The Ralph Factor
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 20, 2004; 8:52 AM
I'm not sure I get why John Kerry met with Ralph Nader yesterday.
Nader had made clear he's not getting out of the race, and Kerry had made clear he wouldn't ask the former consumer crusader to do so.
It's not like meeting with Dean or Gephardt or Clark or any other former rival; Nader is still trying to siphon votes that could cost Kerry the election.
But there they were, shaking hands for the cameras.
The more or less official Democratic line has been that Nader is a pest, a gadfly, an egomaniac who gave us Bush four years ago and has no business running again.
So doesn't Kerry elevate Nader's stature by granting him an audience? Isn't he in effect saying that Nader is a player, an important factor in 2004? Would Nader supporters switch their vote as a result?
Ironically, the John-and-Ralph show took place in D.C. as an outfit called the National Progress Fund -- including former Dean communications chief Trish Enright -- was unveiling some anti-Nader TV ads featuring '00 supporters who deeply regret their vote. Here's their Web site.
I'm also struggling to understand Nader's logic that he can help Kerry by finding common ground with him, even as he deprives the Democrat of a head-to-head matchup with Bush. Wouldn't that be a stronger argument for him working as a Kerry surrogate rather than a third-party candidate?
"Seeking common ground with a rival many Democrats view as a spoiler," says the Los Angeles Times, "Sen. John F. Kerry on Wednesday urged Ralph Nader to remember their past alliances and to avoid judging him based on the Clinton administration's record.
"The private meeting at Kerry's campaign headquarters in Washington apparently did not defuse the potential problem that Nader's independent presidential candidacy could pose to the presumed Democratic nominee.
"Kerry did not ask Nader to end his run, according to accounts of the session provided by both sides. Nor did the two candidates discuss any conditions that might persuade Nader to bow out. But the meeting demonstrated that the Massachusetts senator was reaching out to Nader in a bid to minimize the consumer advocate's impact on November's vote."
The New York Post describes the get-together this way:
"John Kerry met yesterday with left-leaning independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader - but denied he's asking Nader to drop out of the race.
"Kerry said his plan is to steal away Nader supporters by pledging to them that he and Nader share the same goals."
The Baltimore Sun debriefs Ralph:
"As carefully staged as a Cold War summit, Sen. John Kerry held long-delayed talks yesterday with Ralph Nader, whose independent candidacy is a threat to the Democrat's chances of unseating President Bush.
"Their discussion barely touched on the growing antiwar sentiment that Nader hopes to tap and avoided entirely the question of what it might take for him to quit the race.
"Nader, who posed for pictures inside with Kerry but uncharacteristically avoided reporters outside, issued a statement calling the session 'productive and positive.' . . .
"In a telephone interview, Nader said the talks revolved largely around issues on which both agree, including 'ending corporate welfare as we know it' and avoiding 'a repeat of the Katherine Harris situation,' a reference to the disputed Florida vote count in the last presidential election.
"Nader said he 'very briefly' brought up Iraq during the hour-long session. He has advocated the withdrawal of all U.S. forces, a position backed by a growing number of Americans but strongly opposed by Kerry, who says more U.S. troops might be needed."
Sounds like they had agreed to talk about only what they agreed on.
At National Review, Jim Geraghty comes up with some reasons why Nader will matter this year:
"1. Iraq will be at least one of the biggest issues, if not the issue in November. While Kerry is 'nuancing' and talking about sending more troops to Iraq, Nader can play the role of the true antiwar candidate, demanding a total withdrawal within six months. How much will that siren's call appeal to ANSWER and the Deaniacs?
"2. Some Green voters really do want to 'punish' Democrats, for waffling, not taking a strong enough stand, and for not pushing Greens' core issues. Their ideology and views are personified by Michael Moore and Al Franken; leaders like Tom Daschle and Nancy Pelosi seem too bland and milquetoast for them. If Gore was too wishy-washy and moderate for them, is Kerry really going to stir their passions? Nader's message hammers the Democrats for selling out. "
Jim Geraghty also comes up with reasons why Nader WON'T matter:
"1.. Today, many, many Democrats hate him with a passion, and will fight his candidacy as much as they fight the president. A writer for the Village Voice called him a 'suicide bomber.' Howard Dean has come out and told his supporters, 'A vote for Ralph Nader is, plain and simple, a vote to reelect George W. Bush.' The Nation and the New York Times urged him not to run.
