Jewish World Review Sept. 9, 2004/ 23 Elul, 5764
Croquet Match Postponed: Kerry's Forced to Mingle with Swing Rubes
Democrats can cry like bambinos all they want about Zell Miller, Dick Cheney, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain (that turncoat!) and George W. Bush saying really mean things about their presidential candidate at the Republican convention, but really, was there a more pathetic sight than John Kerry himself stumbling through a pep rally in Springfield, OH less than an hour after Bush concluded his speech last Thursday night?
Kerry seems to have hired half of America to steer his campaign the unctuous Joe Lockhart, the former Clinton press secretary, one of the latest administration-in-exile stalwarts added to the payroll but apparently no one had the balls to tell the candidate a midnight appearance wasn't the smartest idea. He could've started fresh the following morning, after the jobs report was unveiled, putting a negative spin on the numbers (which he did, reviving the canard that Bush is the worst economic president since Herbert Hoover, a line that's been repeated as often as "Satisfaction" was played on AM radio in the summer of '65) and received the benefit of a news bulletin from Katie Couric on the Today show.
Instead, half-cocked and obviously tired, Kerry ranted to thousands of supporters that he wouldn't let Cheney impugn his patriotism, once again returning to the overriding message of his bid to defeat Bush: I served in Vietnam, they didn't. Kerry let John Edwards, who, although a relatively tall man, seems to shrink an inch each month in stature, warm up the crowd, letting them know that his potential boss carries shrapnel in his body. These guys are a lousy tag-team: Edwards, who must be making calculations for 2008 if this fall doesn't work out, rambles on and on, as Kerry plays second-fiddle, nodding behind him.
Finally, Kerry stepped up to the microphone, and, in a bizarre miscalculation, began with the "wonderful news" that the Boston Red Sox had closed to within two and a half games of the New York Yankees that evening. Why Ohio voters would care about this is anybody's guess and those who did undoubtedly knew that the election-year Sox fan was wrong, off by a game in the standings.
Then he went on a tear, an unhinged speech that Newsweek's "Conventional Wisdom" three days later lauded as "It takes a New York mugging to get [Kerry] off his windsurfer and into the fray with [a] midnight retaliatory strike." That's one way of looking at it, I suppose, but an attack on Cheney, who despite his lack of military time, did serve as Secretary of Defense during the Gulf War, isn't likely to persuade any voters but the already converted. Kerry said: "The vice president called me unfit for office last night. Well, I'm going to leave it up to the voters to decide whether five deferments makes someone more qualified than two tours of duty." When will one of Kerry's high-paid flacks tell him that half of the country's registered voters can't locate Vietnam on a map?
As it turned out, Cheney never called Kerry "unfit" for office. The Washington Post's ombudsman Michael Getler explained to readers last Sunday that an exuberant Post headline writer made an error ("Cheney Calls Kerry Unfit"), relying on the words in reporter John Harris' front-page story rather than the text of Cheney's speech.
And when you're on a roll The New York Times ran an article last week about crystal meth's resurgence in popularity, so maybe Kerry got some nutritional advice there why not head straight into the Franken/Alterman/Moore/Krugman sixth dimension? He continued, on the subject of Bush, "Letting the Saudi royal family control the price for oil for Americans makes you unfit to lead this country. Handing out billions of dollars in government contracts without a bid to Halliburton while you're still on the payroll makes you unfit to lead this country. That, my friends, is the record of George Bush and Dick Cheney and that only beings to scratch the surface."
If Kerry does assume the Oval Office on Jan. 20 next year, I wonder if his first act will be the overhaul of the nation's longtime energy policy, and cut Saudi Arabia, among other countries, out of the market and find oil elsewhere. Maybe Alaska? No, of course not. Could be electric cars and horses (which would be consistent with Kerry's Bridge to the 19th Century platform) will jam the streets.
And while Kerry complains that the GOP convention was "bitter and insulting," dominated by hate and anger, it's not the Bush team that has a monopoly on low-road tactics. You won't read it in the Times these days, but the junior senator from Massachusetts has called all Republicans "liars" and his colleague Teddy Kennedy claimed that Bush cooked up the Iraq war in a Texan backwater for mere political gain. In addition, the Nazi allusions continue week by week. Former Ohio senator John Glenn got into the act on Sept. 3, as reported by the Washington Post, saying "You've just got to separate out fact from fictionů Too often, too often, in this country, if you hear something repeated, it's the old Hitler business if you hear something repeated, repeated, repeated, repeated, you start to believe it."
New York Rep. Major Owens whipped up a group of NOW feminists in Central Park on Sept. 1, telling them that the reelection of Bush would lead to the United States going "down the drain into a snake pit of fascism." He continued, telling the conservative Cybercast News Service that "We are going in the same direction as Nazi Germany in terms of we have a ruthless group of people who make bold decisions. They spit on democracy." The culprits are Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft and shazaam! Halliburton.
DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe, showing uncharacteristic restraint, on Sunday didn't say Sen. Zell Miller was the new Goebbels, but did make a silly comment nonetheless. In a conference call to reporters, the financial brains behind the Clinton machine claimed "[Miller] was so frightening that parents took their children away from the television," during his primetime address. Please. First, the conventions didn't attract boffo ratings; second, how many kids were actually watching any of the speakers at either the Boston or New York junkets for pols and journalists?
I don't put much stock in the Newsweek and Time polls that show Bush leading Kerry by 11 points the margin will be reduced soon enough and the resident pundits can then declare a "Kerry Resurgence!" but the media right now is gathered 'round a campfire singing "Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley."
This past Sunday, The Daily News' Dennis Hamill, a decorated Bush-basher, revealed that his election-year mellow has been severely harshed. Hamill says that if Kerry "doesn't beg James Carville to take over his campaign, he's toast." That's one of the smartest, and obvious ideas, put forth by the Democratic press and surely Kerry and Carville could put together an A-Rod like package to bring him on board and get rid of the invisible Robert Shrum, Lockhart, Chris Lehane-imitator Stephanie Cutter and three-quarters of the remaining staff.
Carville vs. Rove would probably trump Kerry vs. Bush in the mud-slinging arena.
Hamill, who's never achieved the celebrity of older brother Pete who, in his dotage, now appreciates the common sense of Barry Goldwater, at least according to his current Fast Company essay and perhaps doesn't really care, continued on a rampage, the likes of which will become the journalistic norm in the next two months.
This passage is a beaut: "After Bush announced we couldn't win the war on terror [a bad gaffe that fortunately for the president and his asleep-at-the-wheel press office was partially obscured by the convention], the press ran to Kerry for a reaction. And found him that poor man's paradise called Nantucket wrestling with a yellow wind sail. Atta way to garner the common-man vote in the swing states, old sport! Almost as swift as your unswift response to the Swift Boat Liars for Bush. If Kerry had fired back in 'Nam with the same, um, swiftness, he'd be listed KIA.
"Kerry also wowed the common man on "The Daily Show." When Jon Stewart asked whether Teresa got a nickel every time he used ketchup, Kerry pumped his fist and replied, 'Would that is were, Jon! Would that it were!' I have now asked 10 guys from Brooklyn whether they know what 'would that it were' means. My favorite answer came from ex-garbageman and ex-cop Ray Garvey, who asked, 'Is it a golf club!?'"
But fear not, Mr. Hamill, because reinforcements are on the way. The New York Times published back-to-back stories on the state of Kerry's campaign, the first of which, published Sunday, was pessimistic, despite the spate of stories that the windsurfer is a "fast closer" in elections. That Kerry defeated Republican Gov. Bill Weld in '96, after lagging in the polls, is the prime example, although it ignores that this occurred in Massachusetts. Adam Nagourney and Jodi Wilgoren somehow elicited on-the-record remarks from several prominent Democrats.
Sen. Bob Graham: "The people are there, the candidate is there; it's the reason to vote for the candidate that's still a little out of focus."
Rep. Rahm Emanuel, former Clinton adviser: "What [the Kerry campaign] did is they lost control of the ball. They allowed the election to not be about George Bush but to be about themselves. They have to get back on their game." I'm not sure what that "game" is, but Rahm must have some advice.
Sen. Chris Dodd: "[Kerry had] a very confused message in August, and the Republicans had a very clear and concise one."
On Sept. 6, Nagourney and David Halbfinger offered encouragement to worried Times readers, writing that Kerry engaged in substantive phone calls with Bill Clinton over the weekend, who told the candidate to stop talking about Vietnam. As always, Clinton's motives are suspect, even as he awaited a heart bypass, but Hillary's 2008 aspirations notwithstanding, the ex-prez can't resist another Democrat kissing his ring.
Finally, the always-entertaining James Wolcott has a new blog (jameswolcott.com), and his Sept. 3 item, although in questionable taste, wasn't disappointing. He wrote: "With the transparent, calculating cynicism that marked his two terms in office, Bill Clinton chose to burglarize the majesty of President Bush's Churchillian convention address by conveniently entering the hospital for heart surgery. Unable to yield the spotlight, Clinton clutched his chest like Fred Sanford and called 911 in a desperate bid to deny Bush the 'big mo' he was beginning to enjoy after addressing the nation last night from a mound of skulls at Madison Square Garden, each skull beautifully handcrafted by Thai sweatshop workers."
Certainly, Wolcott himself would never purchase an item that was manufactured overseas in less than AFL-CIO conditions, but it's refreshing to note that the Vanity Fair writer can skewer both Bush and Clinton, while invoking the legendary Sanford (but not Lamont) in one paragraph.
Should Kerry wise up and hire a humor coach, he ought to hire Wolcott.
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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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© 2002, Russ Smith