EDITORIAL 

All Bubble, No Bounce

Many are mystified as to why the recently concluded Democratic convention in Boston did not give the party's nominee, John Kerry, the customary postconvention "bounce" that newly crowned presidential prospects normally get from such conclaves.

Despite the fact that Kerry, whose platform style normally ranges from the dreary to the merely ordinary, gave a fairly spirited oration at last Thursday night's concluding convention session, the polls taken afterward show that the Massachusetts senator has dropped, not risen, in the polls vis-à-vis his Republican opponent, President Bush.

Pundits everywhere are asking themselves, What doth this mean? And so far no one has a satisfactory answer. Unless ...

Unless skeptics like ourselves were right all along in suggesting that more trouble was ahead if Democrats repeated the cautious electoral tactics of their congressional races in 2002 -- a year which saw the party lose seats in the House and surrender control of the Senate to Republicans, defying the normal off-year pattern.

Although here and there, Kerry, his running-mate John Edwards, and other notable Democrats uttered some trenchant criticism of the Bush administration last week, it is no secret that convention speakers were advised by party officials and spokespersons for the Kerry campaign to soft-pedal their dispraise. Such advice was carried out to the point sometimes that a visiting Martian political scientist might have been perplexed as to just whom the party orators were finding fault with in their warnings about the current national course and in their urgent proposals for change. The names Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft, and Rumsfeld almost never passed the lips of speakers at the podium -- not even to mention such lesser potential foils as Perle and Wolfowitz, those industrious under-the-radar neocons whom many assign a significant role in engineering the nation's military involvement in Iraq.

Insofar as the Iraq quagmire got referred to at all, it was usually in connection with purported failings in the nation's intelligence apparatus. The nation's spies, not their masters in the executive branch, have been asked to take the rap for Iraq. That's the bottom line. Never mind the abundant evidence -- supplied by former counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke, among others -- that the administration applied considerable pressure on the intelligence agencies to find "evidence" of nonexistent WMD and of illusory collusion between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Democrats on the 9/11 Commission said to put such evidence in; Republicans said to leave it out. In the interests of harmony, the Democrats graciously acceded to the GOP.

That seems to be the rule in today's national politics. It was certainly the pattern in 2002, when Democrats tried so hard to adapt themselves to Republican economic and military policies. It is an irony but no accident that Kerry and Edwards both voted in 2002 for the congressional resolution giving President Bush a blank check for his Iraq venture. Both also voted for parts of the president's economic package -- even though the growing deficit and the fiscal insecurities resulting from it have become significant national agonies.

Once upon a time, Democratic maverick Howard Dean was chastised for hollering out loud about such circumstances. Last week, he and every other Democrat who spoke to the nation minded their Ps and Qs. All but one -- erstwhile demagogue Al Sharpton, a third-tier pretender to the presidency this year. That only Sharpton dared to toss aside his assigned script and improvise some honest critical commentary is a telling commentary on the Democratic establishment's enduring timidity in election year 2004.

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