"2. Polls vs. Votes: Nader was polling around 7 percent in the days leading up to the general election in 2000, but ended up getting only 2.7 percent of the vote nationally. His current level of support may be illusory."
Well, that clears that up.
Kerry made some surprising comments in a sitdown with the Associated Press:
"Democrat John F. Kerry said yesterday he's open to nominating antiabortion judges as long as that doesn't lead to the Supreme Court's overturning the landmark 1973 Roe ruling that made abortion legal.
"Kerry, the presumptive nominee of a party that overwhelmingly favors a woman's right to choose whether to have an abortion, struck a moderate note as he lashed out at one of the high court's most conservative justices, saying he regrets his 1986 vote to confirm Antonin Scalia."
Won't this revive complaints that he's trying to straddle the issues?
Bumper sticker alert: Kerry may have a new campaign slogan, the Wall Street Journal reports:
"John Kerry left the West on Tuesday with a pocketful of Las Vegas campaign checks, Howard Dean by his side and the memory of a boisterous, cheering evening crowd that filled Pioneer Square here and spilled into neighboring downtown streets.
"But most important may be the new rallying cry that Mr. Kerry brought back with him: 'Let America be America again.' After weeks of struggle, he is increasingly confident that he can find the words and 'music' to break through with voters in the November general election.
"It couldn't happen soon enough for his fellow Democrats. While continued violence in Iraq and economic worries at home have sapped public confidence and hurt approval ratings for President Bush, worried Democrats have complained that their nominee-in-waiting has been too slow to project a clear message and establish himself as a strong alternative . . .
"'Talking about "Let America be America again" is tapping into that value system that people think makes this country strong,' he says in an interview."
I guess you can read into it what you want. The Journal says it's from a Langston Hughes poem.
Seems like only yesterday--all right, two weeks ago--that we were reading all those Kerry-in-trouble stories. The shift in the zeitgeist is evident from this Philadelphia Inquirer piece:
"President Bush will visit Capitol Hill today to speak behind closed doors to Senate and House Republicans in an effort to calm Republicans roiled over the war in Iraq and his sinking popularity in polls.
"Republican lawmakers, particularly in the Senate, are becoming increasingly restive about the turmoil in Iraq, rising budget deficits, and what they believe is a back-of-the-hand attitude from the Bush administration.
"Bush also has the lowest public approval rating of his presidency, putting stress on Republican lawmakers in tough reelection races.
"Republican aides said Bush was expected to assure Republicans that the administration was on the right track in Iraq and to put some presidential pressure on a handful of Republican senators who are blocking passage of a federal budget resolution."
Just when you think things can't get any worse in Iraq:
"About 40 Iraqis were killed Wednesday by American forces in an attack near the volatile border with Syria. American officials said they had fired on a suspected guerrilla safe house, but Iraqis said the Americans had strafed civilians at a wedding party," says the NYT.
Some of those killed were children.
The first plea in the prisoner abuse case, as reported by the Los Angeles Times:
"Army Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits today pleaded guilty to charges of abusing Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison and was sentenced to one year in prison, stripped of his rank and he will be given a bad conduct discharge.
"Sivits was given the maximum sentence in the first military court martial stemming from the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, where U.S. military personnel allegedly abused and humiliated prisoners. The 24-year-old solider, who photographed the humiliation of nude Iraqi prisoners, pleaded guilty to four charges, including mistreating detainees and dereliction of duty." He apologized.
