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The Kerryness of Kerry

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  • The Kerryness of Kerry

    Funny article by Mark Steyn:

    If I’ve been following the campaign correctly, the typical John Kerry day involves an early-morning stop at Bud’s Truck Stop on Rte 103 at which the Senator orders a hot dog. Asked what he wants on it, he says an aubergine and lemongrass coulis. Afterwards, he heads to Idaho for a windsurfing photo-op to communicate his virility, after first flying out his stylist from Cristophe’s to mousse his hair into its windswept and tousled position. Following questions from the press on the cost of his hairdresser, he first denies that he has a hairdresser and then, when her curling tongs and rollers are pointed out in the back of his family’s SUV, snaps, “She’s not my hairdresser, she’s the family’s hairdresser.”

    Later, after a two-man luge run with his Secret Service agent ends with him falling off after 50 yards, he snarls, “I don’t fall off. That sonofabitch agent arched his back too high.” Conceding that he was never in Cambodia on Christmas Eve 1968, the Senator says that those words were repeatedly placed in his mouth by over-zealous speechwriters. He wasn’t in Cambodia, his wife’s first husband’s corporation’s wholly owned subsidiary was in Cambodia. “But if George W Bush’s Republican smear machine wants to make our service in Vietnam an issue, I say to them: BRING. IT. ON!”

    “But they have brought it on.”

    “Well, if they want to continue bringing it on, I say to them: BRING. IT. ON!”

    “But your campaign has put out an ad that President Bush call it off.”

    “Well, if he wants to make an issue of my begging him to call it off, I say to him: BRING. IT. ON.”

    The day ends with the Senator throwing the first pitch at the Red Sox game. It lands on his red sock and breaks his toe, resulting in him taking two weeks off for surgery, in the course of which his numbers go up four points.

    If it weren’t for the small matter of the war for civilization, I’d find it hard to resist a Kerry Presidency. Groucho Marx once observed that an audience will laugh at an actress playing an old lady pretending to fall downstairs, but, for a professional comic to laugh, it has to be a real old lady. That’s how I feel about the Kerry campaign. For the professional political analyst, watching Mondale or Dukakis or Howard Dean stuck in the part of the guy who falls downstairs is never very satisfying: they’re average, unexceptional fellows whom circumstances have conspired to transform into walking disasters. But Senator Kerry was made for the role, a vain thin-skinned droning blueblood with an indestructible sense of his own status but none at all of his own ridiculousness. If Karl Rove had labored for a decade to produce a walking parody of the contemporary Democratic Party’s remoteness, condescension, sense of entitlement, public evasiveness and tortured relationship with military matters, he couldn’t have improved on John F Kerry.

    For most of us this would be more than enough to see us through November: Why did John Kerry cross the road? “I crossed the road to volunteer for Vietnam. Some of us know something about what it means to cross the road.” Who was that lady I saw you with last night? “That was no lady, that was my meal ticket.” How many John Kerrys does it take to change a lightbulb? At least four. One to approve the removal of the old lightbulb. One to declare his courageous commitment to replacing the old bulb. One to vote against funding the new lightbulb. And one to denounce George W Bush and America’s Benedict Arnold CEOs for leaving everyone in the dark.

    It seems almost a shame to over-egg the Kerry pudding with the dark unsettling shadow of his war fantasies, the strange double inflation of his own exploits and of everyone else’s “war crimes”. Even then, the Swift vets’ campaign on Kerry’s actions 35 years ago seems most effective in driving him to idiotic actions right now, such as his demand to his lawyers that they threaten action against bookstores carrying Unfit For Command. Fortunately, most bookstore owners are too busy defending the “freedom to read the books you choose” against John Ashcroft’s Patriot Act to take umbrage at Kerry’s cease-and-desist letters. But imagine if Bush were to threaten lawsuits over every book that was unpleasant about him: every bookstore would be two-thirds empty and you could hunt buffalo on the plains of their floor space.

