On the trail of Kerry's failed dream
Page 2 of 16 -- On Iraq, Kerry broke from a Senate record of opposing controversial military interventions -- in the 1980s, he fought President Reagan's involvement in Central America; in 1991 he voted against the Persian Gulf War -- to support a 2002 resolution authorizing Bush to use force against Saddam Hussein. But afterward he criticized the invasion and voted against a bill funding troops there.
Kerry was his own handler on Iraq, aides said, and he seemed to draw on his Vietnam experience. "He had a deep, personal aversion to saying plainly that Iraq was a mistake and [that] he would not have gone to war," said one adviser, explaining that Kerry was concerned about the impact on troops in the field. "Coming to grips with that truth, I think that was probably his biggest problem."
The senator firmly believed he was being consistent -- voting yes on the resolution to give the president the clout to resume inspections, but warning Bush not to move hastily. At one point, when aides tried to coax him into a simpler message, he spread papers on the floor to show how the fine points of his arguments fit.
"John got caught with his legalistic and logical mind wanting to make consistency matter, and not let them say [he's] a flip-flopper," said Kerry's longtime friend David Thorne.
Even as aides fretted that Kerry had not found his voice on the issue, they continued to hope that his hybrid position -- maintaining vigilance in a post-9/11 world, but planning more carefully than Bush -- would capture the mood of the country. They were buoyed by the fact that voters in the primaries, when Kerry was also attacked for inconsistency, suddenly moved to his side, as if they had understood him all along.
They hoped it would happen again.
But every time Kerry tried to raise the level of attack on Bush over Iraq, he found himself trapped by his own previous vote for the war and the Republicans' relentless depictions of him as inconsistent. "John's complexity hurt him," said his former Yale roommate Daniel Barbiero.
By the time a new team of battle-tested advisers persuaded Kerry to speak in clear, simple terms -- calling Bush's Iraq policy "a colossal failure" -- the dynamics of the campaign were already set.
Bush's critics depict him as simplistic and stubborn. But on Election Day, it became clear that a majority of Americans took comfort in the president's clipped certainty in the face of dangerous times and moral flux. When voters left the polls that Tuesday, they gave the president a 3.5 million lead in the popular vote.
"If there was one most important basis by which Bush won and Kerry lost, it was that Kerry was not seen as a strong enough leader," said Andrew Kohut, president of Pew Research Center. "Not too many people were concerned about Kerry being too liberal or seeing Kerry as a tax-and-spend Democrat. But they were concerned about him as a person who changed his mind too much." Continued...