“What his critics see as an
inability to take strong, clear positions seems to us to reflect
his appreciation that life is not simple.” Regardless of
whether you think these qualities make for a good president, as The
New York Times’s editorial board memorably made clear in its
endorsement of Sen. John Kerry for the Democratic presidential
nomination, it does enhance your appreciation of political combat.
Politics is a complex business where it often pays to co-opt
shamelessly the ideas of your enemies, even if you have to abandon
your carefully crafted identity.

Zac Peskowitz

The outstanding example of this behavior was the rush of
Democratic candidates to adopt the posture of former Gov. Howard
Dean of Vermont. Kerry, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and
retired Gen. Wesley Clark mimicked Dean with particular zest. With
the rise of Howard Dean a perceptible change emerged in everything
from their stump speeches all the way down to their websites. And
in the case of Kerry and Edwards the changes even emanated to their
Senate votes as the duo voted against the $87 billion supplemental
appropriation for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, a position
that would have been unthinkable were it not for Dean’s
sudden emergence. But Dean did not get to enjoy the fruits of his
labor as Kerry somehow outmaneuvered him in Iowa and easily jaunted
through the primary states to become the presumptive Democratic
nominee. To the imitator go the spoils.

Surely, this couldn’t be true of the competition between
the political parties this election season? The day before classes
began in Ann Arbor, President Bush told a crowd of workers in
Richfield, Ohio that he would appoint an assistant secretary level
“manufacturing czar” in the Department of Commerce.
More than seven months and one failed candidate later, the post was
finally filled by a California carpet manufacturer. In one of the
more ferocious instances of wrangling on the jobs issue all year,
the Kerry campaign sabotaged Bush’s first choice for the
position, Anthony Raimondo, an executive who had set up a factory
in China. But these testy moments punctuated by the strident
rhetoric of campaign strategists only obscures the similarities
between the Bush and Kerry on the economic front. If elected,
Kerry’s recent promise to create 10 million jobs for the
American economy will surely go unfulfilled. His reliance on a
corporate tax overhaul and extraordinarily vague propositions to
slash government travel expenses — Kerry’s crack
economic team has conned a sizable portion of the media into
believing that he is a strait-talkin’ deficit-cuttin’
Clintonite who will take care of all those economic problems that
the Bush administration is foisting on our children and
grandchildren.

In reality, Kerry has no substantive plan to deal with the
Alternative Minimum Tax and relies on the same prevarications as
the Bush administration to claim that he will cut the federal
deficit in half in a span of five years. Both Bush and Kerry ignore
the upward pressures on the deficit which will emerge after this
narrow time frame has passed and have nothing serious planned to
fix these structural shortcomings. (As an aside, it’s also
amusing to hear Kerry’s top aides lionizing Robert Rubin, who
took home $17.1 million from Citigroup this past fiscal year, as
“the best secretary of the Treasury since Alexander
Hamilton” as their candidate righteously intones against
corporate greed and unfair executive compensation).

During the course of Kerry’s time in the Senate and on the
campaign trail he has slowly absorbed the lessons of the great
political strategists of American history. A college classmate of a
U.S. president once wrote, “No man, for any considerable
period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude,
without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true.”
The greatest joy of political life is that you can ceaselessly
try.

Peskowitz can be reached at
“mailto:zpeskowi@umich.edu”>zpeskowi@umich.edu.

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