If this wave 2 is truly peaking, so should Bush's chances for re-election. if there ever was a recent President who should be recalled, he is it. He comes into 2004 with the worst economic record since Herbert Hoover, and potentially the worst war record since Lyndon Johnson. He has unwound in fewer than 50 months the multinational leadership that the US built over 50 years. Yet the Democratic challengers have scored few points other than Howard Dean's Vietnam-era pacifism, and were recently upstaged by the candidate who is not even in the race yet, Hillary Clinton.
The problem is that the candidate who is most qualified to lead has run an abysmal campaign. We are once again in a time when international issues trump domestic. John Kerry is the most experienced politician in the race for such issues (Wes Clark being not yet a politician, which is his strength in the campaign but his potential weakness in the job), yet he has failed to deliver that message. What should he do?
The center of the country is Kennedy Republicanism: internationally engaged , fiscally conservative, socially progressive. Kennedy was the 'bear any burden' President. He jumpstarted the '60s with a 30% tax cut and stood up to special interests like the steel industry (unlike Bush). He pushed civil rights despite the very real danger (proven true in the '68 election) that doing so would lose the South for the Democratic party; the '64 Civil Rights Act was a testimonial to him.
Kerry should be able to take this middle ground. The voters rally to an authentic candidate, a politician whom they believe truly holds the values expressed in his campaign. This was Reagan's strength, and is Howard Dean's. What were once perceived as progressive policies during Kennedy's era have now moved to the politican center. It was on these issues that Arnold Schwarzenegger positioned himself in the short recall campaign. Kerry has fashioned his whole political career in the shadow of the original JFK. If he now returns to the messages that express these values, he should be able to capture the Kennedy Republican center.
The unifying message: to be engaged internationally, orperhaps it could be stated as to exercise global leadership by rejoining the community of nations. He needs to change the debate to this issue, since it both plays to his strengths and de-positions his opposition. He can use it as a mechanism for hitting all three aspects of Kennedy Republicanism:
1) "Engaged Internationally" on Iraq. This fits his stump speech that we went into Iraq the wrong way for the wrong reasons. He can borrow from Clark that 'allies are a force multiplier'. Kerry is good on these points, just too wordy. He needs to -
a) De-position Dean as the isolationist/pacifist candidate at the very time when we cannot pull back
b) De-position Bush as the unilateralist who misled on Iraq. Bush's Pre-emption Doctrine is a very dangerous principle, since the justification for pre-emption is by its nature speculative. It therefore creates cynicism abroad that it is no more than a transparent veneer for the raw use of power, and could be thrown back in our face by an enemy justifying pre-emptive attacks on our interests. Iraq proves the bankruptcy of the doctrine already: Bush used fear of WMD to get us into Iraq under the pre-emption doctrine, then we found none; he also used 9/11 as justification to topple Saddam, but has found no apparent connection of Saddam to that event. Pre-emption must be made of sterner stuff. 9/11 justifies Afghanistan, not Iraq. Recall that Lyndon Johnson misled about Gulf of Tonkin, used it to get us deeply mired into Vietnam, and as the voters began to realize the depths of deception, he didn't even run for re-election. Voters intuitively get that Bush made unprincipled arguments to justify what he was going to do anyway. This is also why so many of our allies deserted us.
2) "Engaged Internationally" on the economy. The way out of our ills is not domestic; Bush has used every trick in the book to finance consumer spending (home refi's, tax rebates, etc.), and the US consumer is tapped out. Our trade deficit shows how massively we are borrowing from abroad to finance consumption. We are living beyond our means. We need to promote US production not US consumption, and we have outgrown the days when our domestic market was sufficient to bootstrap us out of recession. This time around our way out is through the growth of world trade and global markets. Kerry can use this positioning to -
a) De-position the New Protectionists in his own party, who are using demogoguery to claim that 'all the good jobs are going to China.' We should view India and China like Germany and Japan after WWII, only this time we didn't need to fight a war. The British ruled India for 150 years but India turned on them since they didn't promote indigenous Indian industry and entreprenuership. Think how extraordinary American leadership has been on world trade! We have brought the two largest countries in the world into our economic sphere without having to fight a war or create a Raj. China is entering the WTO by 2008. We should celebrate their success since it the result of our efforts, and their success will drive demand for American jobs.
b) De-position Bush as being the worst President on world trade since Herbert Hoover. The WTO (our WTO!) has found against the US on two major disputes, including Bush's completely unprincipled steel tariffs. Bush is about to spark a trade war as destructive as the Smoot Hawley tariffs of the Hoover administration.
3) "Engaged Internationally" also speaks to the progressive social issues of our era, of environmentalism, economic justice, and human rights. We need to build the multilateral institutions for social issues just as we did with the WTO and its brethren on free trade. Kerry can be a very good speaker on these topics; he now needs to tie them to the overall theme that characterizes his candidacy - to be engaged internationally. Once again he can use this to capture the center -
a) His fellow Democrats are ignoring this area and focusing on yesterday's issues, domestic issues
b) Bush has stumbled very badly on multinational treaties such as the Kyoto Accord for gloabl warming. Even if Kyoto was a bad treaty for us, Bush's kicking sand in the face of the world community has led to our isolation on Iraq and many other issues.
Technology drives the world economy, and "Engaged Internationally" speaks to the issues of most concern to the engine of technology development, Silicon Valley. The Valley lives and breathes free trade in the global economy, and worries that Bush will bring the edifice crashing down around us through his intransigence and remarkably narrow view of the world. From Texas, the world only looks like oil.