Kerry's Cast of Thousands
By DAVID BROOKS
September 18, 2004
Across the wine-dark sea they come, honing Kerry's message. They come from Harvard, K Street and the studios of CNN. "Once more into the breach!" they cry, as they join the conference call of thousands.
Look at them, these great, unhuddled masses, yearning to wear White House badges. They are consultants, flacks, spinners, strategists, Knights of the Palm lunch table. And yet they come as one, from all corners of the Democratic world, to figure out what John Kerry, age 60, should believe and say.
Into the valley of hope ride the 600, the inner ring of Kerry confidants. A year ago, there was just a small and hearty band. There was the campaign manager Jim Jordan. There was Gibbs, Cherny and Mellman. But under their reign, the message was not honed. The candidate did flounder. The quest for a Kerry conviction was not fulfilled.
And so the great accretion began. The call went out to pollsters, wonks and wandering wordsmiths to come gather and fill the void of Kerry's core. Brave souls emerged from the Land of Ted - the Kennedy brigades led by Cahill and Cutter are now abetting the mighty Shrum.
Boldly they rode and well, into the morass of Kerry's mind. Through the thicket of equivocations they ventured, across the paradoxical plains of Kerry's prose - all in the quest for a conviction.
Policy committees gathered. Of domestic policy councils there were 37. Of foreign policy councils, 27.
And in each of these councils resided faculties and think-tankers by the score. On the justice policy task force there were 195 members, lawyers brave and strong. On the economic council, more than 200 economists did search for a conclusion. When these groups did meet, so long was the line of approaching Volvos that it was visible from outer space.
Yet still the message was not honed. King Kerry still did equivocate, hedge and reverse. Of flip-flops there were more than a few. He still did Velcro his principles upon the cathedral door, and change them by the hour.
The apparatus grew again. Elmendorf from the Land of Gephardt was hired, along with Lackey from the House of Edwards. Teams of de-equivocators gathered. And still the fog spread.
And so the age of nymphomottomania did begin. Suddenly it was realized what was missing. A theme! A slogan! The muses were mobilized to find that motto, which would give shape and precision to the cause. Over the weeks "A Better Set of Choices" begat "Safer, Stronger and More Secure," which begat "The Real Deal," which begat "Change Starts Here," which begat "Let America Be America Again," which begat "Hope Is on the Way."
Night and day the serial sloganators did work. And the seasons did turn and the conventions did come and go. Kerry's speeches were shortened, and parts of his life were edited out of his story (adulthood, for example). And yet there was still wailing in the House of Kerry for the message was still unhoned.
Kerry himself pinpointed the problem. Of advisers, there were not enough! So this month yet more were brought in, mostly from the camp of Clinton. There is McCurry, Lockhart, Carville and Begala. There is Greenberg and Wolfson.
And so it came to pass there are no swing voters left, because they've all been hired by campaign Kerry. They form a great and mighty leviathan, dedicated to the proposition that John Kerry should believe in something. The flow chart is as clear as can be. Sasso reports to Lockhart, Devine, Sosnick, Cutter and Cahill, while Cutter reports to Devine, Mellman, McCurry, Shrum and herself - except on weekends, when Devine reports to Mellman and Sosnick and Cahill reports to McCurry and Sasso. Lockhart handles strategic response, McCurry daily response, Cutter tactical response and Cahill metaresponse.
Vast is the empire crafting Kerry's creed. Immense is the army of Michelangelos trying to sculpture the melted marshmallow of Kerry's core. And the seasons do turn and the polls do shift and the rending of garments gives way to the sunshine of hope and back again.
And tumultuous is the cry of the strategists, and loud are the furies of the campaign, but in the center there is a silence. For in the beginning all was vacuum and a void, and while all the king's horses and all the king's men do build this grand and mighty structure, the sound of their hammers echoes limitlessly in the hollow within.