Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Kerry's Finest Moment

In the Democratic Party’s hall of hate, before there was George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan, there was Richard Nixon. A tremendously able president known as “Tricky Dick” by his opponents, Nixon was impeached and removed from office, his name forever linked to a “third-rate burglary” and to his profane, pitifully self-absorbed comments captured forever on the White House tapes.

There was more to Nixon than Watergate, however. Recall 1960 when Nixon, the sitting vice president, lost the presidential election by the narrowest of margins to a relative political upstart, John F. Kennedy. Adding insult to injury, there was clear evidence that electoral shenanigans by Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago (home of the phrase “vote early, vote often”) may have tipped the election to JFK. Yet Nixon chose not to contest the results, believing that would be bad for the country.

In 2000, another sitting vice president failed to show this kind of nobility. Instead, Al Gore and his legal team—including the Florida Supreme Court—fought to keep counting chads until they got a result that would move Gore to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The unthinkable and incredibly divisive nightmare lasted for over a month. Only a commonsense ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court stopped Gore’s legal assault on the democratic process, but to this day large numbers of gullible Americans believe that George W. Bush “stole” the election.

With the closeness of last night’s vote, many Americans were poised for a similar legal battle from team Kerry. (After all, the Democrats had strategically placed 10,000 lawyers in the swing states, all of them ready to litigate any cases of voter intimidation and disenfranchisement, real or imagined.) The Democrats have developed a bad habit of seeking social change in the courtroom whenever they cannot get it at the ballot box (abortion and gay marriage come to mind).

John F. Kerry’s demagoguery during the campaign (claiming that Bush planned to reinstate the draft and to destroy Social Security) gave rise to fears that the junior senator from Massachusetts would stop at nothing to gain power. I certainly didn’t think the fact that this time Bush had won a clear majority (the first presidential candidate to do so since 1988) would stop Kerry. The senator’s refusal on Tuesday night to concede that the president had won Ohio only fueled those fears.

But I was wrong. Today Kerry, facing insurmountable electoral odds, conceded the race in a phone call to Bush. Perhaps sensing the historical weight of his decision, Kerry, who spent the past year tearing down Bush and his policies, said now it is time for unity and common ground. For those of us disheartened by the Democrats’ mudslinging, those are welcome words.

Kerry’s running mate, Senator John Edwards, called the Democratic nominee a “great American.”

On this day at least, in defeat if not in victory, he is.


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