Here's my first statement about Kerry and the Iraq war, made on April 9th. (It was Good Friday--scroll up [actually, click here] to see the man preaching from a cross.)
I think it makes a lot of sense, after the primary season, to ignore the Presidential campaign as much as possible. There's no reason for a moderate like me, who might end up voting for either candidate, to follow the campaigns right now. For one thing, it's not fair to Kerry, because I find him a boring speaker and I'm really going to get tired of him if I pay any attention to him. For another thing, I can't think about him seriously until I know what he plans to do in Iraq, and he hasn't said what he will do. (Will, meaning, in the future. How the past might have been different is not going to determine my vote. And don't try my patience by telling me that I can infer what he will do in the future from what he asserts he would have done in the past.) He has no motivation to take a position on Iraq until closer to the election: why should he pin himself down when events are in flux?
Six days later, I got irked at him for the first time, for saying "You're not listening" to a man who wanted to know what his position on Iraq was. Back then, Kerry was saying things like "We shouldn't only be tough, we have to be smart. And there's a smarter way to accomplish this mission than this president is pursuing." My question was: "If you still don't know what he would do differently from Bush, do you deserve to be snapped at for 'not listening'?" I've linked back to this old post of mine a number of times, because I never forgot that he got testy and accused a man of not listening, when in fact Kerry had never expressed himself clearly about what he would do in Iraq. I had been willing to wait a long time for a clear answer, yet here he was criticizing us for not having heard his answer yet. All I had heard was "smarter way," which just seemed like a placekeeper for a plan to be submitted later.
On April 19th, Kerry appeared on "Meet the Press," and Tim Russert asked Kerry exactly the question I wanted an answer to: What would you do differently from Bush in Iraq?
Kerry's "response" is to launch into an anecdote with no apparent connection to the question (about a Vietnam vet--of all things) and gradually work his way toward something that will seem to be an answer. The strategy is to put the "answer" as far from the question as possible, in the hope that you'll forget the question and accept the proffered "answer" as an answer (or just hope that he'll stop talking already). Does Kerry ever answer the question about the future of Iraq? He always substitutes assertions about mistakes in the past. The most I'm hearing about the future is that Kerry will pursue all the same goals, but in a "smarter way." I'll just do it better. Trust me! Why? Because Bush hasn't been good enough.
On April 28th, I complained about a Kerry appearance on "Hardball." I'm irritated by meandering non-answers and robotic repetition of lines from his stump speech. I offered Kerry a deal:
It's on and on about the medals and ribbons. This is incredibly irritating. I agree with Kerry that it's pointless to quibble about whatever it was he threw away when he was an young man with an issue to fight for. But let's make a deal then: stop using Vietnam as an argument for why you should be President. The whole issue is a waste of time. I'm willing to accept that both Bush and Kerry are good people with good character. Now, get on with it! Give me some substance!
After the first commercial break, Kerry is smiling--with teeth showing oddly. Someone told him to smile, so he's taking stage directions. Oh, I'm so hopelessly tired of Kerry.
And that was back in April! Little did I know then that he would keep robotically delivering clips from the stump speech and would make Vietnam the centerpiece of his campaign! Looking back, I can see that the "Meet the Press" and "Hardball" interviews were crucial in turning me against him. Notably, Kerry thereafter steered clear of serious interviews.
May 1st was an important day, when Kerry responded to the news of Abu Ghraib. I complimented him and expressed a hope:
Kerry may choose to do something more with this issue later, but [his comments today show] complete forbearance from opportunism. I want Kerry to demonstrate that he would never allow his political ambition to override the interest in the successful completion of our efforts in Iraq, and I have worried that he would pursue the strategy of uniting Bush and the war in the public's mind, creating a single entity (BushWar), and then use every opportunity to find fault with something done in the war to attack BushWar. What a disaster that would be.
Perhaps Kerry's statement only represents the astute political understanding that he needs to avoid appearing not to support our soldiers--especially important for him because of his Vietnam era statements--but I hope there is something more to this restraint, that there is a real commitment to the success of the mission. He is in a tough position here. Should he criticize Bush for not acting swiftly and harshly against the accused soldiers? For now he's chosen to refer to gathering the facts and providing "appropriate" process to the accused soldiers and preserving the rule of law. That may be too tame, part of his characteristic dullness, but it may be the surface of what is a competent commitment to the success of the war effort.
Nine days later, I wrote about Abu Ghraib again:
If Bush doesn't find a way to do something comprehensive, he deserves to be replaced. Whatever deficiencies Kerry may have--and I have not been a Kerry supporter--I would like to see him moved into the Presidency to make clear statement of the thing that Bush himself keeps going around saying: this is not what Americans are.
This was the point of my strongest support for Kerry.
