Jewish World Review Oct. 22, 2004/ 7 Mar-Cheshvan 5765

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Kerry's Scare Tactics: Who Pays the Price?


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | In the event John Kerry is elected president on Nov. 2 — or in the weeks to follow — it may not be immediately revealed which one of his countless advisers suggested he allude to Mary Cheney's homosexuality in the final debate a week ago. A victory washes away all the goofs any candidate, especially a national one, inevitably commits during a protracted campaign. However, if Kerry's rep as an indomitable "closer" falls short, the fingers will be pointing in all directions.

Who authorized, for example, the media photo-op showing Kerry windsurfing or riding an $8000 bicycle, at a time when the patrician was trying desperately that he's a champion of the middle class, a hunter and former farmhand who milked the cows each morning? And the insistence of the Kerry team to base his qualifications for commander-in-chief on his service in Vietnam, which induced narcolepsy among those living in the 21st century and outrage from some vets, is bound to become the subject of a lucrative tell-all book. As is the selection of lightweight John Edwards as Kerry's running mate, a politician with limited experience (who probably won't even carry his home state for the Democrats).

Edwards forced his way onto the ticket by sheer persistence. Although Kerry didn't like the son of a mill worker very much, the media's spin that the North Carolinian possessed more charisma than any pol since Bill Clinton and John McCain — despite the fact that Edwards was trounced by Kerry in the primaries — he gave into pressure against his better instincts. Does anyone believe that Dick Gephardt or Evan Bayh would've said, as Edwards did on the Oct. 4 Nightline, "I'd say if you live in the United States of America and you vote for George Bush, you've lost your mind"? That kind of sweet talk isn't likely to ingratiate legitimately undecided voters: Is John-John suggesting that once he and Kerry take the White House they'll hunt down Bush voters and send them off to an undisclosed loony bin? Oh, probably not, just another example of Edwards' effort to appear like a rough and tough guy.

More egregiously, last week in Newton, Iowa, Elmer Gantry Edwards exploited the death of Kerry's friend Christopher Reeve, saying, "If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again." Pass the snake oil, votive candles and voodoo dolls and say amen, Brother John!

JWR columnist Charles Krauthammer, confined to a wheelchair since an accident paralyzed him as a young man, was understandably disgusted. Last Friday, he wrote: "In my 25 years in Washington, I have never seen a more loathsome display of demagoguery. [Clinton's claim in '98 that black churches would burn if Republicans were elected that year comes pretty close.] Hope is good. False hope is bad. Deliberately, for personal gain, raising false hope in the catastrophically afflicted is despicable…Politicians have long promised a chicken in every pot. It is part of the game… But to exploit the desperate hopes of desperate people with the promise of Christ-like cures is beyond the pale."

Yet it was the calculated reference to Dick Cheney's daughter as a lesbian — on the question of gay marriage, a trouble spot for Kerry anyway — just a week after the slippery Edwards did the same thing in his debate with the Vice President, that overshadowed anything else said, or unsaid, during a final debate that should've been, especially with Kerry-friendly Bob Schieffer as moderator, the Senator's night to solidify his momentum. I don't like watching presidential debates very much, since the candidates aren't allowed to ask each other questions, but just as my eyes were glazing over, Kerry purposely took a dip in quicksand.

Obviously, this wasn't a spontaneous celebration of Dick and Lynne Cheney's close-knit family; rather it was an attempt to rattle the socially conservative wing of Bush's base by identifying, by name, a homosexual who has access to the White House. Dirty tricks are the nature of politics, as Karl Rove and Bob Shrum would both admit after imbibing several vintage bottles of French wine, but there is a certain skill in conducting this high-wire craft. Wouldn't it have made more sense — since putting the spotlight on Mary Cheney was a strategic decision — to let one of Kerry's expendable advisers raise the issue in a casual, on-the-record discussion with the media? Kerry would then have it both ways: the intended damage would be done and he'd immediately fire the aide, sanctimoniously telling friendly reporters "That was out of bounds, and as I just told Dick and Lynne Cheney, whom I admire as parents, my campaign won't stoop to such a level."

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As it happened, Kerry himself took the brunt of criticism, especially from Mrs. Cheney, who said Bush's opponent was "not a good man" and that his reference was a "cheap and tawdry political trick." If Kerry had wanted to name names, he might've chosen Barney Frank (also from Massachusetts), a very liberal and articulate openly gay congressman who'd have welcomed the mention.

Not surprisingly, major newspapers had different views on the subject. The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 15) editorialized: "Liberals often make the mistake of assuming that anyone who opposes gay marriage is a bigot. In truth, there's been a huge shift in attitudes toward homosexuality over the past 25 years. When Mr. Bush speaks of tolerance and acceptance, as he did [during the final debate], he is reflecting the views of most Americans, including most of those on the religious right."

