Kerry Concedes Too Much

Boston Phoenix | November 3, 2004
He doth concede too much


John Kerry’s been challenging us with baffling arguments this entire campaign. So why should he stop now? He fought in Vietnam, realized it was a dirty war, became an anti-war leader — then sold his military service as his greatest strength. He voted to give George W. Bush authority to wage war on Iraq, excoriated the way Bush used that authority — then said he wouldn’t change his vote if he could, even knowing what he knows today. So it’s only fitting that Kerry would close his campaign by calling, ambivalently, for both war and peace.

At the outset of his concession speech, Kerry told the crowd gathered Faneuil Hall that, earlier today, he and the president “had a good conversation. And we talked about the danger of division in this country, and the need, the desperate need, for unity, for finding the common ground, coming together. Today, I hope that we can begin the healing.” It was one of Kerry’s biggest applause lines. Midway through, Kerry changed his tune, promising the assemblage that — yesterday’s devastating defeat notwithstanding — they’d prevail in the end.

Addressing the legions of volunteers who “worked their hearts out” to “open the doors to all Americans,” Kerry was more defiant: “I say to them now, Don’t lose faith. What you did last night made a difference. . . . I promise you, the time will come when your work and your ballots will change the world.”

By the conclusion, though, Conciliatory Kerry was back in full effect. “In an American election,” Kerry declared, sounding like some second-rate civics teacher, “there are no losers. Because whether or not your candidates succeed the next morning, we all wake up as Americans.”

Kerry will no doubt be praised for doing his part to ease antagonisms in the bitterly divided American electorate. But that doesn’t mean he took the right approach. The problem with the facile closing line is that different Americans — Red and Blue Americans, to use the easy shorthand — currently have radically different ideas about our country’s identity. We disagree about the rights of gays and lesbians. We disagree about the place of religion in the public sphere. We disagree about what role government should play in caring for the least vulnerable members of society. We disagree about the way our military should be used and the general stance we should have toward the rest of the world. Saying that “we all wake up as Americans” is a feel-good line that may help ease the sting of defeat, but it also borders on meaningless.

Instead, Kerry should have followed the lead of John Edwards, who managed to be simultaneously upbeat and defiant. “You can be disappointed, but you cannot walk away,” Edwards exhorted the audience. “This fight has just begun. . . . This campaign may end today, but the battle for you and the hard-working Americans who built this country rages on.”

If the Democrats are going to follow the lead of the Republican Party, which used Barry Goldwater’s 1964 candidacy and defeat as a springboard to the Republican dominance we’re witnessing today, they’ll need to put the frustration stemming from the 2004 election to good use — hammering out a compelling set of core beliefs, building a sturdy grassroots network, investing in the journals and think tanks that paved the way for today’s conservative ascendancy. John Kerry is wrong — now’s not a time for Democrats to foster a national healing process. It’s a time for the Democrats to stay angry and to put that anger to good use.

Boston Phoenix

The Boston Phoenix was founded in 1966 as an arts and entertainment newspaper for the 18-40 year old market. Today, with editions in Rhode Island and Portland, Maine, the Phoenix has a distribution of 220,000 and more than 600,000 readers...
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