Dems Must Move On, Even if Kerry Can't

Say Goodnight John…..

Poor John Kerry. He can’t even tell a bad joke. And it was a bad joke, a very bad joke, an attack on his fellow Yalie for getting us “stuck in Iraq.”

This is what he was supposed to say: “Do you know where you end up if you don’t study, if you aren’t smart, if you’re intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq.”

But of course, as everyone has heard by now, it didn’t come out that way. It came across as a suggestion that only dummies end up in Iraq.

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Instead of taking a cheap shot at the president, it came out as a cheap shot at the troops.

Instead of helping Democrats, the only question is whether it hurt them, and how much. To add insult to injury, the whole incident was a waste of time: it came in a campaign stop for Phil Angelides, the Democratic candidate for governor, who has as much chance of winning next week as Republican Dick Mountjoy does of beating Democrat Dianne Feinstein. Forget it.

I was supposed to do a round of Fox radio interviews this morning about undecided voters. They cancelled at the last minute. We’re doing John Kerry instead, I was told. Ouch. From a Democrat’s point of view, it’s about the last thing you’d like to see everyone talking about six days before an election. We lost Bush v. Kerry.

Here we are, within striking distance of taking over both houses of Congress, and what are we doing? Replaying the worst of the 2004 elections.

It takes a very long time to recover from losing the presidency. It is one of the most painful, public, devastating experiences one can go through. Some people spend the rest of their lives reliving their mistakes, relitigating the injustices and unfairnesses of the campaign, rearguing why things should have been different.

But such ruminations are best done privately. Sour grapes leave a bad taste. Poor sports don’t sell well. Grace in defeat is never easy (as the Republicans may soon learn) but it beats the alternative. Rehabilitation comes with time, and self-deprecation, not with nastiness and venom.

Kerry has not gotten to that point. Not close. It took two days before he finally offered an apology for his remarks. On his Web site. He’s still smarting over the Swift Boats, which was not about the attack, in the end, but about his failure to respond, which is what he still doesn’t get. Instead, he pointed out that he wore the uniform and Bush and Cheney didn’t.

Have I been to this movie before? If Kerry attacks, can you blame the other side for responding? Next thing you know, we’re going to be seeing pictures of Kerry testifying about atrocities committed by soldiers in Vietnam. Enough already. Say goodnight John. Democrats should distance themselves from Kerry as quickly as they can. There is only one place to go on this one. Far away.

The latest exchange demonstrates, yet again, not only why Kerry lost last time, but why the party will never turn to him again; why the race for the presidential nomination in 2008 will be a contest between Hillary and Barack Obama, in which Kerry will be a minor figure who is likely to be eliminated early, if he isn’t wise enough to take himself out even earlier.

The midterm elections are not about John Kerry, Vietnam, Bush’s war service, or whether Bush or Kerry should have won two years ago. Kerry is playing into the Republicans’ hands in walking down that road. It is a selfish, self-serving trip. In the end, he helps no one, including himself, by doing so.

John Kerry is stuck rerunning the last election. He can’t move on. The rest of us have.

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Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.

Estrich's books include the just published "Soulless," "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System," "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders," "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women" and "Sex & Power," currently a Los Angeles Times bestseller.

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel.

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