I think the Journal exaggerates a bit — there are plenty of bigots among the "religious right" as well as the Manhattan/Hollywood left — but compared to terrorism and the economy the issue of gay rights is pretty low on the radar.

The Daily News apparently has a jaunty new editorial writer, judging by the tabloid's opinion of "Marygate" on Oct. 15. Casting a spell on both Democrats and Republicans, the writer said, "The Kerry-Edwards job, gay-wise, has been to assure the Democratic base that, yes indeedy, we are all God's children, and simultaneously to encourage the Republican side to have a good look at Mary Cheney, who is, why, the vice president's own daughter. Does all this fast get down to the cheesier levels of political discourse? You bet. It was notably crummy of Kerry and Edwards to presume to use Mary Cheney as just one of their campaign props. At the same time, the outraged sputterings of Ma and Pa Cheney were plainly forced and calculated."

I don't watch Fox's Hannity and Colmes anymore — Hannity's not stupid, but he's as much of a shill for Bush as the Washington Post's Dana Milbank is for Kerry — but thanks to Mickey Kaus' blog, which linked to another site, I read the transcript of veteran Democratic political consultant Pat Caddell on the subject. As I mentioned last week, the Kerry camp isn't, as of yet, drawing black voters in the overwhelming numbers that Clinton or Al Gore did, partly because of resistance to the Senator's pro-abortion and pro-gay rights positions.

Caddell, no Bush partisan, but unusually honest, had a different take on Kerry's unctuous reference to Mary Cheney. He said: "This is the biggest issue that's never been discussed in this campaign, the same-sex marriage issue… And among [the] most ardent opponents of gay marriage are African-Americans, Hispanics, and voters over 65, the heart of the Democratic Party. That's who Kerry was speaking to."

Now, while Kerry's proved to be a superb candidate in a debate setting, something he can prepare for, on the campaign stump he's no match for Bush. Forget Kerry's fear mongering of last week, when he told the Des Moines Register "With George Bush, the plan for Iraq is more of the same and the great potential of the draft." That's standard fare: Even though Bush explicitly ruled out a draft during the second debate, Kerry's desperately trying to reach young voters.

And Kerry's ludicrous claim in Ohio on Oct. 17 that Bush plans a "January surprise" to cut Social Security benefits must've been crafted by the reptilian and tone-deaf Joe Lockhart. Kerry's an experienced politician: Does he really believe, if Bush wins, that the reelected President would announce such a measure in his second inaugural speech?

Still, my favorite quote from the temporarily populist Senator came from a rally in Sheboygan, Wisconsin last Friday. Maybe trying to neutralize the self-inflicted damage from last month when he called the Green Bay Packers' home "Lambert Field" instead of the correct "Lambeau Field," Kerry uncorked this one-liner: "Some brats, some cheese, a few beers, and then I can go out and talk about health care."

So that explains Kerry's goofy, Hillaryesque health care proposals during the debate. He had one too many bottles of Trois Mont!

And lest we forget — thanks to Jack Hitt's Oct. 17 Times article — Kerry's not a "brats" and nachos kind of chap. Hitt writes about the day in July when the Democratic ticket made a big deal of eating at a Wendy's. Yet afterwards, as Hitt writes: [T]hey returned to their bus, where they were greeted with a meal smuggled in from the Newburgh Yacht Club: shrimp vindaloo, grilled diver sea scallops and prosciutto-wrapped stuffed chicken."

There's little to be said for the Times' Oct. 17 endorsement of Kerry, a piece of agitprop that could've been parodied months in advance. I did chuckle, however, when the writer praised Kerry for being "blessedly [grinding home that the Senator's a man of extreme Catholic faith] willing to re-evaluate decisions when conditions change." How the Times intelligentsia knows this, is a mystery, since there's nothing to suggest in his long Congressional career that he's thought about much of anything, save getting his mug on television.

Even worse than this bunk, however, was Adam Cohen's Oct. 18 "Editorial Observer" piece which speculated on the danger of Bush selecting Supreme Court justices. Sounding like Teddy Kennedy back in '87 when he, of all people, smeared the character of Robert Bork, Cohen makes like Paul Revere and sounds the alarm. He begins: "Abortion might be a crime in most states. Gay people could be thrown in prison for having sex in their homes. States might be free to become mini-theocracies, endorsing Christianity and using tax money to help spread the gospel. The Constitution might no longer protect inmates from being brutalized by prison guards. Family and medical leave and environmental protections could disappear."

Cohen forgot to mention that Bush and his corporate cronies might close down the New York Times, doing the world a favor.

Sorry. As a First Amendment advocate, I agree that the elimination of the Times would not bode well for democracy. It's imperative that my wife no longer serves grilled sea diver scallops at dinner. The weird dreams just aren't worth it.

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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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