Thomas Oliphant knows.
This is a contemplative, serious person -- well-grounded in progressive principles -- who has the good habit of getting interested in new ideas that survive scrutiny. His work habits reveal an iron butt for grunt work, as well as considerable experience in working across party lines. A non-Bush president will have to repair considerable damage abroad and at home, complex tasks that will resist grand fixes and reward the patience and tough negotiating that are Kerry attributes. But a non-Bush president will also have to think and act big and new, and the work Kerry has already done on a range of issues should inspire confidence.
He is a sober yet imaginative person for sobering, dangerous times, but his looks and wealth conceal the steel that got him this far and often cause him to be underestimated. It was a long, strange trip, hardly befitting someone with a first-class education who married money twice.
Kerry has also shrewdly insisted -- from the beginning of his campaign -- on a requirement, as economic policy, that the budget deficit be halved within four years in order to keep the business recovery from hitting a wall of higher interest rates. It is often noted, accurately, that Kerry seeks a return to the basic ideas Bob Rubin followed for Bill Clinton in the ’90s. What the observation misses, however, is the fact that Clinton got all the way through his first campaign in 1992 decrying the economy’s stagnation and advocating stimulus. Kerry, by contrast, has stuck his neck out on fiscal sanity almost from the moment he declared. Kerry is a real Democrat in his commitment to significant new expenditures on priorities like health care, education, energy independence, child care, and additional tax breaks for the middle class and working poor. However, he is also a New Democrat in his belief that the overall context must be anti-deficit for the sake of long-term economic growth.
I think it’s important that the presidency looms on his horizon not as a codicil in some trust fund, a virtual entitlement by virtue of lucky birth. Instead, it looms at the end of a long climb up the ladder from assistant county prosecutor.
John Kerry is a good, tough man. He is curious, grounded after a public and personal life that has not always been pleasant, a fan of ideas whose practical side has usually kept him from policy wonkery, a natural progressive with the added fixation on what works that made FDR and JFK so interesting. I know it is chic to be disdainful, but the modern Democratic neurosis gets in the way of a solid case for affection. Without embarrassment, and after a very long journey, I really like this guy. As one of his top campaign officials, himself a convert since the primaries ended, told me recently, this is pure Merle Haggard. It’s not love, but it’s not bad.
Just like BC04, most of us are finding it difficult to put Kerry in a pigeon-hole. But in this case it's because there is just to much breadth and depth to hang a nice tidy little label on. And that's a good thing.