The Long Goodbye

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 25, 2007 6:44 AM

It was the quintessential John Kerry.

There he was, making a Senate speech, after putting out word that he would not run in 2008, and all the cable news networks were taking him live.

Kerry began to talk. And talk.

He talked about Mesopotamia in the year 685, the tribal warfare, how people were beheaded. He trod a long, winding path to today's Iraq, then detoured to talk about Syria.

As he continued to speechify, CNN cut away, then MSNBC.

Kerry kept talking. He turned to Vietnam, then back to Iraq. MSNBC checked in again, then CNN. Would he now get to the point?

The on-screen headlines said that Kerry would announce his withdrawal, but he did not.

Finally, half an hour later, the Massachusetts senator, his voice breaking, disclosed that he would, in fact, not be a candidate for president in the next election.

A flashback to the often droning, ponderous Kerry of 2004 was impossible to avoid.

Now this all may have been perfectly deliberate on Kerry's part, an effort to seize his final moment in the spotlight, knowing that beginning today he's just another senator. But he still kind of fumbled the moment.

Clearly, there was not exactly a party groundswell for Kerry to make another run. In fact, there is a lot of resentment among Democrats who feel that Kerry botched a very winnable race in 2004. He came close, yes, but that doesn't matter in politics. And once he was no longer the nominee, a lot of Democratic strategists and liberal pundits came out and said he'd been a terrible candidate.

For journalists, who are getting whiplash from watching politicians jump in almost every day, yesterday was a day on which the field did not expand.

"A tearful Senator John F. Kerry launched the next phase of his Senate career yesterday with a vow to hasten an end to the Iraq war," says the Boston Globe, "as the man who spent the past four years gunning for the presidency turned his attention to building a statesmanlike legacy in the Senate.

"Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, choked back tears on the Senate floor as he bowed out of the 2008 presidential race and said he would run for a fifth Senate term next year. He said his mission would mirror the one he brought to Congress with his famous Senate testimony in the midst of the Vietnam War: to end an unpopular war . . .

"Kerry aides and advisers said the senator's decision came down to a political calculation that he would face long odds in capturing the presidential nomination for a second time, given his diminished public standing after his 2004 defeat by Bush."

Okay, so he's not saying he wants to spend more time with Teresa.

"The senator had worked hard to prepare for another run, logging more miles and spreading more money than any other Democrat in the last election cycle. But he found himself shunned by much of his party after joking shortly before the November elections that poor students would 'get stuck in Iraq' -- a comment that Kerry called a 'botched joke' but that revived memories of his 2004 verbal missteps."

Humor was not his strong suit.

The Chicago Tribune cuts to the chase: "For many of those who had supported Kerry in 2004, there was the feeling that he had his chance and now it was someone else's turn. There remains anger among many Democrats that as a presidential candidate Kerry allowed himself to be 'swift-boated' by Republicans who ran ads questioning his war record in Vietnam."

Says the New York Times: "Mr. Kerry's announcement of his political plans, if unveiled in an unorthodox place, was not a surprise, notwithstanding his early statements that he would run again for the White House. He was in effect bowing to a Democratic Party that was clearly unreceptive and that had turned its attention to new candidates, in particular Senators Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who got into the race over the past week. Many Democrats had said they expected Mr. Kerry would ultimately decide not to run after assessing how much strength he had in his party; as it is, most of his aides from the 2004 campaign have moved on."

Well, so much for the State of the Union, at least when it comes to Iraq:

"A Senate committee approved a toughly worded resolution Wednesday to oppose a troop buildup in Iraq, moving Congress a step closer to an official repudiation of President Bush's leadership of the increasingly violent 4-year-old war," says the Los Angeles Times.

"In a sign of how partisan the debate over Iraq remains, only one Republican joined Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to support the nonbinding resolution, which bluntly declares: 'It is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq.' "

That Republican would be Chuck Hagel, whose impassioned speech against sending more kids to Iraq got big play on television yesterday.

The Washington Times had an interesting headline on the vote: "Bush Rebuke Advances."

