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As Santa Monica Goes, So Goes... Pacific Palisades?

By Frank Gruber

Last week the Santa Monica Democratic Club issued a press release announcing that the local Democrats had voted to endorse Ohio Member of Congress Dennis Kucinich for President, giving me a local angle into presidential politics, for which I am grateful.

It's a lot easier to write about the national and international issues than local ones.

Consider: was it harder to give an opinion about whether invading Iraq was a good idea than it is to give an opinion whether the City of Santa Monica should build a new trash and recycling facility or contract the deal out to a private company?

Which itself brings up another point. If the administration had spent as much time analyzing intelligence data and Iraqi history as the City of Santa Monica is spending analyzing the trash deal, do you think Bush and Cheney and the rest might have a better idea about (i) where the WMD went, and (ii) why the Shi'ites want the vote?

National columnists have it soft. What is easier, opinionating about a trillion dollars in tax cuts, or whether the school district should lay claim to $6 million of municipal receipts?

What's harder, handicapping a primary when you can consult half a dozen polls, or predicting which City Council candidates will get the SMRR endorsement?

Now that I have your sympathy, this week I'll take it easy and by way of the Democratic Club's endorsement of Rep. Kucinich do some national pondering of my own.

The first point to make, from a Santa Monica booster perspective, is that we now know where Rep. Kucinich should plan to retire. To give an idea of the magnitude of his victory in Santa Monica, at about the same time he was garnering 60 percent of the Democratic club's votes, he was telling Larry King on CNN, after a day of seven primaries, that he was pleased to have broken the one percent barrier in a couple contests.

I don't want to knock Rep. Kucinich or even, really, the Democratic Club. Neither he nor they can help themselves anyway, and there's a lot of the Kucinich plan I agree with, most notably single-payer health insurance.

I am happy that Rep. Kucinich has run. It's been good to have his views included.

It's been great politics to show the rest of the country that in free and fair elections the Chomsky wing of the Democratic Party only gets about one percent of the Democratic vote.

The other 99 percent want to win, of course, and that's the strangest thing about our local club's endorsement of Rep. Kucinich.

After all, in a year when Democratic voters around the country are focused on winning as never before, when they have put aside their differences, when they have rejected intra-party negative campaigning (goodbye Dean, goodbye Gephardt), when they are voting in primaries in record numbers, and when they rate one criterion, the ability to defeat President Bush, over all others, and when four Democratic candidates have the potential to beat Bush, isn't it peculiar that the Santa Monica Democratic Club endorses one who would have no chance of doing so?

Last time I wrote a column about the Democratic race, about a month ago, I said I liked everything about John Kerry except that he'd run a terrible campaign.

As they say, that was an eternity in American politics ago.

There has been a lot of discussion of what Sen. Kerry did to turn things around. My view is that despite his courtliness (that's a nice word for long-winded), Sen. Kerry has persuaded Democrats that he's the meanest dog in the pack, and that's what they want.

While the other candidates (particularly Howard Dean and Wesley Clark) have expressed righteous anger about President Bush and his crowd, they have focused on the policies of the administration, and (particularly John Edwards) on the divide between haves and have-nots.

This policy stuff only goes so far. What Republicans have shown, at least since defeating Jimmy Carter, is that candidates for President lose because the other candidate illuminates their weaknesses and, by doing so, makes them look weak.

Whether he did so consciously or not, Sen. Kerry has gone for Pres. Bush's character jugular. He's done it with just a couple bits of campaign shtick: the bit about the aircraft carrier and, most effectively, turning Pres. Bush's punkish taunt to terrorists, "Bring 'em on," against him.

The Democrats flocking to Sen. Kerry are hoping that he'll be the one to wipe that smirk off the President's face, and show the rest of the country that he's a spoiled brat.

Still, the odds of upsetting a sitting president in times like these, when Americans are so concerned about security, are long.

The Democratic candidate -- probably Sen. Kerry, but whoever -- might profitably study two campaigns. One is the 1960 campaign when a Democrat, John F. Kennedy, grabbed the national security banner from the Republicans. There was no missile gap, but no one has ever lost an election by saying Americans weren't safe.

The other election to look at is Ronald Reagan's defeat of Jimmy Carter -- an election that took place with America virtually at war with Iran. That was tricky. Reagan managed to attack a sitting president trying to solve a difficult foreign policy debacle (sound familiar?) without alienating the mass of Americans who want to give their president the benefit of the doubt.

This kind of practical thinking -- exaggerating danger, emulating a Republican campaign -- might be anathema to the Santa Monica Democratic Club, but then so what.

The rest of us want to win this thing.
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