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Prospect's editor Meyerson: John Kerry has rediscoved his populist voice

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flpoljunkie Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jan-23-04 11:40 AM
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Prospect's editor Meyerson: John Kerry has rediscoved his populist voice

The fact is, no Democratic candidate can avoid sounding populist themes in 2004. Populism is on the agenda because George W. Bush has put plutocracy on his -- and the nation's -- agenda. The very raison d'tre of this administration is favoritism to the rich. Kerry, Edwards, retired Gen. Wesley Clark and former Gov. Howard Dean (D-Vt.) all sense that Bush is on very shaky ground here. Recent New York Times and Washington Post polls show that the public views Bush as favoring corporations over the broader public.

Bush's State of the Union address made clear that the president means to play the national-security card and punch some culturally conservative hot buttons as his way of winning -- or should I say sucker punching? -- working-class voters who would otherwise be prey to the Democrats' populism. Unlike Edwards, Kerry may not be to the populist manner born, but he's getting it down pretty convincingly withal, not to mention brandishing national-security bona fides as compelling as Clark's -- and more compelling than Bush's.

Actually, Kerry's service in Vietnam, and his lifelong association with veterans' issues thereafter, works as a twofer for him: It not only gives him credibility on the issue of force; it also provides the one unambiguously populist chapter in his life. Kerry's war, largely spent on a Mekong Delta gunboat, was a grunt's war, though he himself was an officer. The guys who served with him, and the guys who have come forth to say that Kerry saved their lives, were working-class guys who saw Kerry, for all their differences, as a comrade. Those are credentials that Clark hasn't really brandished; he was already on a fast track up the military ladder when in Vietnam, while Kerry, like most of the grunts, was a civilian who was passing through.

The minimum requirements for a Democratic presidential candidate this year are the ability to take the economic fight to Bush and the ability to seem a plausible commander in chief. For much of 2003, John Kerry, on the defensive for his vote to authorize the Iraq War, seemed unable to strongly press his case. But he has clearly found his voice again. Bush and Karl Rove should not relish a fight with the Mekong Delta candidate.

Harold Meyerson is the Prospect's editor-at-large.
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