    I underestimated Kerry because I made the mistake of seeing too much of him in 2003 – in Woodsville, Plymouth, Littleton and other obscure stops on the New Hampshire primary trail. He was awful. And he was just as awful in the huge auditorium at Nashua High School in late January as he’d been at the Barge Inn in Woodsville the previous summer. The only difference was that he was now awful with a full supporting cast – the “band of brothers”, Max Cleland, Ted Kennedy, Patrick Kennedy, Jeanne Shaheen… When the chorus line momentarily parted and you got a glimpse of the candidate, he still seemed like a plodding single-digit fifth-place guy.

    Primary season gives the party’s electorate a chance to rattle the leading candidate and make him a better campaigner. This time round the leading candidates – Dean, Clark – rattled the electorate and in their stampede to the fire exits they wound up sweeping the quintessential “None of the Above” man to victory. They made a very basic miscalculation: Howard Dean was a dull centrist governor pretending to be nuts, John Kerry is a nut passing himself off as a dull centrist.

    Granted that many folks mistake self-importance for gravitas, it’s surprising the devious minds of the Democratic establishment, so fearful of Dean, failed to see the problems with Kerry. A serious party would have seen the war on terror as a major foreign policy challenge they needed to address credibly. But instead the Democrats looked on it in a shriveled, partisan Carvillesque way as a Bush wedge issue they needed to neutralize. And so they bought into JFK’s self-created myth of his four months in the Mekong as the most epic chapter in the history of the republic, and here they are mired in a Vietnam quagmire that feels like it’s been going on longer than the real one.

    The Democratic spinmeisters outspun themselves. If there’s one lesson to be drawn from the 2002 elections it’s that biography is insufficient: The war-wounded Cleland, the widow Carnahan, the old lion Mondale all went down, because come election day losing three limbs or your husband or 49 states is not in itself a qualification for office, not in serious times. Two years ago, voters were very clear-sighted, and they rejected the TV-movie-of-the-week narratives, however appealing, in the absence of evidence that the candidates were credible on the issue that mattered.

    But in the Senator’s case the party was so gripped by their cynically contracted Mekong syndrome they overlooked how unappealing 99% of the biography was. The Senatitis – all the I-voted-for-it-before-I-voted-against-it stuff – is an inevitable consequence of spending more than half a term in the joint. But what could the Dems do? Once Gray Davis got into trouble, they’d hardly any Governors left to run, apart from Jennifer Granholm in Michigan and Howard Dean in Vermont, and in the former case she’s Canadian and in the latter his state is (or might as well be). But, even if you’re stuck with running a Senator, this one’s a dud. Senator Kennedy, by comparison, has a formidable list of legislative accomplishments. Disastrous accomplishments, to be sure, but you can at least see the guy’s been doing something. Kerry, by contrast, has nothing to show for his 20 years in Washington other than a lot of votes against things – mainly against (if you’re looking for a theme) the projection of American power in America’s interest. More to the point, the sour oppositionism isn’t grounded in any strategic clarity so much as his inability to get past Vietnam. His now famous 1986 Senate speech, with its attractively “seared” Currier & Ives scenes of Christmas in Cambodia, is typical: he was supposed to be addressing America’s Latin American policy but the only part of his speech in which he sounds engaged is yet another self-aggrandising stroll down the Ho Chi Minh Memory Trail.

    Ted Kennedy ran into trouble because he couldn’t give an answer to why he wanted to be President. Kerry’s problem starts long before that: after 20 years, there seems to be no obvious answer as to why he wanted to be a Senator. There’s something to be said for the cynically conservative attitude that a legislator who doesn’t produce any legislation is the least worst kind. But when a Senator makes the focus of his legislative inertia America’s national security, the Cold War and missile defence I’m not sure that theory isn’t being stretched beyond its natural limits. When Kerry talks, as he often does, about his “30 years in public service”, it’s hard to see what service the public’s got out of it.

    These kinds of platitudes ring particularly empty from Senator Kerry. Americans do not begrudge a man making great wealth or inheriting it. But there is something vaguely icky about living the high life off the money of your wife’s first husband, especially when you give off the air that the good things that flow therefrom – the private jets, the luxury vacations homes, the $8,000 bicycle – are essential to your sense of yourself. Bush is rich but no-one would have a home in Crawford, Texas unless it really was his home: you don’t go there for haute cuisine or the jet set. If you prefer a less partisan comparison, take Governor Dean, a Park Avenue blueblood who found love, happiness and fulfillment in a materially modest life in Vermont. But Kerry’s expensive tastes seem central to his identity. And his preferred formulation for detaching his policy positions from his lifestyle is especially feeble: “That’s not my SUV, that’s the family’s SUV” – as if Teresa’s his Halliburton and he just happens to be enjoying some windfall profits, which, come to think of it, seems pretty much the case.

