...the real distinction is not between pro- and anti-war, but between September 11 Americans and September 10 Americans. The latter group is a coalition embracing not just the hardcore Bush haters - for whom, as the opening of Fahrenheit 9/11 makes plain, it all goes back to chads in Florida - but the larger group of voters who've been a little stressed out by the epic nature of politics these last three years and would like a quieter life. That's what John Kerry's offering them: a return to September 10.
He doesn't quite put it like that, of course. He talks about an America "strong" and "respected" and all the other poll-tested words, while the Democratic platform asserts that Republicans "do not understand that real leadership means standing by your principles and rallying others to join you".
Say what you like about Bush, but on Iraq he stood by his principles and rallied the British, Australians, Poles, Italians, etc, to join him. He also rallied Kerry and Edwards to join him. They voted for his war, as the columnist Debra Saunders of The San Francisco Chronical drolly pointed out: "Kerry and Edwards followed. Bush led."
Kerry now says that Bush "misled" him on Iraq. But, if he was that easily suckered by a renowned moron, how much more susceptible would he be to such wily operators as Chirac. They would speak French to each other, and Jacques would blow soothingly in his ear, and Kerry would look flattered, and there'd be lots of resolutions and joint declarations, and nothing would happen. We'd be fighting the war on terror through the self-admiring inertia of windbag multilateralism.
He moans endlessly about the "outsourcing" of American jobs but, when it comes to his own job, he's willing to outsource American foreign policy to the mushy transnational talk-shops and to outsource homeland security to some dubious intelligence tsar. There's no sense of any strategic vision, no sense that he's thought about Iran or North Korea or any of the other powder kegs about to blow. I tried to ask him about some of these matters during the New Hampshire primary and he intoned in response, "Sometimes truly courageous leadership means having the courage not to show any leadership." (I quote from memory.)
In another perilous time - 1918 - Lord Haig wrote of Lord Derby: "D is a very weak-minded fellow I am afraid and, like the feather pillow, bears the marks of the last person who has sat on him." It's subtler than that with Kerry: you don't have to sit on him; just the slightest political breeze, and his pillow billows in the appropriate direction. His default position is the conventional wisdom of the Massachusetts Left: on foreign policy, foreigners know best; on trade, the labour unions know best; on government, bureaucrats know best; on defence, graying ponytailed nuclear-freeze reflex anti-militarists know best; on the wine list, he knows best.
Sometimes these default positions have to be recalibrated to take account of various political pressures - hence his current kinky Vietnam macho nostalgia, after two decades of voting against every important weapons system for the US military. But there's no sense - other than the blurry abstract nouns he shoveled off the stage on Thursday - of what Kerry stands firm on.