. He won by just stopping his downward plunge and living to scream another day. After his act in Iowa, he was in free fall like an acrobat who had lost his footing in one horrible second but, just before hitting the ground, somehow finds a swing to hold onto.

Now he has to find a way to get back to the heights, which won’t be easy. How do you undercut John Kerry while assuming a new identity as kindly Dr. Dean who speaks no evil? It’s a tricky problem in public relations.

Dr. Dean needs to win a primary somewhere, sometime maybe Michigan? or he’ll just go on flitting back and forth down there for the rest of the campaign, blocking the other challengers to John Kerry but never achieving lift.

For the moment, Mr. Kerry is in the lead, and in the hot seat. But he is going to get old fast as people start trying to piece him together a war hero and then hero of the antiwar movement, a senator who opposed the first war against Iraq but voted for the second, only to then vote against funding it . He’s just not all of a piece.

Mr. Kerry has had his Moynihan moments, as the New York Times’ David Brooks has pointed out moments when he breaks through all the usual liberal cant and says something that shows real thought. But then, like the great Daniel Patrick Moynihan himself, he doesn’t act on it. He just goes back to saying whatever the teachers unions or anti-life excuse me, pro-choice crowd wants to hear.

In short, he’s a politician. His being an experienced one is both the best and worst thing one can say about John Kerry.

Like or loathe George W. Bush, he’s George W. Bush all the time. John Kerry has been a senator for a long time, which means he has a long record to pick apart, vote by vote. Maybe that’s why the country hasn’t elected a senator president for 40 years. Governors have the great advantage of having no voting record. They leave no fingerprints behind.

But as that great political scientist, Fats Waller, used to say, one never knows, do one?

Nobody should count John Edwards out, not yet. But though I would love to see more surprises like Iowa they’re good copy even at this early stage, it’s hard to see any coming. Which, of course, is what makes them surprises. Who knows? Howard Dean might even make a comeback. But the presidential candidate who is ideally positioned just now is Hillary Clinton for 2008.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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