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Jewish World Review Oct. 11, 2004/ 26 Tishrei, 5765

Mark Steyn

Mark Steyn
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Consumer Reports

Uncoated electoral illusions |
In the vice-presidential debate, Republicans thought Dick Cheney won and Democrats thought John Edwards won. I can understand both those judgments.

In the first presidential debate, however you measured it, George W. Bush performed badly. But in the clash of vice presidential candidates it was as if each contestant was playing his own game — one guy was playing a tennis match, the other football. If you thought you were watching the Super Bowl, the football guy was clearly the winner. If you thought you were at Wimbledon, the tennis guy was serving aces.

One way to understand their isolation from each other is to picture each one trying the other's game: Imagine John Edwards gruffly running through cool hard-realist evaluations of just the facts, ma'am. Imagine Dick Cheney wallowing in mawkish hardscrabble anecdotes about his impoverished dad sitting at the kitchen table. In fact, Mr. Cheney had an impoverished dad, he just doesn't flaunt him as Mr. Edwards does his. I loved Mr. Cheney's performance because I think he is in tune with the times — grown-up, unflashy, deadly serious.

Mr. Edwards, on the other hand, driveling on like a Depression-era sob-sister about the "bright light" of America now "flickering" is one of the funniest acts I've seen in years. I thought he was supposed to be a slick ambulance-chaser, like Richard Gere in Chicago, but apparently he prefers the Little Mary Sunshine role.

I don't care about Mr. Edwards' dad and his heartwarming sepia-hued vignettes any more than I cared about the mythical "coatless girl" he used to cite in his primary speeches, a wee shivering thing whose coatlessness was supposedly a result of Bush-Cheney reducing her parents to poverty.

I offered to buy a coat for any authentically coatless girl the campaign managed to produce. Not the most generous offer on my part — girls' winter coats are $9.99 at Wal-Mart — but the Edwards camp never took me up on it. Do you recognize this Dickensian image of America? It's true there are some folks who are having a tough time finding work in certain Rust Belt states. In 2003, the U.S. unemployment rate was 6 percent, which is considered high. In Canada it was 7.8 percent; France 9.7 percent; Germany 10.5 percent — and in the last two cases these levels are permanent features of the landscape, as they would be in America if the Democrats ever get the opportunity to impose the Franco-German high-cost social welfare/government health-care system John Kerry so admires.

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America's "bright light" isn't "flickering". It's Europe where the lights are about to go out, permanently.

So, when John Edwards starts doing his John-Boy Walton routine, I say put a sock in it. If necessary, borrow a sock from the coatless girl, if her dad hasn't sold her socks to raise trolley-car fare to send her for an interview for the chimney-sweep's job at the robber baron's mansion on the other side of town.

I think the Edwards smarmarama is ridiculous. It's all about oil, as the antiwar lefties say, and on Tuesday night the oiliness was practically oozing through the TV screen and all over the floor. If every Democratic candidate was as unctuous and oleaginous as Mr. Edwards, gas would be 50 cents a gallon and we could tell the Saudis to go to hell.

But, for all the press raves Mr. Edwards gets, real hard votes have been hard to come by: in primary season, he was the insurgent who never insurged; his smarmy condescension was regarded as a winning act by the media bigshots because that's how they treat the American people, too. But, with the exception of second place in Iowa, he was a bust.

And yet, if you're as invested as the Democrats are in reconstructing the cardboard fašade of Sept. 10, 2001, before the terrorist attacks, I can understand why you would think Pretty Boy did a grand job last Tuesday. That's what my tennis/football analogy boils down to: one team's playing by September 11 rules, the others are running a Sept. 10 campaign. I find it hard to believe 51 percent of folks in states totaling 270 electoral votes are willing to cast a delusional ballot to return to the fictions of Sept. 10. But, if they are, so be it. If a majority of Americans want to pretend that the United Nations isn't a sewer of corruption and that the French are America's allies, not Saddam's, well, we'll just have to live with the consequences.

Asked about his qualifications to be vice president and thus — in the event of John Kerry being felled by a grisly windsurfing tragedy — president and commander in chief, John Edwards talked about what "the American people want in their president and in their vice president." First, he said, "they want to know that their president and their vice president will keep them safe."

Oh, phooey. That would be a neat line if the American people had all got lead-poisoning and hired you to file the all-time class-action suit on their behalf. But no president can guarantee safeness in unsafe times. What he can do is demonstrate the necessary will to roll back the threat and exterminate it, and encourage the American people to maintain that resolve, too — as Winston Churchill did in Britain's darkest hour, after the fall of France and with German invasion imminent, when he told the people "you can always take one with you." In time of war, free peoples don't stay free if they look to a smooth-talking shyster-president to shelter them in the embrace of the nanny-state.

The strongest force in international affairs is inertia. It's everywhere: a continuous pressure from the U.N., the EU, the Chinese, the Arab League, the State Department and half the federal bureaucracy to do nothing about anything — do nothing about the Sudanese genocide until everyone's dead, do nothing about Iran's nuclear program until it's complete and the silos are loaded, do nothing about anything except hold meetings and issue statements of concern.

Resisting the allure of inertia will require enormous will, not just from the president but from the American people. After the vice presidential debate, it was said by many on the right that Dick Cheney came over as the grown-up and John Edwards as the callow youth. But that goes for the audience too: Mr. Cheney treated the American people as grown-ups, Mr. Edwards condescended to the electorate as a nation of coatless girls. He's wrong, I hope.

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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.


© 2004, Mark Steyn