Monday, Apr. 26, 2004

John Kerry

Given the rigorous informality and artless effervescence required by the ceremonies of modern politics, John Kerry's rise to prominence is difficult to explain. His is a solemn New England sensibility. I have never seen him experience a moment of spontaneous wit; his nonspontaneous attempts at humor are ghastly. He is not a very compelling speaker. Indeed, when attempting to answer the most basic of questions—his position on the war in Iraq, for example—he tends to entwine himself in endless codicils and subclauses. And yet the Senator from Massachusetts breezed through the Democratic presidential primaries this year and became his party's presumptive nominee in what seemed a matter of days, not weeks. How on earth did that happen?

Democrats said they thought Kerry was their most "electable" candidate. That was the result, apparently, of a process of elimination; Kerry was everyone's second choice. That was a stunning achievement; Democrats never agree on anything, not even second choices—and so the Kerry anointment was an unprecedented act of pragmatism. The Senator's strongest suit was his demeanor. He seemed very serious. So did the primary electorate. But now comes an open question: Will the rest of the nation be as smitten with solemnity as the primary voters were? The issues on the table are nothing less than war and national solvency. The contrast between complex-sentence Kerry and simple-sentence Bush could not be clearer. Kerry's burden is double: he will have to prove not only that his policies are better than the incumbent's, but also that he will be a tolerable guest in the dens and kitchens of the nation for the next four years.

From the Archive
Raising the Volume: A TIME guide to the suddenly fast and loud presidential race