Political Real Estate: John Kerry's Room With A View
- Political Real Estate: John Kerry's Room With A View
June 30, 2004
By Arianna Huffington
Among the headline-grabbing disclosures from the Clinton Rock and Roll
Revival World Tour ranging from the former president once dreaming of
being a doorman at the Plaza Hotel to his being on the South Beach diet
was a little noticed morsel in the Boston Globe noting that Clinton has
advised John Kerry to "campaign as though Iraq was stable, the economy was
going great guns, and bin Laden was dead concentrating on selling
Thanks, Bill, but maybe you should concentrate on selling your books.
That's got to be the worst advice given a presidential candidate since
someone told Mike Dukakis to put on a helmet and hop in that tank.
Of course, Clinton is just offering Kerry what has always worked for him:
It's all about me, stupid!
And if you're Clinton and it's 1992 maybe that works. But Kerry's not
Clinton (which is not to say that's a bad thing) and 2004 bears no
resemblance to 1992. Trying to get Kerry to be more like Clinton is like
trying to get Ian McKellen to be more like The Rock it just ain't in the
The problem with Clintonism as a political strategy is that its namesake's
political gifts are not transferable so Clintonism shrivels like a
pricked balloon without the outsized persona of the Man From Hope.
"How many Democrats," a Kerry staffer worried, "are going to look at Bill
during the convention and think, he's still the best candidate we have?"
But while Clinton was, is, and will always be a better candidate than
Kerry, Kerry has the potential to be a better president than Clinton and
a far greater leader.
The Roaring Nineties were the perfect era for a virtuoso politician like
Clinton. The post-9/11 age calls for a candidate who can turn the focus
onto the people he wants to lead on their struggles and their dreams and
their desire for unity and a better life for their children.
It calls for a candidate like John Kerry, who this week told those
gathered at a Rainbow/PUSH Coalition conference, "The stories of your
lives have become the work of my life. I am running for president to be
part of making your dreams real again. To fight with you in your
As I was pondering the divergent appeals of Clinton and Kerry over dinner
with a friend, he told me the story of trying to sell his house a small
but comfortable home in Santa Barbara, Calif., with an absolutely
breathtaking view. He first tried to sell it with a flyer featuring a
photo of the house, but didn't get a single offer. He then swapped the
photo of the house for one showing the spectacular view from the porch.
The house sold for well over the asking price within a few days.
The point being: You gotta play to your strengths.
John Kerry's house is fine. It's a good house, a house with a tremendous
foundation. But it's the view his transformational vision for America
that will sell him to the country.
Clinton was all about sparkling fixtures and interesting decorating
flourishes remodeling the Democratic Party with triangulation and
realpolitik touches. During his presidency, the pragmatic argument had it
that, with the country split, there was no appetite for grand visions,
just for legislative knickknacks and policy odds and ends. The Cold War
had ended, and we could afford to tinker.
But that was then. What the times call for now, and what Kerry must do, is
give the Democratic Party and American politics in general an extreme
The good news for Kerry is that since Sept. 11 the country is in a much
more sober mood looking for a responsible leader who will remind us that
we are all in the same boat together. Hope, community, inspiration and
real national security as opposed to Bush's perpetual anxiety, fear,
pessimism and division are the features America's voters are in the
In making the media rounds, Clinton seemed to suggest that laying low is a
good strategy for Kerry, whom he praised for showing "a certain reticence
given the seriousness of the problems in the world today."
But Leader of the Free World is not exactly a stealth position. When you
think of the qualities that make for a great president, does reticence
make your top 100? Your top 1,000? Nor will reticence close the absurd gap
in the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll that has 51 percent of Americans
saying they trust Bush as their commander-in-chief, compared to 43 percent
who say they trust Kerry for the job.
Advising Kerry to focus on upping his curb appeal is badly missing the
point, which is that the Democratic Party actually has a candidate with
the biography, the intellect, the heart, the chutzpah and the courage to
offer voters a stirring view of where we should be headed as a country.
If he does, I predict he'll be in escrow on the White House by Election
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