Michael Kinsley writes a glib and rather funny poke at the self-defeating contortions Democrats are experiencing in the search for a Bush-beater. I reckon the task is hopeless, and, with John Kerry, we've succeeded in choosing a man so repellant to me, I'm not sure I'm hoping. Primary voters wanted a safe, pragmatic choice -- a man that unhappy Republicans could vote for if they'd tired of Bush.
Some Democrats cheated and looked into their hearts, where they found Howard Dean. But he was so appealing that he scared them. This is no moment to vote for a guy just because he inspires you, they thought. If he inspires me, there must be something wrong with him. So, Democrats looked around and rediscovered John Kerry. He'd been there all along, inspiring almost no one.And the perfect description of the early primary decision making processes Iowans and New Hampshireites put themselves through before they chose JFK for the rest of us.
Aspiring pragmatists also have noted recent press reports that Edwards has a stunning ability to sway an audience. I'm not looking to be swayed myself, our Democrat thinks. No need to sway me this year; my views don't matter, even to me. But swaying the heathenry would be good.
Also, experience means a record of past votes and speeches. This limits your ability to invent yourself for the needs of today. As Kerry is discovering, even the most uninteresting two decades in the Senate can provide rich material simultaneously for Bush operatives trying to convince voters that you are a dangerous liberal and for primary opponents trying to convince voters that you are not one.
The process the Democrats are putting themselves through resembles John Maynard Keynes' famous description of the stock market. The game isn't to figure out which stocks are most likely to do well, but to figure out which stocks other investors think are most likely to do well. And these other investors are thinking of other investors and so on. Keynes thought this helped to explain the volatility of stock price. Your judgment about other people's judgment, let alone other people's judgment about other people's judgment, is inherently less certain and more subject to breezes of false or true insight and information than your judgment about your own judgment.