If you knew nothing else about John Edwards than what you could see from his semi-concession speech on Nov. 3, it would be enough to dislike him. There was Kerry, standing behind him and attempting to keep his composure before what had to be the most difficult speech of his life, and yet Edwards had the poor taste to talk on and on about how his "fight" didn't end here, and how he was still battling for the little guy, and all the rest of the blather that had brought him close to the pinnacle of American politics. Edwards kept Kerry waiting while he gave the first campaign speech of 2008. Nice.
John Kerry's concession speech, by contrast, was graceful and dignified. And it struck a patriotic note that is all too rare in Democratic rhetoric. It was probably John Kerry's finest moment as a public figure (and yes, we must all rejoice that the electorate gave him the opportunity to deliver it). Nor should we feel too sorry for Kerry, who chose Edwards apparently only because he was a "charismatic" campaigner and not because he possessed the necessary traits to assume the Oval Office, if necessary.
But speaking of the little guy, this election has clarified to a remarkable degree which party is actually the party of ordinary Americans. George Soros, Michael Moore, moveon.org, Whoopi Goldberg, Ben Affleck and a few other plutocrats spent a reported $200 million attempting to defeat George W. Bush. They had the energetic assistance of The New York Times, ABC, NBC, NPR, CNN and particularly CBS. They retain (for how much longer is open to question) the power to shape the national debate. But the Bush campaign (guided by the insight of Karl Rove) focused on church-attending, conservative, hard-working middle class Americans whose only form of protest against the power of the mainstream press is to tune in to talk radio and the Internet. Well, they do have one other form of power, and they exercised it at the voting booths last Tuesday.
The president has already expressed a determination to spend the political capital he amassed during this election. He will have just a few months in which to act. Political capital is like a helium balloon -- it weakens with every passing day. Here are a few second term suggestions:
-- Address the political correctness problem in the CIA, FBI and Department of Transportation. The terrorists may kill any of us on any day just for being who we are. We can live with that. But we cannot live with the idea that a terrorist would be overlooked or permitted to slide through security because our government agencies are too worried about ethnic profiling.
Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta (who spent time in an internment camp as a child) is terrible on these issues. It was understandable that President Bush wanted a Democrat in the Cabinet in his first term. But this one has come at a high price. Find another symbol of bipartisanship. In the post 9-11 world, the Department of Transportation has become too important.
-- Reform Social Security. There was zero chance that this matter would be addressed if Kerry had been elected, and that would have been very bad for our children. It cannot wait. The first Baby Boomers begin to retire in 2010. We cannot sustain the level of benefits we are currently promising. Bush's first-term expansion of Medicare was exactly the wrong way to go. But a second-term comprehensive reform of entitlements -- which a Republican House and Senate could pass with presidential leadership -- would right the balance.
-- Reform health care. If there is one issue that the Democrats continue to score points with, it is this. The allure of getting something for nothing is difficult to overcome. But of course if the Democrats get their way, our health care system will come to resemble Canada's -- long waits and other forms of rationing.
President Bush was sharp on these issues in the third debate -- explaining, for example, that one of the problems with the current system is that consumers have no incentive to shop by price.
Medical liability reform is another priority. The 2004 election has delivered a rare moment of political opportunity. If Republicans in alliance with a few moderate (or frightened) Democrats can successfully reform the health care giant -- reducing paperwork, corking the lawsuits, encouraging competition -- the nation as well as the Republican Party will benefit immeasurably.