Kerry's Backward Bounce

Posted: Aug 03, 2004 12:00 AM

For very good reason, the rule of thumb is that a presidential candidate gains ground following his party?s convention: It almost always happens.

It happened four years ago, despite Al Gore?s nearly incoherent rant.  It happened in 1984, after Walter Mondale reaffirmed his pledge to raise taxes.  It even happened for Jimmy Carter in 1980 after a brutal civil war with Ted Kennedy.

But it didn?t happen for John Kerry.

According to the USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, conducted Friday and Saturday, Kerry lost a total swing of 5 points from the week before, head-to-head against Bush.  Kerry declined 1 point, from 47% to 46%, and Bush bumped up 4 points, from 46% to 50%.

Heading into the convention, fully one-third of voters told pollsters that they didn?t know enough about Kerry.  After a week of exposure to him and the Democratic Party, voters clearly didn?t like what they saw.

Despite the glittering pronouncements of greatness from the chattering class while the auditorium was still packed (Howard Kurtz covers this well), the poll results should hardly be surprising. 

The speech stunk.

Any number of Democrats I chatted with Thursday night in Boston roughly held the same view: The speech was garbage, yet the delivery was decent?for Kerry.  Not even the party faithful were revved by Kerry?s address.

Who could blame them, though?  What it lacked in subtlety and organization, it made up for with pomposity and bloviating. 

Before the audience had even had time to sit down, Kerry had already reminded us how literate he is, never mind that he bastardized the very meaning of Thomas Wolfe?s classic.  There was also the pearl of wisdom where he reminded folks, ?That flag up there. We call her Old Glory.?  Thank you, John Kerry.

Without any thematic structure to tie together many disparate points, Kerry?s meandering 55-minute address felt impossibly longer.  It veered from autobiography to targeted digs at Bush to a detailed recitation of policy prescriptions.

Weirdest was his at attempt at humanizing himself.  Never has someone recounting personal details felt so impersonal.  The entire section was overtly mechanical, an offensively obvious ploy to portray himself as just another American.  He was a Cub Scout, his mother a Girl Scout, and his father a State Department diplomat.  Yep, John Kerry, average Joe.

His mother, he told us, ?[W]as the rock of our family, as so many mothers are.?  His father, as it happens, ?did the things that a boy remembers.?  And for good measure, the young diplomat?s son, ?like all children, found the world full of wonders and mysteries.?

That normal kid, we soon learned, grew up to become a ?young prosecutor? who ?made prosecuting violence against women a priority.?  And as a Senator, he ?fought to put 100,000 police officers on the streets of America.?

And lest we forget he served in Vietnam.  Then again, how could we with well over a dozen references to it?

Toward the end of his marathon speech, Kerry mixed Clinton-style biographies of suffering Americans with an insufferable laundry list of specific policy priorities.

Recalling McGovern and LBJ, rather than Clinton or JFK, Kerry?s policy agenda consisted of making America ?respected in the world,? curtailing free trade, nationalizing health care, raising taxes, building fewer prisons, spending more on Head Start, and two separate calls for shelling out more for after-school programs.

Somehow absent was any reference to the liberation of Iraqis or Afghans, the prospect of freedom in the Arab world, or even a coherent vision for executing the war on terror.

It was all too much to bear.  I?m not speaking of ordinary people or curious voters.  I?m talking about Democrats at the Fleet Center who were kept out of the auditorium for crowd control reasons.

Sitting in radio row during Kerry?s speech?I was doing running commentary on WABC during the long applauses, which got fewer and fewer as the speech wore on?I witnessed a group crowded around a television about thirty feet away.

At the speech?s start, the group of 20 or so party activists were hooping and hollering.  They were ecstatic.  Thirty minutes in, at least one-third of them had wandered off and the excitement level had waned to the occasional smattering of applause.  Moments before the pundits were instantly hailing Kerry?s supposedly brilliant speech, more than half of the hard-core Democrats had vanished.

That Kerry thinks he can keep a non-captive audience at attention for 55 dreary minutes is indicative of his incredible self-worth and provides more than a glimpse of his immense unlikeability.

One wonders if his dreadful post-convention poll numbers will be enough to pierce Kerry?s arrogance.  If the numbers alone don?t, maybe he should consider this: the last Democrat to get no ?bounce? from a convention was George McGovern in 1972.