Like others, I was intrigued by Eric Alterman’s post on a private meeting between John Kerry and some pundits. Alterman clearly likes Kerry, and says that Kerry’s challenge is to find out how “to break through to Dean voters in the short amount of time he has left when the media has their storyline already and no candidate gets to say anything that lasts more than a few seconds.”
Clearly this is a challenge for Kerry. I just watched him on C-Span at the Florida Democratic Convention, and can’t help but think that he’s going to have an extraordinarily hard time doing it. I’m a loyal Dean supporter, so my reaction is clearly not representative of less committed Dean supporters. But Kerry’s response to the question on the Patriot Act was a good example: instead of saying the government is abusing its power (see here for a good example), he first has to mention what’s good about the Patriot Act.
Now, he’s clearly right: there are some good provisions of the Patriot Act. But anyone who’s passionate about the Patriot Act would rather see the government try again and narrowly tailor a law aimed at fighting terrorism instead of trying to fix a very broken law. And if they heard Kerry’s response, their only conclusion would be that he supports the Patriot Act.
Which boils down to what I see as the major difference between Dean and Kerry: Dean seeks to empathize with the voter’s issues. Kerry seeks to show his deep understanding of those issues.
Kerry’s a smart guy, and Alterman’s discussion of Kerry’s conversation impressed me more than I’ve been in a while about Kerry as an individual. But his need to show that he sees both sides of the debate won’t win him any traction among the legions of Dean supporters who have found a home in the Dean camp.