In his latest attempt to capture the hearts and minds of Democratic liberals (the same voters who will dominate the 2008 presidential primaries), and to stake out a position on Hillary Clinton's left flank, John Kerry has published his most outspoken antiwar manifesto.
Writing today on the NY Times op-ed page, the senator continues his quest to shed all vestiges of his old flipflop image by declaring that he wants to set two firm Iraq deadlines, both of which are designed to get all the troops home, pronto.
Step one: Tell those Iraqi politicians to shape up and form a unity government by May 15, "or we will immediately withdraw our military."
Step two: Assuming that the Iraqis get that message and do the deal, America should then establish "a schedule for withdrawing American combat forces by year's end."
Kerry is thus going a little bit further than he did last autumn, when he gave a speech saying that troops should be withdrawn only in accordance with "a specific timetable," as opposed to "an arbitrary timetable." One can make the case that May 15 is "arbitrary," since there's no intrinsic importance to that date. Whatever. It's just wordplay, because any Iraq proposals floated by Democrats are dead on arrival, anyway.
Kerry can't hope to influence the Bush administration's war strategy (who can?). What he does hope to influence is the Democratic antiwar constituency. Since Hillary Clinton seems to be staking out firm centrist ground for '08 (she voted for the war, she's unapologetic about it, she says little about deadlines or timetables), her likely rivals are working to her left. That's where Kerry is jockeying with folks like Russ Feingold. Feingold has the censure issue, which the left loves, so Kerry is trying to own the antiwar issue.
(Good luck to him. Feingold, reacting to Kerry's proposal, released a statement today that began, “Since August 18, 2005 I have been calling on the Administration to aim to redeploy U.S. military personnel from Iraq by the end of this year..." That's Feingold's polite way of saying, "Hey, loser, I was there first!")
Assuming that Kerry is even viable again in '08, assuming that he can refute F. Scott Fitzgerald's contention that there are no second acts in American lives, the question is whether Kerry can win over the liberal skeptics who think he waffled too much in '04. We shall see. This comment, posted today on the dailykos.com website, suggests that his quest could be arduous:
"Maybe if he came out with this (Iraq) statement when he was running, it just might have swung the race enough...I'm sure he will make a decisive statement on the Swift Boat Guys any day now."
Just a few last thoughts about Tom DeLay, whom I wrote about in a newspaper column today. While saying goodbye yesterday, he received the predictably easy ride yesterday from his friends at Fox News, so, in an effort to be fair and balanced, a couple of his statements do need to be contested.
1. He said that his decision to quit his congressional seat had absolutely nothing to do with the ever-spreading Jack Abramoff scandal, which has now swallowed up two of his former top aides (Tony Rudy, Michael Scanlon, both of whom have pleaded guilty). In DeLay's words yesterday, "The Abramoff affair has nothing to do with me."
Here are the follow-up questions that Fox News could have asked:
"If quitting the Congress has nothing to do with the Abramoff scandal, why did you make that decision just 72 hours after Rudy pleaded guilty to corruption and bribery charges? Did something else happen that prompted your announcement at this specific juncture, or did it have something to do with the fact that, 72 hours earlier, your name surfaced repeatedly in the Abramoff-Rudy court filings that were part of Rudy's plea deal? And are you saying we should discount a similar pattern last January, when you resigned your House leadership post just 96 hours after Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion?"
2. DeLay, apparently as part of his self-rehabilitation effort, tried in the interview to distance himself from his widely-known nickname, "The Hammer." He said: "I don't see myself as The Hammer."
Fox bought that. But Fox could have asked:
"If you don't see yourself that way, then why have your aides long been quoted as saying 'He likes the reputation of being the Hammer'? And why, in a 2003 ceremony, did you give a velvet-covered hammer to one of your colleagues? And why, at a dinner in your honor last May, did your friends and allies present you with a frosted marble cake decorated with chocolate hammers, while the band played 'If I Had A Hammer?'"
Speaking of goodbyes, Katie Couric gave hers this morning on The Today Show. As every American who has never heard of Russ Feingold surely knows by now, Katie is bound for the chair once occupied by Dan Rather and Walter Cronkite.
And now that she's going to the hard-news side, I just want to say, "Congrats, Katie, the watchdogs are biting already!" She has yet to utter a word on CBS, but the right is already accusing her of the dreaded "liberal tilt." Read this and enjoy.