The perfect storm is gathering, and her name is Hurricane Hillary. (The deadliest storm is always a lady.)
John Kerry is flirting with catastrophe by considering — it’s not clear how seriously — a bizarre scheme to delay his acceptance of the Democratic nomination in order to squeeze through a loophole in campaign-finance law to enable him to collect millions of dollars of public swag.
To do this, he would first flip, by making a speech accepting the nomination but not really accepting it and later calling the delegates back to Boston, or to Chicago or some other place to execute the flop. He has wide and long experience executing such flip-flops. Or he might accept the nomination from the Democratic National Committee, whose members could meet anywhere, or even by telephone. There’s no precedent for any of this, so the convention assembled, which is after all the final arbiter of its rules and whether to suspend them, can do as it pleases.
This will furnish considerable material for Jay Leno, David Letterman and Dennis Miller for their late-night television fans. Democrats are trying to come up with a way to credibly describe an acceptance speech that isn’t an acceptance speech. The New York Times suggests calling it a “culmination” speech, but it’s difficult to imagine even Monsieur Kerry saying the magic words and expecting applause: “I culminate your nomination.”
But the jests and jokes will be the least of Monsieur Kerry’s troubles. By delaying his official culmination, he may open the way to a brokered convention. “Brokered” is what national nominating conventions were designed to be, of course, and before the ghastly primary system threw up the likes of George McGovern, Michael Dukakis, Barry Goldwater and Bob Dole — some good men, some not-so-good men and lousy candidates all — brokered conventions produced the likes of Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, FDR, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, especially in smoke-filled rooms.
Monsieur Kerry would do us all a favor by exposing the modern conventions for what they are, reunions of pols of yesteryear, consultants, pundits and correspondents who get to live the high life, eating expensive cuts of beef and imbibing the Merlots and Cabernets they could never drink at home, all on expense accounts. Modern conventions, Republican or Democrat, have no surviving connection to nominating anyone for anything.
By floating the idea of “culminating” rather than “accepting” the nomination in Boston in late July, Monsieur Kerry does the greater service to the republic by exposing the limits, so called, on campaign finance as a burlesque rivaled only by professional wrestling. Everyone knew the campaign-finance law enacted by a righteous Congress, signed by a pious George W. Bush and validated by a reverent Supreme Court, was a holy sham. What lawyers can join together, other lawyers can put asunder. Lawyers connive to take care of each other first, as anyone who has watched trial judges at work readily understands.
When the Democrats set the late-July date for their convention, a month earlier than the Republican assembly in New York, they did it to get $75 million in matching funds a month earlier than George W. will get his. They didn’t anticipate how easy it was going to be to raise hate money to pummel the president. Now Monsieur Kerry wants to take that extra month to continue raising money and collect his matching funds afterward. If it works, this will be a flip-flop of Olympian standards, worth $75 million. Who can blame him for trying?
Certainly not Bill and Hillary. The publicity surrounding the flip and the flop will fit perfectly with the publicity surrounding the mother of all book tours for the introduction of the Clinton memoir. Bill Clinton will suck every ounce of oxygen out of every Democratic gathering, leaving Monsieur Kerry, who wouldn’t get any attention by late summer if Teresa takes him campaigning on a leash, to choke, flop and gasp like a mackerel thrown up on the dock. (Can anyone hear a mackerel gasp if no one is there to watch?)
Bill Clinton will be performing in the second ring of the circus, just as the forlorn pursuit of John McCain will be winding down in the first ring. But like Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, every party circus has three rings, and there, just off the entrance to the third ring stands a slight, blonde figure in spangled tights, knees trembling and bosom heaving, waiting for the ringmaster’s introduction. An expectant hush falls across a crowd eager for the ultimate thrill, and the bandmaster signals the first bright, brash notes of … “Happy Days Are Here Again.”
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.