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The Weblog at The View from the Core - Wed. 03/24/04 07:10:37 PM

Al Franken, Rick Hertzberg, David Remnick, Jim Kelly, Howard Fineman, Jeff Greenfield, Frank Rich, Eric Alterman, Richard Cohen, Fred Kaplan, Jacob Weisberg, Jonathan Alter, Philip Gourevitch, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., et al.

All of them — together — recently gave direct, immediate, and personal political advice to John Kerry.

And most of them are editors and/or writers at big-name, mainstream-media publications.

Two of those involved wrote about it in December: William Rivers Pitt and Eric "What Liberal Media?" Alterman.

This is what happened, according to this article at truthout, Dec. 10, 2003:

.... On Monday [Dec. 8, 2003] night, the Associated Press reported the huge news that Al Gore had decided to publicly endorse Howard Dean. Was Gore’s endorsement a repudiation of the DLC? Is he publicly distancing himself from the powerful Clinton-controlled wing of the party? Or does Gore just think Howard Dean is the best man for the job? Slice those issues whichever way you please, but at the end of the day it was yet another brick in the ever-growing wall standing between Kerry and the nomination.
How did this happen? Kerry has all the components of a flat-out frontrunner. When did the wheels come off?
Ask virtually anyone who accounts themselves a member of that liberal Democratic base, and they’ll answer in a heartbeat. The wheels came off on October 11, 2002, the day John Kerry voted ‘Yes’ on George W. Bush’s Iraq War Resolution. The occupation of Iraq, the mounting American casualties, the skyrocketing cost of the conflict, and the still-missing weapons of mass destruction have become a significant liability to Bush. Amazingly enough, however, the Iraq situation has been far more damaging to Kerry than to Bush.

The same liberal base that flocks to the polls during the primaries took to the streets in vast, unprecedented numbers last fall and winter to oppose the push towards war in Iraq. Any politician who voted for the resolution was of no account to these people, worse than useless, an enabler of Bush’s extremist agenda, and not at all to be trusted. Dean’s passionate yet nuanced positions against the war drew legions of fiery supporters to his campaign, despite the fact that he is far less liberal than Kerry. The fact that Kerry had served in Vietnam, and then become an anti-war activist, was an added twist of the knife for those working against the invasion of Iraq, a betrayal of his own history and his people. For Kerry, keeper of that extraordinary liberal record, this one vote amounted to a couple of torpedoes below the water line of his campaign. He has been sinking, sinking, sinking ever since.
There are but a few weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. Time has grown short. In an effort to galvanize the message Kerry wants to deliver in the time remaining, he convened a powerful roster of journalists and columnists in the New York City apartment of Al Franken last Thursday [Dec. 4, 2003]. The gathering could not properly be called a meeting or a luncheon. It was a trial. The journalists served as prosecuting attorneys, jury and judge. The crowd I joined in Franken’s living room was comprised of:
  • Al Franken and his wife Franni;
  • Rick Hertzberg, senior editor for the New Yorker;
  • David Remnick, editor for the New Yorker;
  • Jim Kelly, managing editor for Time Magazine;
  • Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent for Newsweek;
  • Jeff Greenfield, senior correspondent and analyst for CNN;
  • Frank Rich, columnist for the New York Times;
  • Eric Alterman, author and columnist for MSNBC and the Nation;
  • Art Spiegelman, Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist/author of ‘Maus’;
  • Richard Cohen, columnist for the Washington Post;
  • Fred Kaplan, columnist for Slate;
  • Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate and author;
  • Jonathan Alter, senior editor and columnist for Newsweek;
  • Philip Gourevitch, columnist for the New Yorker;
  • Calvin Trillin, freelance writer and author;
  • Edward Jay Epstein, investigative reporter and author;
  • Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who needs no introduction.
We sat in a circle around Kerry and grilled him for two long hours. In an age of retail politicians who avoid substance the way vampires avoid sunlight, in an age when the sitting President flounders like a gaffed fish whenever he must speak to reporters without a script, Kerry’s decision to open himself to the slings and arrows of this group was bold and impressive. He was fresh from two remarkable speeches – one lambasting the PATRIOT Act, another outlining his foreign policy ideals while eviscerating the Bush record – and had his game face on. He needed it, because Eric Alterman lit into him immediately on the all-important issue of his vote for the Iraq War Resolution. The prosecution had begun.
“Senator,” said Alterman, “I think you may be the most qualified candidate in the race, and perhaps also the one who best represents my own values. But there was one overriding issue facing this nation during the past four years, and Howard Dean was there when it counted, and you weren’t. A lot of people feel that moment entitles him to their vote, even if you have a more progressive record and would be a stronger candidate in November. How are you going to win back those people who you lost with your vote for this awful war?”
There it was. Your record is the best, Mr. Kerry. But you voted for the war, Mr. Kerry. Howard Dean was right, Mr. Kerry, and you were not. Your campaign has been wounded, perhaps mortally, because of this. Explain yourself, and while you’re at it, explain how you are going to win back enough Dean voters to keep you from becoming a footnote in this race.
For over a year now, Kerry has struggled to respond to that question. His answers have seemed vague, overly nuanced and evasive. On Thursday, seated before the sharpest knives in the journalistic drawer and facing the unconcealed outrage of Alterman, the Senator from Massachusetts explained why he did what he did. The comments below reflect Kerry’s answers over the course of a long conversation and debate on the matter....


