Daniel Henninger nails the Kerry gestalt in his weekly Wonder Land column today: “Primary Democrats find perfect vessel in John Kerry.” Henninger portrays Kerry as the throbbing heart — the perfect spokesman of what he calls “the Primary Democrats” — of the post-LBJ Democratic party:
The Primary Democrats danced a few rounds with Howard Dean, whose rage-at-the-machine temperament recalled their own best memories way back when. They have since settled on John Kerry, and properly so. John Kerry, in his person and career, exists today as the embodiment of Democratic Party politics from 1968 to this moment. For Primary Democrats, he is their perfect vessel.
These Democrats opposed the Vietnam War, and like Mr. Kerry, that event serves as sextant in their political journey. Primary Democrats regard their active and successful opposition to Vietnam as moral affirmation of their world view, which holds, more as a matter of belief than principle, that any American foreign policy not of their making is too aggressive, morally suspect and wholly wrong.
Once elected president, Bill Clinton acted out the foreign policy of the Primary Democrats. The United States could wield military force — but not on its own behalf, not to advance American national interests. It could use military force only when its own vital national interests were not at stake.
Henninger describes the contrast Bush and Kerry present to the electorate:
John Kerry was present at the creation of the moral and intellectual voyage of post-1960s Democrats. He helped map its course. He testified in 1971 against the Vietnam War as a young veteran before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He appeared as an antiwar spokesman on “60 Minutes” and “The Dick Cavett Show.” John Kerry was a celebrity among Primary Democrats as Bill Clinton never was during this important period. As a Southern governor, Mr. Clinton learned about the inevitable left-right compromises of public policy in ways that rarely tainted the austere ideological experience of Mr. Kerry in the liberal northeast and Washington. (This may well disadvantage Mr. Kerry in the election.)
We have in George Bush a president for whom the formative event of his political life is not Vietnam and the years after but September 11, a catastrophic attack on American soil by an organized global enemy. With his doctrine of pre-emption for threats to U.S. security, his destruction of the Taliban and overthrow of the Hussein regime in Iraq, Mr. Bush has largely broken free of the political period that shaped John Kerry’s career. Mr. Bush argues that he is dealing with a world and enemy that has not previously existed. But with Iraq, 30 years of Primary Democratic belief instinctively reappears as resistance, led again by John Kerry. If George Bush’s sense of right purpose flows directly from September 11, 2001, so too does many Democrats’ from what John Kerry was doing and thinking in 1968 in the Mekong Delta.
As Henninger diffidently suggests, isn’t this a contrast that is to Bush’s best advantage?