Slate's Fred Kaplan sees Bush's Iraq policy as a muddle:

"President Bush may not have felt obligated to discuss Iraq in detail, having laid out his new plan in prime time less than two weeks ago. But to the extent he talked about the war, his words were at best puzzling, and at worst, maddening.

"For example, the president did nothing to clarify the 'surge'--the deployment of 20,000 more U.S. combat troops over the next few months. It's unclear whether even this administration believes in the plan or knows how it will work. The new defense secretary, Robert Gates, has said in recent days that the surge might be needed only through the summer, after which withdrawals might begin. However, at hearings this morning before the Senate armed services committee, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the new commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, stressed the need for patience. The new troops will need time to get to Iraq; more time to understand the neighborhoods they'll be securing; more time to conduct operations and secure the area; and still more time to build on the security. These tasks, he said, will be 'neither quick nor easy.'

"So which is it: a brief blip, as Secretary Gates assures us--or a very long haul, as Lt. Gen. Petraeus sternly warns?"

Dick Polman has a particularly brilliant analysis (which is to say, he seems to agree with some points that I made):

"Bush said that 'our citizens don't much care which side of the aisle we sit on, as long as we are willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done.' An interesting line, given the fact that, during the GOP majority reign, he was perfectly comfortable with the strategy of never crossing the aisle. The Republicans reigned by maximizing votes among their own people and stiffing the opposition. They often refused to let the powerless Democrats see proposed legislation until the final moments prior to passage, and they often refused to allow Democrats to offer amendments. But now that the Democrats are in control, Bush wanted to make it clear that he expects them to cross the aisle and engage the GOP.

"Bush soon moved on to budgetary matters, noting that 'what we need to do is impose spending discipline in Washington, D.C.,' another interesting line, given the fact that he and his GOP Congress jacked up spending to heights not seen since the glory days of LBJ. Then he added, 'Together, we can restrain the spending appetite of the federal government,' again trying to hold the Democrats to a standard that he didn't insist upon when his side had the power.

"This pattern held as he took up the issue of earmarks, those special interest goodies slipped into bills under the cloak of secrecy at the eleventh hour. The GOP Congress ran roughshod with this practice, and he never said a word . . .

"(Nor, by the way, did he say a single word about post-Katrina New Orleans. In last year's speech, he lauded his reconstruction program and declared that 'a hopeful society comes to the aid of fellow citizens.['] But Katrina is a sore subject. A House Republican investigation has assailed the White House for 'a failure of leadership.')"

I find the failure to mention NOLA hard to fathom.

How much of a lame duck is the president? Pretty lame, says Salon's Walter Shapiro:

"What we are witnessing is the downside of the stability built into the American political system -- the inability of a four-year presidential administration to fall of its own weight. If this were a parliamentary system, all it would take would be a no-confidence vote in Congress to bring on a new presidential election. And probably even a significant minority of Republicans would support such a heave-ho motion. But instead -- keeping in mind that incompetence is not an impeachable offense -- we are saddled with Bush and Dick Cheney for another two years. Which raises the grave issue of whether a president -- armed with his formidable constitutional powers -- can function without the support of Congress, two-thirds of the voters and a growing number of senior members (Virginia Sen. John Warner is a prime example) of his own party.

"Bush gambled the last vestiges of the prestige of his position on his prime-time address on Iraq on Jan. 10 -- and, as a result of that bum bet, the croupier took all the president's chips off the board. Even popular presidents (Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan) risked wearing out their welcome if they preempted evening television time twice in a single month. So it was surprising that Bush returned to the well-trod turf of Iraq and terrorism for almost half the State of the Union address, especially with all the White House pre-speech emphasis on the president's reinvigorated domestic agenda. It was almost as if Bush wanted a do-over on his Iraq speech, somehow believing that if he mouthed the familiar platitudes one more time ('This war is more than a clash of arms -- it is a decisive ideological struggle and the security of our nation hangs in the balance'), he could miraculously turn the tide of public opinion."

