Monday, July 19, 2004

Where is the John Edwards surge in the polls for John Kerry? Democrats want to know. What happened? With a choice for veep as brilliant as Mr. Edwards, shouldn’t Mr. Kerry have gotten a bigger bump than the small-to-nil effect the announcement actuallyproduced?

People, people. You’ve got to get a grip. I realize it’s difficult for Democrats to take my advice at face value, since I am not a member of theclub. Butseriously, I’ve been writing about Democrats (and Republicans, too) as disinterestedly as humanly possible for years now. Give me a chance.

Let’s try to go over a few things as carefully as we can. First of all, you need to understand that Americans do not hate George W. Bush. You may hate George W. Bush, all your friends may hate George W. Bush, all of your friends may have written books about how fitting it is to hate George W. Bush and received handsome advances from their publishers for them. The bookstore shelves groan under them.

And yes, you are entirely within your rights to hate George W. Bush. No one will take that from you. Yes, Republicans hated Bill Clinton, and many still do. Yes, they also hate Hillary. If, on principle, you want to hate the Republican president just as much as Republicans hated the last Democratic president, no one will stop you.

But Americans in general do not hate George W. Bush. Moreover, they are not going to hate Mr. Bush. You might just win this election (don’t count on it, though, because you might not). But if so, it will not be because Americans have suddenly wised up and realized they should hate Mr. Bush.

On the contrary. Most Americans like Mr. Bush and respect him for the way he has handled some very difficult challenges. My guess is that you would do better against him starting from that premise rather than starting from the premise that Mr. Bush is a thoroughly and irredeemably odious figure who could only be admired by a) people as odious as he and b) people who have been duped into a state of false consciousness by Mr. Bush’s odious lies.

Don’t get me wrong: You can run whatever kind of campaign you want, including one that drips contempt for everything having to do with the president of the United States. You can even demand of the American people, “Where’s the outrage?” You have that right. I’m just saying that I have seen that sort of approach before, and I don’t think it works very well.

Now, back to Mr. Edwards: You were expecting this to be the tipping point, weren’t you? Well, hoping it would be, anyway: the moment that people would embrace Mr. Kerry as the only man who can save them from four more years of catastrophe.

In fact, you’ve been waiting for this tipping for more than a year now. And let’s face it, this is hardly the first time you thought it had finally arrived.

There was the economy and the loss of jobs, and you thought that would do it. Then, there was the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and you thought that was it. Then, the occupation turned out to be a lot harder than the odious Bush people thought it was going to be, and that was supposed to turn the tide. Then, you guys united your party around Mr. Kerry as the man best qualified to beat Mr. Bush, and that was it. Now, Mr. Kerry brilliantly has selected the enormously popular, optimistic, smart, good-looking Mr. Edwards (whom I myself in this space last week said “may be the best politician of his generation,” a statement that was frankly not popular with some of my Republican readers, I might add). And — no, not this time, either.

I know, every downturn in Mr. Bush’s job-approval rating has brought new hope. But then the number has stopped going down, and sometimes has gone back up. The problem is that you are waiting for something that will not come. Mr. Bush is not going to collapse in the polls, not in the absence of some new (and I emphasize, non-pre-existing) catastrophe or blunder. No, the cumulative weight of the odiousness is not going to finally turn people against him. Forget it.

Mr. Edwards was a good choice for Mr. Kerry. He was also a safe and utterly conventional choice. Yes, I know, you love him. Especially the “Two Americas” speech. But Americans do not share your enthusiasm (though they seem fairly well disposed toward him). And no, he is not the tipping point.

Yes, there is a Bush fatigue out there, the result of three very intense years in our country’s history. And you are right, even some Republicans are unhappy with Mr. Bush in one way or another. But if you think large numbers of Americans are on the verge of finally wising up and embracing Michael Moore’s view of George W. Bush — and let’s face it, your view — you really ought to think again.

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