• 57°

Democrats’ Mistake

The Democratic Party slit its throat last night, abandoning 12 years of pragmatism to indulge in a nominee who’s very unlikely to win.

While John Edwards closed the gap that separated him from John Kerry, the front-loading of the nominating process proved too drastic to permit second thoughts. Once the Democratic voters had discarded Howard Dean and embraced Kerry, they did not have the dexterity to rethink Kerry in the light of the Edwards alternative.

Too bad for the Democrats: Edwards would have been a much stronger candidate in November than Kerry will be. He is not the extreme liberal that the front-runner is and has not had 20 years in the Senate to demonstrate how out of touch he is with American values and ideas.

The hurried judgment forced on Democrats by Terry McAuliffe’s impatience has led to a miscalculation in which the party has put forward a weaker nominee than it might have, had the primaries lasted for more than a few weeks.

John Edwards, as a Southern moderate, has a charisma and style that Kerry lacks. His smooth-talking trial-lawyer appeal to a jury of voters would have made quite a contrast with President Bush’s inarticulateness and awkward use of language. A debate between Kerry and Bush will be a clash of the verbally challenged.

But by nominating Kerry, the Democratic Party has chosen to embrace its left wing, eschewing the lessons it so dearly learned in 1980, 1984 and 1988. By marching to the beat of its activist minority, the party has once again put itself outside of the pale of mainstream thinking.

When John Kerry joined the extreme left in voting against the first Gulf War in 1991 or in opposing the Defense of Marriage Act – a bill backed by all but 14 ultraliberal senators and signed by President Clinton – he showed himself to be out of step with the center where most voters live.

George Bush’s inability to appeal to voters on issues other than the War on Terror opened a door for the Democrats, but John Kerry will have difficulty fitting through it.

The lieutenant governor of Mike Dukakis will not wear well before the American people. His votes on taxes, terrorism and the death penalty will demonstrate that he is another in a long line of Massachusetts liberals who appear at first blush to be winners but who soon fade into also-rans.

Kerry has missed more than a third of the votes in the Senate during the current 108th Congress. This year, he has missed almost all of them. Voters will not be tolerant of a man who picks up his paycheck and doesn’t do the job.

Bush is doing exactly the right thing in pouncing on Kerry the moment the polls close on Super Tuesday with negative ads that define him as the extreme liberal he is. Already, according to pollster Scott Rasmussen, 51 percent of voters feel that their taxes will go up if Kerry wins.

In the coming weeks, Bush will hammer at Kerry until we look back and wonder why we ever thought the Massachusetts senator could have won in the first place.

By then, of course, it will be too late. The nominating process is so frontloaded that the Democrats will be stuck with the flawed Kerry candidacy for months as he slowly twists in the wind.

Dick Morris was an adviser to Bill Clinton for 20 years. Look for his new book, Off With Their Heads: Traitors, Crooks, and Obstructionists in American Politics, Media and Business. Copyright 2004 Dick Morris, All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. www.caglecartoons.com Call Cari Dawson Bartley at (800) 696 7561 or e-mail: cari@cagle.com email for Dick Morris is dmredding@aol.com

RESTRICTIONS: Dick Morris’ columns may not be reprinted in New York City, in Washington D.C., and in media owned by the AOL Time Warner