The hot issue on the right remains immigration, and Power Line's Paul Mirengoff is none too happy:

"The president called on Congress to 'resolve the status of illegal aliens already in the country.' However, their status has already been resolved -- they are illegal aliens. What Bush wants to do is permit them to change that status (and not by leaving the country). But why should we do that? Bush did not say. Those who broke our laws and entered the U.S. illegally had no reasonable expectation that they would ever become citizens -- they decided that it was worth it to come and remain here without that enhanced status. Why then should we improve upon a bargain that was good enough when made and which the illegals could reverse by simply leaving the country?

"Right now, we can't control whether folks come into the country illegally; our only control consists of making sure that those who do so cannot profit to extent of becoming citizens. Until we prove that we can control our borders, it would be foolish to relinquish that control. But that's what Bush and the Dems likely will do."

Virginia's freshman senator, Jim Webb, who beat George Allen by fewer than 9,000 votes, is getting rave reviews.

Newsweek's Jonathan Alter:

"For the first time ever, the response to the State of the Union Message overshadowed the president's big speech. Virginia Sen. James Webb, in office only three weeks, managed to convey a muscular liberalism--with personal touches--that left President Bush's ordinary address in the dust . . . It pointed the way to a revival for national Democrats."

Time's Jay Carney calls it "the most compelling response and rebuttal to a State of the Union address I've seen in the past 15 years. He nailed it -- conveyed his personal knowledge about military service, that people serve without regard to political ideology or political identification, and did it without succumbing to partisan one-upmanship."

Andrew Sullivan: "It was, I think, the most effective Democratic response in the Bush years. He managed to bridge economic populism with military service and pride: a very potent combination."

Ladies and gentlemen, a star is born.

Oh, but ex-Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson finds Webb's remarks too cliche-ridden.

Are Rudy Giuliani and John Edwards the new front-runners? They're leading in an Iowa poll, says Real Clear Politics. Hillary is fourth.

A testy moment during Wolf Blitzer's sitdown with Dick Cheney yesterday. Here's the transcript:

BLITZER: Your daughter, Mary. She's pregnant. All of us are happy she's going to have a baby. You're going to have another grandchild. Some of the -- some critics are suggesting -- for example, a statement from someone representing Focus on the Family, 'Mary Cheney's pregnancy raises the question of what's best for children. Just because it's possible to conceive a child outside of the relationship of a married mother and father doesn't mean that it's best for the child.' Do you want to respond to that?


BLITZER: She's, obviously, a good daughter --

CHENEY: I'm delighted I'm about to have a sixth grandchild, Wolf.

And obviously I think the world of both my daughters and all of my grandchildren. And I think, frankly, you're out of line with that question.

BLITZER: I think all of us appreciate --

CHENEY: I think you're out of line.

BLITZER: We like your daughters. Believe me, I'm very sympathetic to Liz and to Mary. I like them both. That was a question that's come up, and it's a responsible, fair question.

CHENEY: I just fundamentally disagree with you.

The New York Daily News covers this under the headline "VEEP BLOWS TOP." The paper notes Tony Snow telling Fox News that there was a double standard in coverage, with the press keeping hands off Chelsea Clinton.

Isn't there a difference between a teenager living in the White House, and a grown woman who was an official in her father's reelection campaign, wrote a book about the experience and assailed the administration's support of a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, which would prevent what she regards as her marriage from ever being recognized?

John Aravosis has this reaction:

"It appears the Cheneys are still trying to cram their pregnant lesbian daughter Mary back into the closet. Now the former gay activist, former head of Cheney's re-election campaign, former openly-gay gay-liaison for a major American corporation, is no longer so gay. Now her homosexuality is a no-no, a thing not to be discussed, even when the top allies of the vice president, allies that he outright wooed for six years, attacks his former head of his campaign, and his future grandkid."

Hey, Forbes rates the Top 25 Web Celebs. They include Markos (3), Jeff Jarvis (6), Glenn Reynolds (7), Amanda Congdon (8), John Hinderaker (19), and Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs (20).

And this just in: In Washington state, says Eugene Volokh, you can't have sex with anyone you want. At least legally.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive