Where else but in an American presidential campaign can a candidate declare solemnly that “labels don’t matter” or, for that matter, with persuasiveness? When Sen. Jean-Francois Kerry denies the significance of the “label” being applied to him, is he trying to pull a fast one on the poor credulous voter? Are he and his surrogates convincing when they insist “labels” are nothing but pieces of trickery deployed by the hellish Republicans? Well, if labels do not matter, pay no attention to the label on that bottle over there, Senator, the label marked “poison,” or “dangerous to nursing mothers,” or “do not take when windsurfing.”
Of course, the label the Massachusetts Braggart objects to is the label “liberal.” For some reason, he considers it unfair when his opponent calls him a liberal, though the nonpartisan National Journal catalogues him as a liberal — in fact, the most liberal senator in Washington. Presumably the National Journal had merely savored the Boastful One’s 20 years in the Senate where he has been on the self-congratulatory liberal side of every issue.
Does anyone doubt that when this long drink of water ambles onto a university campus or into a media — say, CBS — newsroom, he boldly declares with timpani rumbling offstage: “Yes, I am a liberal. And proud of it, come hell or high Perrier”? Why is it that in presidential campaigns liberals, upon accepting the Democratic nomination, scurry from the “liberal” label? Actually, it is very disingenuous for them to object to “labels.”
Labels are one of the liberals’ favorite remedies. They demand labels on tobacco, ardent spirits, children’s toys — anything that offends their constituents and might assist in their election. I would not be surprised to hear they had fashioned labels for basketballs (“Bounce With Care”) or condoms (“Do Not Use With Alcoholic Beverages” or “May Cause Drowsiness”). Labels are the consumerists’ best friend, at least when prohibition is impossible.
Yet now out there on the campaign trail the Democrats’ cosmopolitan presidential candidate is objecting to “labels.” He and his surrogates insist labels are meaningless. It is another admission by them that the words they use and the positions they take at election time are unserious. They, who pride themselves in their high intellectual commitment, actually seem to believe they can persuade voters that the philosophical and political positions they have taken over the years should not matter to us when we vote. Well, what does matter, the senator’s windsurfing skills? George W. Bush’s cowboy boots?
In this campaign, Mr. Kerry has tried to reduce the issues to style and sophistries. Frankly his style is pompous and oafish, and his sophistries are unconvincing. His brand of economics leads to slow growth and probably high inflation. His brand of foreign policy leads to the United Nations, where he admits he will take us for endless debates with corrupt foreign hucksters and dignitaries who hate America and its interests.
It has now been many decades during which liberals have believed liberalism is the morally and intellectually superior position. Conservatives are in the liberals’ reckoning philistines, materialists, racists and uncouth. Yet it has been at least three decades since a Democratic presidential nominee faced the nation and proclaimed himself a liberal. Does this mean the Democratic candidates consider themselves morally and intellectually superior to the rest of the nation? I think it does.
In fact they think themselves so intellectually superior — and the rest of us so obtuse — that they believe they can conceal their many years of liberal politicking from the electorate. Like participants at a masked ball, they practice masked politics in presidential campaigns. Unfortunately, the American people are serious about matters of national security and economic growth. Faced with a windsurfer, a Spandex-clad cyclist, and a potential bungee jumper, I think they will choose a leader.
Someday soon, the Democrats will have to face up to the sham that is their kind of liberalism. They are right about one thing: It is unpopular across America.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is editor in chief of the American Spectator, a contributing editor to the New York Sun, and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. His “Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House” is published by Regnery Publishing.