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28.2.04

John F. Bush

More and more, I'm feeling like John Kerry is the Democrats' George W. Bush. For all the crying about this administration being run by right-wing ideologues, Bush is not particularly conservative. Neither has he capitulated to liberalism, as his conservative critics charge. Both arguments suffer from the assumption (perhaps inevitable in a two-party system) that if a policy runs counter to my ideology, it must conform to the other side's ideology. In reality, Bush's main ideology is to get and hold power.

In John Kerry there are echoes of the same philosophy. He's yet to meet a principle he wouldn't jettison if his focus groups told him the public wanted to hear something different. The parallel was really brought home to me by Terry M. Neal's summary of Bush's relations with the Log Cabin Republicans in 2000:

During the 2000 primary battle, Bush refused to meet with leaders of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay political group, in Austin.

After effectively wrapping up the nomination, however, Bush's refusal to meet with gay leaders threatened to undermine his campaign theme of being a "uniter not a divider" and a "compassionate conservative."

By April 2000, the Bush campaign was shifting gears and knew there was more to gain than lose by meeting with gay leaders. After all, what were the social conservatives going to do, vote for Al Gore?

... Pragmatism -- the desire to take back the White House at all cost -- muted the discontent among the party faithful. The Bush campaign touted the meeting as a sign that he was a "new kind of Republican," even though he never wavered from positions such as opposition to same-sex marriage.

The meeting was summed up succinctly by Human Rights Campaign spokesman David Smith, whom I quoted afterward saying: "Politically, obviously, it's a win-win for him. He gets to look tolerant and moderate, and, at the same time, he can say to his ultraconservative followers that he has not changed any of his policy positions."


Compare this to Kerry's decision to attack Bush on his support for the Federal Marriage Amendment (which Bush, contrary to the explicit text of the FMA, claims wouldn't bar states from creating civil unions), then turn around and support an amendment to the Massachusetts constitution provided it allows for civil unions. Before we go on, you may want to check out Skeptical Notion for the background story and some out rage.

Let's plug Kerry in 2004 into Neal's storyline: Initial stance taking a firm position against the other side's views, in order to rev up the base? Check. Later position designed to reassure centrists that he's not an ideologue, trusting that the base has nowhere else to go? Check. "Win the White House at all costs" as a motivating philosophy? Check. Technically not ever changing his policy position (for Kerry, no to marriage and yes to civil unions)? Check.

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