WASHINGTON -- In relaunching his presidential campaign on Tuesday, John Kerry did not just recalibrate his campaign. He recalibrated his position on the war in Iraq. In his announcement speech, he claimed that he had voted just to ``threaten'' war with Iraq, which is an odd way to characterize voting in favor of a resolution that explicitly authorizes the president to go to war if and when he pleases.
Any congressional authorization to go to war is, of course, a threat. But an authorization to go to war is far more than that. Indeed, so absolute was the grant of authority in the Iraq resolution that the president was not even required to notify Congress until (up to) 48 hours after launching the war -- 48 hours after Kerry would have started watching it on TV.
Kerry's revisionism on the war is not just cover for a postwar that has not gone well -- the reason for Dick Gephardt's recent reversal on Iraq. For Kerry, it is a reflection of an ambivalence that he has had right from the beginning. He voted to authorize the use of force, but gave speech after speech criticizing and agonizing over the president's ``rush to war'' -- another oddity considering the fact that it is hard to think of a war that had a run-up more drawn out and deliberate.
Kerry's ambivalence has not served him well as a candidate. He was supposed to be the front-runner. He was supposed to be the shoo-in in New Hampshire, back yard to his own Massachusetts. But the latest poll shows him a stunning 20 points behind Howard Dean.
On paper, Kerry has all the attributes: senatorial stature, dynastic marriage, square jaw and a sterling military record that he put on lavish display in his announcement speech. What he lacks, however, is passion. And passion is a currency of the current Democratic primary campaign.
A solid record, a good program and judicious judgment serve you well when there is no incumbent. When Reagan retired in 1988 and Clinton in 2000, the Democrats nominated judicious, thoughtful, passionless (Kerry-like) candidates.
But 2004 is a recall election. The Democratic primary activists and liberals have rarely been more energized by their antipathy to a sitting Republican president. There has not been such disdain, resentment and outright hatred of a president since the high Nixon days.
The activists and liberals who dominate the primary process want desperately to beat Bush. They, of course, want to beat him at the polls, but more than anything they want the pleasure of beating him with a stick. Howard Dean is the stick.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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