Eric Alterman apparently wrote a corroborating blog about this event, last December, which is posted here. (I can't find it at Altercation, but I can't figure out how to find anything at Altercation.)

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From MSNBC 12/5/03

Dec. 5, 2003 / 11:47 AM ET


What in the world are we going to do about John Kerry? While his numbers were apparently collapsing in New Hampshire yesterday, Kerry sat down for two hours in Al Franken’s living room with about a dozen and a half journalists, writers and the odd historian, poet and cartoonist. It was all on the record and yet, it was remarkably open, honest and unscripted. Let’s be blunt. Kerry was terrific. Once again, he demonstrated a thoughtfulness, knowledge-base and value system that gives him everything, in my not-so-humble-opinion — he could need to be not just a good, but a great president. I feel certain that just about everyone in that highly self-regarding room left deeply impressed. But Kerry is not going to be anointed president by a group of Upper West Siders who agree on most things, even if we don’t on the war. If he is to have any chance at all, he is going to have to win back Dean voters, but quickly.

After Al and Rick Hertzberg introduced him, I put this to Kerry as the first question: “Senator,” I said (or something like this), “I think you may be the most qualified candidate in the race and perhaps also the one who best represents my own liberal values. But there was one overriding issue facing this nation during the past four years and Howard Dean was there when it counted and you weren’t. A lot of people feel that that moment entitles him to their vote even if you have a more progressive record and would be a stronger candidate in November. How are you going to win back those people who you lost with your vote for this awful war?”

Kerry and I had what candidates call a “spirited exchange” in which he defended his vote. He said he felt betrayed by George Bush, whom he had believed, had not yet made up his mind to go to war when the vote was taken. He never expected a unilateral war given the way Powell, Scowcroft, Eagleberger and others were speaking at the time. He defends his willingness to trust the president of the United States, but now realizes that this was a big mistake. At one point, after answering somebody else’s question, he turned back to me and pointedly — one might evens say “passionately” — insisted, “And Eric, if you truly believe that if I had been president, we would be at war in Iraq right now, then you shouldn’t vote for me.”

It worked for me. But of course, I’ve now spent four hours with the guy and liked him to begin with. He still has the problem—perhaps unsolvable—of 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. (It’s a hell of a way to pick the guy who could, if he felt like it, nuke the planet out of existence.)

It’s true, I think, that Kerry improves the closer you look — and I don’t mean the guy’s hair. (That’s Mickey’s beat.) He does as well as Clark and better than anyone else in a one-on-one match-up against Bush. And it’s just crazy to say that you want Dean to get the nomination if you don’t believe he can beat Bush. Voting, as I keep having to say over and over to you silly Nader voters, is not therapy; it’s choosing between available alternatives. Dean is not a sure loser in November, but he is a much, much harder sell than Kerry, Clark, Gephardt or Edwards. And fair or not, this ought to give one pause.

After the meeting broke up, Art Spiegelman tried to tell Kerry that he should just stand up, and in a clear, unmistakable fashion say, “I was wrong to trust President Bush with this war. I thought he would do the things he promised before embarking on this war but I now see I gave him more credit than he deserved. I wish I could have that vote back but I can’t. Now the thing to ask ourselves is where do we go from here and who’s the best person for the job?” I second this emotion. Sure, a lot of self-important pundits — a least of couple of them English-born — would mock Kerry for admitting he made such a mistake. But most people would admire it.

Even in the SCLM, one of the things that most infuriates people about Bush is his unwillingness to admit a mistake no matter how obvious it is to the rest of the world. Kerry could simultaneously humanize himself and re-introduce his record and values to the Dean supporters who have deserted him. But time is short. And saying this kind of thing is hard for a proud man. But as Kerry himself pointed out, we have a dysfunctional government and this is the most important election facing America since 1968. America, as many of us know her and love her, may not survive another four years of this administration’s horrific combination of audacity, incompetence, ideology and mendacity.

Just to be clear, I do not endorse candidates. I make observations. Personally, I see much of value in all the major Democratic candidates, though I like Lieberman a lot less than the others. Which one I personally like or even admire the most however, is not really of any concern, even to me. I represent a tiny sliver of the electorate that can’t even elect a mayor of New York City. All I care about in 2004, as a citizen, a father, a patriot, a non-Christian, and a member of the “world community” is saving the country from four more years of a catastrophe I believe to be inevitable should George W. Bush win his first honest election to the presidency.

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(Thanks, Dave.)

Lane Core Jr. CIW P — Wed. 03/24/04 07:10:37 PM
Categorized as Media & Political.


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