American Prospect's Garance Franke-Ruta finds a new rationale for McCain as Kerry's Pentagon chief:
"The idea, according to the Democrats I've spoken with, is not to select an individual who has an anti-war agenda. George W. Bush would never choose such a person, and anyway, McCain doesn't fit that bill -- like Kerry and many other Democrats, he advocates increasing troop levels in Iraq in order to stabilize the security situation there. The point is to find someone who could restore U.S. credibility in the Arab world and the international arena and provide a strong symbolic break with the recent past.
"Having an American who was tortured in a prisoner-of-war camp replace a man who at best cavalierly allowed -- and at worst actually approved of -- the humiliation and torment of Iraqi prisoners would be profoundly meaningful as a show of American contrition and as a commitment to a newly respectful course of action in the treatment of Arab prisoners. One can only imagine the power of McCain going to Iraq to oversee the destruction of Abu Ghraib, once and for all. It would be a speech for the ages.
"There was a moment, at about the time the Abu Ghraib scandal first broke, when Bush might have been able to replace his defense secretary in such a way as to show decisive leadership. Having made a public commitment to Rumsfeld these past weeks, though, it now seems too late for that. Yet had Bush added McCain to his cabinet, he would have had a shot at co-opting one of his most powerful intraparty critics during an election season -- and depriving the Democrats of their strongest Republican (sometimes) ally in the Senate.
"The president would have been tapping a Vietnam veteran popular with Democrats, making criticism of his lack of Vietnam service more difficult and possibly increasing support from some moderates and independents, who are increasingly dissatisfied with his administration. He'd have gotten someone popular with the press and known for his openness (in contrast with Rumsfeld, who is renowned for his secrecy and disdain for the media). Because McCain is well-known in the Senate, he could have been confirmed to the cabinet swiftly and without too much of a debate -- or debacle. And to top it all off, McCain was a pro-war hawk from the get-go, so selecting him would not have amounted to a repudiation of the administration's goals in Iraq, only a repudiation of Rumsfeld's competence in achieving them."
Except that the two men don't think much of each other.
Andrew Sullivan says the prez has failed in the communications department:
"What Bush doesn't seem to understand is that in any war, people need to be reminded constantly of what is going on, what is at stake, what our immediate, medium-term and ultimate objectives are. The president has said nothing cogent about Karbala; nothing apposite about al Sadr; nothing specific about what our strategy is in Falluja. Events transpire and are interpreted by critics and the anti-war media and by everyone on the planet but the president. All the president says is a broad and crude reiteration of valid but superfluous boilerplate.
"This is not war-leadership; it's the abdication of war-leadership. We are at a critical juncture. With some perspective, we have achieved much in Iraq, with relatively low casualties. But it will all go to hell if we lose our nerve now. It's long past time that people can be asked simply to trust the president. After the WMD intelligence debacle and the Abu Ghraib disgrace, he has run out of that capital. He has to tell us how we will win, what we are doing, how it all holds together, why the infrastructure repair is still in disarray, and how a political solution is possible. I'm not sure any more that this president has the skills or competence to pull it off. But I am sure that he has very little time to persuade us he can."
Finally, a Bush ad has backfired in one town, according to this editorial in the York, Pa., Daily Record:
"Well, at least you have to give the Bush campaign points for aplomb. When it shoots itself in the foot, it does so with a tank, not some little pistol . . .
"Last week's campaign ad gaffe probably didn't help his cause here. Workers at United Defense in West Manchester Township are feeling a little left out -- hurt that the Bush campaign seems to have forgotten their contributions to the figurative war on terrorism and the literal war in Iraq.
"A $10 million ad blitz in Michigan (another crucial swing state for the president) criticized presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry for votes against various weapons systems. An ad that ran in Detroit claimed Kerry voted against the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, a tank-like weapon that saw extensive action in Iraq.
"The ad said the vehicle was 'made in Michigan,' and campaign spokespeople stood in front of the General Dynamics headquarters there asking if Kerry cared about the site's 1,200 jobs.
"While General Dynamics makes some fine weapons systems, it doesn't manufacture the Bradley. Any York countian can tell you it's made right here in West Manchester Township by 910 United Defense workers."
I guess it's true -- all politics is local.
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