December 24, 2006

John Kerry endorses Flip flopping

John Kerry was ridiculed at the last United States election for his 'flip flopping', he still acquires ridicule from the likes of Kathryn Jean Lopez at the National Review for the same vice. Kerry was a deeply flawed candidate for US President in 2004 and his candidacy for 2008 is at present only beleived in by himself, yet a nagging feeling persists that in talking about flip flopping his opponents revealed themselves to be pigmies compared to even his dwarfish statures. George Bush and his acolytes, along with Tony Blair, valued as David Runciman has recently written, certainty and resolution above the merits of decision making.

Peter Hennessy has commented at length recently on the dangers that this has led Blair into- the neglect of process because he knows the right decision is merely one of a catalogue of errors that Blair has made. Indeed what separates Blair from greatness as a Prime Minister is largely his misjudgement of process, his lack of self-irony and his certainty in his own values and judgement. These failings, which boil down to a failure to appreciate and listen are failures Blair shares with George W. Bush.

John Kerry was a poor Presidential candidate. His mental and intellectual range makes him no John Adams or James Maddison, his campaign was deeply flawed and he obfuscated more than he made clear. Kerry argues persuasively though in this Washington Post Article that Bush needs to begin to embrace some of his obfuscations, some of his confusions, some of his lack of mental clarity in order to survive. He argues rightly that as facts change so do arguments- Nixon going to China was a classic instance of this, as you might argue was Begin's decision to initiate the Camp David accords. Kerry's problem is that he offers no real suggestion beyond engagement with Syria and Iran that Bush could take- his thinking has as its charecteristic tones all the merits and flaws of being entirely conventional. Kerry's campaign similarly wasn't one filled with bright ideas and a vision of the way that America might be- to lose to a President with Mr Bush's record was a testament to the lack of an inspiring offer to the American people of a way forwards. Indeed it was his running mate John Edwards or Howard Dean his opponent who far more than Kerry offered an alternative.

But Kerry does allow us this thought, that it is not neccessary merely for a President to have bright ideas- it is neccessary for Presidents' to adapt their ideas to reality, to let reality influence the ways that they introduce their ideas to the world in policy and in publicity. John Kerry at the moment looks as if he will be like his fellow Senator for Massachussets, Ted Kennedy, a senior Senator in time and never President but his article is a telling criticism of the man that took the Presidency off him. Doubt is an underappreciated virtue in leaders and whatever you think of Kerry the candidate, Kerry the advocate for doubt is definitely right.