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Jewish World Review Feb. 23, 2004/ 1 Adar, 5763

Mark Steyn

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So which would America rather have: Pretty Boy or Long Face? |
Last weekend, George W Bush went to Florida for Nascar's Daytona 500 race. His likely Democratic rival, John F Kerry, did not approve. "We don't need," he declared, in the portentous drone he has been perfecting for three decades, "a President who says, 'Gentlemen, start your engines.' We need a President who says, 'America, let's start our economy.' "

Hmm. If this is the best material Senator Kerry's high-price consultants can provide, it is going to be a long, long while from here to November. It's unlikely that any but the most partisan Democrats can stomach nine months of a candidate who is Al Gore without the personal charm and affable public-speaking style. The Massachusetts Senator with the patrician manner and a face as long as his one-liners is the Default Democrat. He is the guy the party's voters fell back on after concluding that Howard Dean, the surging Vermonter, was, in the pithy summation of the union boss Gerald McEntee, "nuts". And McEntee was a Dean supporter.

So Democrats decided that Kerry was more "electable". Which he is, next to Dean - in the same way that, if Saddam Hussein and Robert Mugabe entered the Iowa caucuses, Farmer Bob would be Mister Electable. But, once Saddam had thrown in the towel, you'd start wondering whether Bob Mugabe was really the best you could do.

So, having anointed Kerry as the unDean, a significant chunk of Democrats are now looking around for the unKerry. The only guy available is John Edwards, the pretty-boy trial lawyer from North Carolina. He is 50 but looks about 13, which is kind of refreshing after that strange feeling you get a third of a way into Kerry's stump speech that your body's atrophying and crumbling to dust. In Tuesday's Wisconsin primary, Senator Edwards ran Kerry a strong second and came bouncing out on stage, his fabulous bangs (that's "fringe" in British) dancing in the air like a Charlie's Angels title sequence.

He said that the voters of Wisconsin had sent a message: "Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear." These words are printed on the wing mirrors of every American automobile, and Edwards meant them as a jocular warning to Kerry: you may be in the driver's seat but I'm closing in fast. He was upbeat and breezy and his line, if only by comparison with the President-who'll-start-the-economy gag, was cute.

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At that point, over at Kerry HQ, the frontrunner decided it was time to get Pretty Boy off the air, so he walked out and started his victory speech, knowing the networks would cut away from Edwards to him. Not such a smart move. For the television audience, Edwards's solitary minute was entertaining, Kerry's 20 minutes of hollow stump banalities was a sonorous snoozeroo: "The motto of the state of Wisconsin is 'Forward' and I want to thank the state of Wisconsin for moving this cause and this campaign forward tonight here in this great state. Tonight I say to all of America, get ready. A new day is on the way."

It may be a new day, but already a lot of us are finding it hard to stay awake. As The New York Times put it, when Senator Kerry "bumped Mr Edwards's own ebullient speech off the air, it was as if a pep rally had morphed into math class". When you are too dull a Democrat even for The New York Times, you've got a problem.

On the other hand, if Edwards is the unKerry, he is developing a distressing habit of never doing quite well enough. If Edwards were to come a narrow first instead of a close second, the Kerry bubble would burst: he wins because he's seen as likely to win. Alas, coming a close second is pretty much all Edwards does. He was a close second in Iowa, a close second in Oklahoma, a close second in Wisconsin.

The only difference is that coming a close second in an eight-man race in late January is more impressive than coming a close second in a four-man race in late February. Given that on Super Tuesday, March 2, it will be impossible for Senator Edwards to come worse than second, he really has to win something, and he doesn't seem to have the wit or energy to pull those extra few thousands votes that would put him over the top.

So the race has come down to a weak default candidate v a glamorous insurgent who is not quite glamorous to insurge sufficiently. Other than that, there is not much to choose between them. Both men are enormously wealthy. Kerry was a blueblood of relatively minor means who married a woman worth $300 million and then traded up to a woman worth $500 million. If I were Teresa Heinz Kerry I'd be worried, now Massachusetts is introducing gay marriage, that hubby may start giving the come-hither look to some of the state's elderly bachelor billionaires.

By contrast, John Edwards had a dirt-poor hard-scrabble childhood but managed to sue his way out of poverty. He has made 25 million bucks just from suing tobacco companies. His is an inspirational message: If I can do it, the rest of you haven't a hope in hell. But fortunately I've got a thousand new government programs and micro-initiatives that will partially ameliorate your hopeless mediocrity. (I paraphrase.)

My favorite line in the Edwards spiel comes about two-thirds in, when, after outlining the regulatory hell in which he is going to ensnare banks, the pharmaceutical industry, etc, he confides: "But I'll be honest with you. I don't think I can change this country by myself." It's good to know the other 280 million Americans aren't entirely redundant. His basic pitch is that the entire electorate are victims, and his candidacy is the all-time biggest class-action suit on your behalf.