    Noemie Emery referred to him as a “consort”, and that’s a good word for him. Watching him attempt to engage in regular-guy-type activities – eating a cheese steak sandwich, talking sports, sipping a Coke - he reminds me of the Duchess of Gloucester making strained small talk with the lads in her capacity as Colonel-in-Chief of the Bermuda Regiment or the Royal New Zealand Army Educational Corps: even when she’s doing her best – and that’s more than John Kerry does on these occasions – you’re aware that this is not Her Royal Highness’ natural habitat. In that respect, Senator Kerry seems foreign to the rhythms of ordinary American life, and unlike the Duchess he’s got no good excuse.

    Yet it’s the paradox at the heart of this most exquisitely refined and cultured of candidacies that none of these routine endurance tests of American vernacular politics – the New Hampshire primary pancake flip, etc – is as crass, vulgar or demeaning as the Presidential campaign the Senator designed for himself: the over-inflation of four months in the Mekong Delta into the sole rationale for the Kerry Presidency. Watching John Kerry “reporting for duty” at the Democratic Convention, I found myself pining for an unscheduled walk-on by Dr Gilkes, P G Wodehouse’s headmaster at Dulwich College in England. Gilkes, a Dumbledore-type figure of six foot six in long white beard, was dedicated to keeping his boys from “getting above themselves”. Wodehouse recalled his reaction to some triumph on the cricket field as follows:

    “So you made a century against Tonbridge, did you, my boy? Well, always remember that you will soon be dead, and in any case, the bowling was probably rotten.”

    If only the Democrats had had some latterday Gilkes figure to clip Kerry round the ear and tell him to stop being such a perishing puff after the first Vietnam retro roadshow stop of this hollow vanity candidacy. How much pain the party would have been spared. How easily it could have avoided running Kerry/Edwards as a Bob Hope/Jill St John ticket with all the sexual chemistry but none of the gags. In 1960, accepting the nomination in another perilous time, the prototype JFK, the one warming up the initials for the present colossus, never felt the need to mention PT-109, never mind base his entire candidacy on it, or reunite his crew to serve as warm-up act and campaign mascots. But 44 years on today’s Dems loved condescending to Kerry’s “band of brothers” at that Boston convention: Never in the field of human conflict was so much made of so few by so many.

    For a couple of years now, I’ve heard bigtime Democrats say that “of course” they support our troops even though they oppose the war. I’ve never quite understood what that meant. But I think that’s what most Dems saw in Kerry: they supported a soldier who opposed a war because he was the embodiment of their straddle. Alas, if you detach the heroism of a war from the morality of it what’s left but braggadocio? Anyone can latch on to that “band of brothers” line from Henry V, but you’d think a chap from a Swiss finishing school would be aware of the rest of the speech:

    Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars. And say “These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.” Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot, But he’ll remember with advantages What feats he did that day…

    And even some he didn’t do – gun-running to Cambodia, etc. As the English say, it’s not cricket. I don’t know whether, at any of his extensive range of elite educational establishments, John Kerry ever played cricket - for an American politician on the stump, he has a curious taste in sports: “I love baseball. I love football. I love sports. French skiers.” But this behavior is so unseemly I’m confident that not only is it not cricket, it’s not even French skiing.

    There are two likely outcomes this November: he will lose narrowly, and we’ll be in for another four years of whining about how the world’s biggest moron managed to steal a second election; or he’ll lose decisively. The second option will be better for the long-term health of the Democratic Party. The third option – a regally insulated President, Chiraquiste and Chiraquesque – doesn’t bear thinking about.

  • #2
    Re: The Kerryness of Kerry

    Sorry _Ender_ happened to be in the line of fire ;)


    • #3
      Re: The Kerryness of Kerry

      I got baleeted :(

      its cool phyllis, you just doing what you do.


      • #4
        Re: The Kerryness of Kerry

        Sigh.... That's enough of that...
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