CAMPAIGN 2004: SIX THINGS JOHN KERRY NEEDS TO DO TO WIN IN NOVEMBER
Dear Senator Kerry,
Congratulations on becoming the de facto nominee. Now the White House is gunning for you and party hacks are deafening you with advice. Take a deep breath and tune them out. Here is a simple six-point plan for becoming the 44th president of the United States.
One. You may share JFK's initials, but you need to campaign with RFK's passion. The night Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, you were on a ship coming home from Vietnam. And you have often talked about his legacy on the campaign trail, about politics as something more than "the art of the probable — tinkering around the edges without any greater vision." Ushering Bush out of the White House will take more than a critique, however masterful, of his failed policies — and more than a new-and-improved Medicare plan. It will take a bold moral vision of what America can be. As Bobby Kennedy often said, "Some men see things as they are and ask, 'Why?' I dream of things that never were and ask, 'Why not?'"
Two. Don't pick a VP by looking at the map. Pick someone who can help you bring soul back to American politics and appeal not just to our self-interest but to our better instincts. In other words, do not pick Evan Bayh.
Three. Don't fall back on the tried-and-untrue swing voter strategy that has led to the prolonged identity crisis of the Democratic Party. Fifty percent of eligible voters did not vote in 2000. Speak to them — to the young, to the poor, to single women. Speak to those who have given up on our democracy, who are struggling without health care, without decent schools, without jobs. The dithering poltroons offering you focus group-tested advice on how to triangulate your way to victory won't like it. But you'll feel better about yourself, and you'll win.
Four. Don't run away from your voting record. Don't run away, as you did in the New York debate, from being called a liberal. Embrace it, and define it as the foundation of the great breakthroughs in American history. The Emancipation Proclamation. The 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. The New Deal, which put ordinary people back to work when the private sector couldn't. Social Security. Medicare. The Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Clean Air Act of 1970. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. These are all milestones in our journey toward a just society. They all represent values — liberal values — held dear by most Americans. You can be the president who leads us to the next breakthrough after years of consolidation, stagnation and — under George Bush — regression.
Five. Remember: He who controls the language defines the political debate. Bush Republicans' control of certain magical words, starting with "responsibility," has been a key to their success. You need to take back "responsibility" from the grossly irresponsible GOP. It wants the nation to believe we can carry the burden of a worldwide war on terror and the Iraqi occupation while giving the top hats a multitrillion dollar tax cut and the drug companies a huge new prescription drug benefit without cost containment. We can't, of course, and you need to make sure Americans realize that before they vote in November.
Six. Strike a new bargain with the American people. Tell them, "Let's put an end to the tyranny of low expectations. You can expect a lot more of me, and I will ask a lot more of you." President Bush has used Sept. 11 to divide us — and as a handy visual for his new campaign ads. Imagine how different our country would be if he had used it instead to call on the American people not to go shopping but to commit themselves to a large, collective purpose. Believe in us enough to ask us to confront both the horrors wrought by terrorists and the horrors wrought by random violence in our inner cities, and by woefully inadequate health care, education and housing. Believe in us enough to ask us to share in the sacrifices necessary to build a country of real opportunity for all and a sturdy social safety net. The values and spirit that emerged on Sept. 11 — generosity, selflessness, courage — are still very much part of who we are. After years of being pandered to and lied to, we are longing for a leader who will speak straight to us and challenge us to live up to those intangible qualities that make our nation great.
You can be that leader, but only if you ignore all those who tell you that's not the way you win elections. Indeed, that's the only way you'll win this one.