Learning from ?04

Posted: Jan 10, 2005 12:00 AM

In a presidential election it can usually be said that ?failure is not an option.? Losers go on to ambassadorships, become professors or return to their day jobs in Congress. They usually don?t run again. The last losing presidential candidate to make a repeat performance was Richard Nixon, and he waited eight years before he made a second go of it.

So it may come as a bit of a surprise that John Kerry is considering bucking the trend and seeking the presidency again in 2008.

?Kerry sounded very much like a man who was running for president again,? Newsweek wrote after a November interview with the senator. In fact, ?the conventional wisdom, already congealing before Bush?s second Inaugural, pictures Kerry and [Sen. Hillary] Clinton as the early Democratic front runners,? the magazine wrote.

Kerry has now had two months to ponder why he lost. And he hasn?t been alone.

?Liberals and Democrats are way too sensitive to elite editorial page opinion that asks more responsibility from the side it supposedly supports than from the side it supposedly opposes,? Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne explained on Dec. 31. ?Memo to Democrats: Forget the editorial writers and ask yourselves: What Would Bush Do? If you are not as tough as he is, he will crush you -- again.?

Interesting theory. Interesting in that it gets reality exactly backward. Liberals have no need to seek approval from the editorial pages; they?re usually getting it already. It?s conservatives who often step into that trap and ?reach across the aisle? to earn praise from columnists.

A recent example comes from the media firestorm that briefly engulfed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Would he stay in office, or would he resign over the many alleged failings bandied about in the mainstream media? Some Republican senators weighed in on the side of the editorial writers.

?I have no confidence in Rumsfeld?s leadership,? Nebraska?s Chuck Hagel announced on ?Face the Nation? just before Christmas. Of course, there?s no better way for a Republican senator to get booked on a Sunday talk show than for him to blast the president or the cabinet, so his attack certainly makes political sense.

 Mississippi?s Trent Lott earned some rare positive media coverage by announcing, ?I am not a fan of Secretary Rumsfeld.? The Washington Post story about Lott?s comments said the senator ?is seen neither as a moderate or a maverick, but rather someone near the center of his party?s thinking. Also, he was a Senate majority leader.? The story failed to point out that, almost exactly two years earlier, virtually the entire Washington media establishment was calling on Lott to resign over controversial comments he?d made at a dinner for retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond.

What Dionne and other liberal thinkers have missed is that the media?s liberal bias actually hurt Sen. Kerry?s presidential bid last year.

It was back in May that the ?Swift Boat Veterans for Truth? first surfaced with a well-attended news conference at the National Press Club. Remember that famous photo of Kerry with his 18 crewmates? Well, last spring the Swifties announced that 11 of those in the picture actually opposed Kerry?s candidacy.

That?s news, but reporters weren?t biting. For example, The Washington Post and the New York Times printed only short stories on it, and didn?t seem much interested in exploring the story any further.

Because they?d been ignored, the vets decided to raise money and run television ads -- ads which hit the air right after Kerry?s star-turn at the Democratic convention. Talk radio and Internet blogs pumped up the story throughout the month of August, eventually forcing the networks and major newspapers to cover it.

Now, let?s imagine the original news conference had been well covered. There would have been a brief feeding frenzy in May, then the story would have gone away. That means no Swift Boat ads, or at least no wall-to-wall Swift Boat coverage right before Labor Day. Kerry would have been able to talk about issues instead of defending his military record. Without the Swifties, Kerry might well have gone on to win the presidency

The greatest minds on the American left have digested what happened on that dark November day, and these thinkers have determined why the exit polls were so wrong. They?ve convinced themselves that Kerry lost because he wasn?t tough enough, or because a majority of the American people is hung up on morality.
Liberals have three years to figure out their message was their problem. If they don?t, they might as well run the same candidate again, because the outcome is likely to be identical, too.