The 2004 Kerry-Edwards loss gets rehashed once again in Wednesday's NY Times. "For Edwards, A Relationship That Never Quite Fit" is part of "The Long Run," an ongoing series about the lives and careers of the 2008 presidential contenders. Describing the ill-fated partnership as one that ended in "recrimination and regret," the article rarely rises much above the level of insider gossip, but it does pose a question about the narrative du jour: Who is the experienced candidate in the Democratic race?
Sadly, the article becomes another MSM forum for senior aides to criticize and rehash the candidate stumbles and the internal strategic discord that plagued the 2004 general election campaign and contributed to the loss. In the latest chapter of post-defeat Democratic infighting, both camps continue blaming each other:
Kerry aides complain that Mr. Edwards never stopped running for president — a Democratic Party official recalled some aides wearing “Edwards for President” pins at a fund-raiser long after they were working for the Kerry-Edwards ticket. Kerry supporters say Mr. Edwards refused to play the traditional vice-presidential role of attack dog even going up against a purebred, Dick Cheney. And Mr. Kerry had barely conceded the race, they say, before Mr. Edwards was aiming for 2008 and embarking on what one campaign aide called the “it wasn’t my fault tour” around his home state to distance himself from the loss.
For his part, aides said, Mr. Edwards felt frustrated by Mr. Kerry’s public agonizing over the war in Iraq and a campaign that seemed to change consultants and message constantly. To Mr. Edwards, Mr. Kerry seemed unable to get out of his own way. He ignored Mr. Edwards’s warning not to go windsurfing, one aide recalled, which led to the infamous “whichever way the wind blows” advertisement mocking Mr. Kerry’s statements on the war. And in the end, Mr. Edwards concluded that Mr. Kerry lacked fight for not filing a legal challenge to the election results.
This finger pointing does little to elevate the current Democratic debate. We all know the 2004 Democratic ticket (a marriage of convenience that resulted in a pair of mismatched, ambitious candidates) made many mistakes. It was flat-footed and slow in responding to the GOP smear machine. A similar effort in 2008 could doom our chances of winning back the White House.
Edwards, the one 2008 candidate who has personally experienced the klieg lights of a presidential campaign, understands this and is applying the lessons learned in his current run:
“There’s no question John Edwards is different now than he was in 2004,” said Peter Scher, whom Mr. Kerry recruited to run Mr. Edwards’s vice-presidential campaign. “There’s a great deal more confidence in his own instincts and his own judgment. You see much less reliance on consultants and pollsters and media advisers, and more of a willingness to say what he believes and let the chips fall where they may.”
Kerry loyalists, meanwhile, seethe as they watch his new aggressiveness. Stephanie Cutter, who was Mr. Kerry’s communications director, said, “A lot of what I’m seeing now, I wish I’d seen in 2004.”
Instead of seething, I'm delighted Edwards is running as the experienced candidate in this nomination battle. I'm proud to see a leading Democrat relying less and less on the advise of consultants and pollsters. After all, it is the Inside the Beltway consultants who have been the masterminds behind too many Democratic defeats. If we're going to point fingers, it should be at them.
To win in 2008, let's nominate the experienced, self-confident candidate running on his own instincts and his own judgment: John Edwards.