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Setting the Record Straight

My interest here is not to engage in a public argument with Bob Shrum. It is to clear up the facts because history is important.
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Let me get one thing straight at the outset: I have no animosity for Bob Shrum. He is an engaging, interesting guy with great stories to tell from years at the center of American politics. As many of you may know, during much of the time I was working for John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2003 and 2004, Bob and I had some real disagreements on what the campaign's strategy should be. But -- until about the time I was forced out of the campaign -- I never thought of him as an antagonist. Even afterward, I still liked him. When I got married just over a year ago, I invited him to my wedding. I hope Bob Shrum's new book does well, that it makes it on to the bestseller lists. As long as it's on the fiction list.

Since the 2004 campaign ended, I have not been shy about saying that Democrats lost an election we should have won going away -- and that our country is paying a terrible price for that failure. But I have refused to publicly criticize Bob Shrum or any other individual for that failure. (In fact, the only quote I have given a reporter about Bob Shrum was when I told Time's Joe Klein that, in debates over how to handle Howard Dean, "Bob Shrum was on one side and all the rest of us were on the other. And Shrum was right.") Nor have I violated the trust of those I worked with by revealing confidential conversations on the campaign.

Bob Shrum has chosen a different course. That's his prerogative. But "No Excuses" also means there's no excuse for not being honest.

I am no John Edwards partisan, but his campaign's statement speaks for itself: "Anyone who knows Bob Shrum knows that he has a very casual relationship with the truth, and it's not surprising that when he's trying to stay relevant and write some books, he would make things up." I will let the others whose past Shrum has -- or has not -- misrepresented decide on their own whether they want to respond. My interest here is not to engage in a public argument with Bob Shrum. It is to clear up the facts because history is important. It is all we have to guide us forward.

So, first off, my name is "Andrei Cherny," not "Andrei Cherney." When you have a name like mine, you get used to having it misspelled. But paging through his book, this was the first clue I had that the fact-checker had been tied up, gagged, and thrown into a dark basement.

Second, Bob Shrum claims that he and I collaborated on the "Bring It On" theme and strategy that reshaped perceptions of Kerry's candidacy and, as polling demonstrates, made him the nominee. I have never told the story of how that shift came about. I still don't believe I should. All I will say is this, Shrum fought against it for three months, arguing that such clear, straight-forward language was "macho," "Bush-like" rhetoric and not the sonorous phrases that a future president should be using. He consistently quarreled with any attempt to demonstrate that John Kerry was the one candidate who had the qualities and qualification to go toe-to-toe with George W. Bush in the first election after 9/11. The 2004 election was always going to be about national security -- as well it should have been. Shrum resisted this every step of the way, opening a hole in the public's perceptions of John Kerry big enough for a flotilla of "Swift Boats" to pass through.

Third, Bob Shrum completely skews the story of John Kerry's botched announcement speech. He works overtime to claim that the press disgust with the speech had to do with the weather in South Carolina rather than the fact that the speech was a soporific collection of clichés that reinforced the perception that Senator Kerry was just another typical Washington politician mouthing the same empty platitudes and promises Democrats are sick of hearing every four years. Shrum also writes that I was kicked out of a campaign meeting after daring to disagree with him about campaign strategy. This never happened. It is manufactured out of thin air.

Why does any of this matter? If it was just a disagreement between two advisors, it would not. But something more is at stake, because the crux of the disagreement between Bob Shrum and myself was this: he believed, in both the primary and the general election, that John Kerry's campaign and the Democratic Party would be successful if we remained vague, above-the-fray, all-things-to-all-people. I believed then, and still do today, that people want bold leadership, that they deserve honesty and will respond to it, that the old answers just don't ring true anymore. That debate is being played out in today's Democratic Party. And its outcome has real consequences.

Though Bob Shrum consistently misrepresents my views, I never believed that John Kerry should adopt some sort of "mad-dog" attack strategy against either Howard Dean or George Bush. Anyone who knows me knows that this is not my style. What I and others thought he should do was stand up and tell America who he was, to not just offer up poll-tested pabulum but take stands that showed the same courage in 2003 and 2004 that he had demonstrated in Vietnam and on many occasions in the U.S. Senate. We thought he wouldn't lose voters by defining himself and saying where he stood, he would gain them. Bob Shrum disagreed, John Kerry chose to follow that course. On election day, polls showed that most Americans wanted a new president, they just did not know where Democrats would lead.

In the aftermath of 2004, I joined with other progressives to begin Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, an effort to bring the kind of visionary, ambitious ideas we need to our movement to build a majority and address the real challenges America faces at home and around the world. Next week, we'll celebrate the first anniversary of our launch. Over the past year, we've offered new ideas -- from throughout the progressive spectrum -- that break the mold. Not everyone, including me, agrees with every idea we've put forward. But they've broken with the cautious, timid platform that progressives have been offering in recent years.

For his part, here's what Bob Shrum had to say on yesterday's Meet the Press:

MR. RUSSERT: What should Democrats say, and is there a Democrat who's saying anything that is unpopular right now, against the grain because they truly believe in it?

MR. SHRUM: I think people are taking up some really tough issues, as James suggests, like [wait for it...] health care.

There's nothing wrong with fixing health care. It's the least a Democrat should be able to do. But to recapture the public imagination and confront America's big challenges, we should be able to do a lot more than that.