Once upon a time a presidential campaign started on Labor Day. The candidates and their camp followers knew better than to spoil bright, bold mornings in America, soft summer afternoons and balmy nights of romance.
Democrats opened in Cadillac Square in Detroit, where the United Auto Workers could put what looked like a million men and women in the streets, and the Republicans typically teed off from the 19th green at Happy Hollow Yacht, Country, Hunt, Polo and Golf Club.
Progress, that fraudulent master of deceit, changed all that. Machinists and plumbers now worry only about where to park the third car, since the boat is taking up the extra space in the garage, and Democrats have crowded Republicans off the greens. The primaries have rendered moot the nominating conventions, which have become only the world’s largest high-school reunions for reporters, pundits, pols, pollsters and consultants eager to live high for a week on the company dime. It doesn’t matter because the object all sublime is to raise money. But for permanent campaign, the pollsters and consultants would have to get real jobs and the reporters and pundits would have to find real news.
Since the campaign of ‘04 has already begun, July 1 is now reckoned the official starting date, with the clear understanding that from now on no candidate will be held accountable for anything he says because we all know better than to believe him, anyway.
George W. Bush escaped from Turkey with his life, for which we are all grateful, and which the president held up as a triumph of democracy and order, proving that pleasant living is, too, possible in the Islamic world. He hailed Iraq as “the world’s newest democracy.”
Without even a wink or a nudge, he scolded his own countrymen for speaking “in an ill-informed and insulting manner about the Muslim faith.” But what else could anyone expect? Americans, devout sinners that we all are, are not much interested in theology or parsing doctrine, and when Muslims of whatever obscure persuasion insist on worshipping Allah by cutting off the heads of whoever they can catch who doesn’t share an enthusiasm for living in the eighth century, you have to expect a little ill-informed and even insulting language. Sticks and stones, like runaway airliners, can break bones, but the president could consult Dick Cheney about bad words. Big time.
Fortunately, George W. offered a little moral equivalency to soften the blow to his own constituency. “When some in the Muslim world incite hatred and murder with conspiracy theories and propaganda,” he told a university audience in Istanbul, “their words are also heard by a generation of young Muslims who need truth and hope, not lies and anger.” No doubt true, but as any Muslim might ask, who elected a Methodist to offer a Muslim a lecture on “truth?”
Campaign argle-bargle was on the menu back home, too. Asa Hutchinson, a former prosecutor who is the undersecretary for homeland security, was dispatched to Capitol Hill to apologize to several California congressmen for enforcing the law. Rep. Joe Baca, a Democrat, is in a lather because the Border Patrol, charged with protecting the border, “outstepped” its jurisdiction by protecting the border. The patrol arrested 420 aliens who crossed over into Southern California illegally. The Department of Homeland Security, thoroughly chastened by congressional splutter, said in future the Border Patrol will be allowed to protect the Mexican border only when Washington says it can (which won’t be until after Nov. 2).
The truth-telling Kerry campaign, meanwhile, continued what one pundit calls “the affirmative amnesia strategy.” The Democrats intend to keep their man hidden as often as they can, sending him out only to mingle at midnight basketball games and deserted all-night laundromats, since his poll numbers consistently fall when he is seen in public.
Monsieur Kerry’s strategists were heartened this week by a NBC-Wall Street Journal poll that reveals that only 57 percent of the respondents say they know “a lot or a fair amount” about him. A similar NBC-Wall Street Journal poll in March showed that 68 percent knew something about him, and when 11 percent of the voters have forgotten what they didn’t know only three months ago the strategy is clearly working.
This week Monsieur Kerry is expected to choose his running mate, and the town is buzzing that it might be Hillary. This would fit perfectly into the affirmative amnesia strategy. Monsieur Kerry could stretch his usual summer idyll in France well into the autumn, and if he is elected president he won’t have to come back at all. The Clintons will be happy to see to that.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.