On May 29th, I was pretty sympathetic to Kerry and defended him against attacks that he took too many positions:
One can easily portray Kerry as a man who takes so many different positions in such a confounding mix that no one--no one with any real potential to actually vote for him--ever gets too upset. Yet, obviously, Kerry has a careful balancing act to perform, and he seems sensible about trying to hold on to the middle. For the antiwar side, he seems to be offering only a feeling that he's going to wind things down more quickly and effectively than Bush, but Bush is trying to reach the same goals Kerry is stating. (This is why I'm not deciding between the two candidates until October: I'll see what Bush has actually done between now and then.) Kerry is urging ... that we get away from "partisan politics" and "just think common sense about our country, about what it should be doing." I don't argue with that. It's hard for him to get specific about what he would do, since he wouldn't be starting to do anything until over eight months from now. How can he use common sense to figure out what should be done that far in the future when things are changing every day so far out of his control? That's the downside of not being an ideologue.
Ironically, on this day I was dealing with nasty commenters on my blog (right before I turned off the comments function), who couldn't stop telling me what a louse I was for not condemning the war.
In June, two things happened that I wrote a little about: Reagan died and received a lavish funeral, and "Fahrenheit 911" came out and was loved and hated. I watched a bit of the funeral and avoided the movie. Various people used the occasions to stoke extreme partisan feeling. I felt my usual aversion to all of that. On July 1st, I complained about "ugly political imagery."
On July 31, I was very impressed by a Christopher Hitchens article that attacked Kerry for criticizing the war in Iraq for using money that we could be spending on our own people at home. Like Hitchens, I found that argument repugnant. Kerry further alienated me by repeating that argument many times.
Right after the convention, in early August, I questioned the assumption that Kerry is especially smart and call him "a cipher who went to Vietnam":
[M]y questions about Kerry's intelligence do not arise solely from my inference that he had a poor academic record and low standardized test scores. My questions are also based on his exasperatingly convoluted and unclear manner of speaking. This has been excused as a propensity for "nuance" and "complexity," but could also be caused by a lack of mental capacity. It could also be willful evasion. I'd really like to know. ... I've been listening to him talk for a long, long time, and I'm not impressed at all. And I'm sure not impressed by the mere fact of someone managing to hold a Senate seat for a long time!
I realize people who truly despise Bush don't care about any of this. The fact is Kerry's the candidate, so there's nothing more to say. Unite behind him, whoever he is. It's too late now. And please don't say anything bad about him. Shhhh! But that doesn't work for people, like myself, who don't despise Bush. I am actually trying to assess Kerry! Where is the material? It certainly wasn't presented in the convention last week, and Kerry's speeches and interviews are not exactly brimming with information. I've been looking for an answer to what he plans to do in Iraq for a long time ... and I still can't figure him out. It seems to me we're being asked to make a cipher President. A cipher who went to Vietnam. And isn't Bush. Is that enough? If you hate Bush, the answer is a resounding "Yes!" It isn't enough for me.
Next came the Republican Convention, which I watched much more closely than the Democratic Convention. I had TiVo'd the C-Span coverage of all nights of both conventions, but the Democratic Convention bored me and the Republican Convention gripped me. The speakers that made a real impression on me were: Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Ron Silver. These men all spoke well and with conviction. I listened to every word they said. I will admit to feeling deeply struck by Silver's line: "The President is doing exactly the right thing." Silver was open about being a liberal on the social issues--as I am--but passionate and clear that national security trumps other matters. I agree! I even enjoyed Zell Miller's old-style preacher speech.
How did Kerry try to claw his way back into the running after the convention? He was getting a lot of conflicting advice and being told to fight harder and attack. This post, written on September 5th, was pretty sympathetic to Kerry:
Of course, Kerry does seem to be on the path to defeat right now, so his supporters can't help panicking and find it hard not to yammer a lot of (conflicting) advice at him. But I think his best chance lies in continuing to be the lumbering, dull but solid and grown-up guy that he is, so that when election day finally comes and the excitement-seeking is over, people will look at him and say--perhaps: Yes, he's a frightful bore, but put him in the office and he'll probably earnestly work hard and make a decent share of good-enough judgments, which is all we really ever hope for anyway.
I could still have accepted Kerry at this point. But Kerry decided to go for the hard Howard Dean-style criticism of "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time." In these last few weeks, he has battered us with negativity about the war, but still without offering any realistic positive solutions that are different from Bush's, and raising worries that he will simply give up on Iraq. And then he disrespected Prime Minister Allawi when the man was in the country and speaking to Congress. Yesterday, I wrote of Kerry's treatment of Allawi as his final, fatal mistake. I meant only to say that he had sealed his fate with voters for that, but, realistically, thinking about it today, I have to say he sealed his fate with me personally. Rereading this post, I see that the hope about Kerry I expressed on May 1st is completely lost.
UPDATE, MONDAY EVENING: After devoting much of Sunday to tracing the arc of my antagonism, it was nice to get so many visitors today. Thanks to Instapundit for starting the traffic, to Allahpundit for the cool quip ("[A]fter several months of looking at the menu, Ann Althouse decides she's not in the mood for Waffles."), and to lots of other people who linked and emailed.