Edwards is condescending. Kerry is far too grand to condescend. But both are agreed that America is a vast wasteland of unemployed, shivering, diseased losers. For single-issue guys like me, Edwards barely says a word on Iraq and the war, though I am inclined to think he'd be better than Kerry. The latter seems eager to do whatever Chirac and Kofi want, whereas with Edwards there's always the possibility he will wind up suing the UN Security Council for emotional distress. More importantly, even as he's painting his heart-wrenching portraits of starving children, Edwards is sunny, albeit in a grotesque and mawkish way. And, as a general rule, the sunnier disposition wins (see Bush/Gore, Clinton/Dole, Reagan/Mondale).

It is true that in his five years in Washington Edwards hasn't accomplished anything, but then neither has Kerry, and he has been there four times as long. If Pretty Boy wins somewhere, anywhere, on Super Tuesday, the mantle of inevitability falls away from Kerry. If he doesn't, Dems are stuck with the default guy, and by April they're going to be awful sick of him.

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JWR contributor Mark Steyn is North American Editor of The (London) Spectator and the author, most recently, of "The Face of the Tiger," a new book on the world post-Sept. 11. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.

02/17/04: The Default Democrat from another world
02/10/04: Kerry won't scare any of the big beasts
02/02/04: The Kerry biography: He's risen without trace
01/26/04: Mad Dr. Dean jolts Kerry campaign to life
01/21/04: Undoing the party herd
01/13/04: llIegals the political 'untouchables'
01/05/04: Don't leave Saddam trial to the 'jet set'
12/30/03: Doers and disparagers
12/23/03: Spates of denial
12/16/03: Defiant? He's a Ba'athist who won't bath
12/10/03: Rummy speaks the truth, not gobbledygook
12/02/03: War on terror can't stop with Iraq
11/24/03: It's not Vietnam and Bush is no Kennedy
11/12/03: There is a Cold War between the US and the EU
10/28/03: Muslim paranoia: Enemies made us impotent!

10/28/03:The CIA scandal is important not because it put an agent's life at risk — it didn't — but because it shows that US Intelligence is either obstructive or inept
10/08/03: Palestinian death cult
09/29/03: Bring on the capitalists
09/22/03: Here comes General Clark, his policies will follow shortly
09/17/03: Don't wait for government protection
09/11/03: Predators aren't looking for peace
09/02/03: This is Hillary's moment — You go, girl!
08/29/03: There are now calls for greater UN involvement in Iraq. Thatís the last thing the country needs
08/26/03: There's only one hyperpower — so everything is our fault
08/04/03: The White Man's Burden
07/29/03: Bill Clinton got this right
06/25/03: It's Mullah time!
05/07/03: What counts is what a guy does when he's not talking
04/30/03: It's named UNSCAM for a very good reason!
04/14/03: Movers and shakers have moved on to the next 'disaster'
03/25/03: Give Saddam credit
03/18/03: 'Eurabia' will have to look after herself
02/27/03: Death wish
02/19/03: The curtain will come down on the peaceniks
02/10/03: Let's quit the UN
02/03/03: Columbia reality-check
01/29/03: Go forth and multiply
01/09/03: America's fake identity crisis
12/31/02: GOP underperforms, but Dems are laughable
11/26/02: A bombing pause --- for 12 months!?
10/30/02: Stop making excuses for Muslim extremists
09/27/02: The more inventively you try to ''explain'' the Islamist psychosis as a rational phenomenon to be accommodated, the more you risk sounding just as nutty as them
08/23/02: Battered Westerner Syndrome inflicted by myopic Muslim defenders
08/09/02: Friends in low places
08/02/02: Armageddon out of here
07/26/02: Enjoy the ''scandal'' while you can, lads
07/16/02: Arafat is toast; Bush knows it --- so why doesn't the rest of the world?
07/10/02: Hey, FBI: So, denial really is a river in Egypt!
06/20/02: A fight to the finish
06/11/02: Rock, royalty a good match
05/31/02: Unless we change our ways ... the world faces a future where things look pretty darn good
05/24/02: Sweet land of liberty: Britain and Europe have free governments, but only in the US are the people truly free
05/14/02: Extreme hypocrisy in the pursuit of 'peace' is ...
05/10/02: The home office of extremism
05/01/02 Slipping down the Eurinal of history: France, the joke is on you
04/23/02 It's time to snap out of Arab fantasy land
04/16/02 Mideast war exposes 'ugly Europeans'
04/09/02 Arafat has begun his countdown to oblivion. Now it's time to crush the Palestinian uprising
03/27/02 The good, the bad and the Gallic shrug
03/20/02 Grand convocation of the weird

© 2004, Mark Steyn