Wednesday, November 1, 2006

I'd Like To Believe Him, But …

Kerry's post "botched joke" news conference
Give me five more John Kerry’s,” says Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.). “He’s a fighter, and he puts his money where his mouth is.” – Roll Call, 5.1.06, as quoted on

***** ***** ***** ***** *****
IMUS: Did you say you were going back to Washington?
KERRY: I’m going to go back to Washington. And I’m going to go back to tackle this, you bet.
IMUS: OK. You’re not going to Tennessee for Harold Ford, are you?
IMUS: Good.
KERRY: I was not going down there.
IMUS: Thank you...
-- Imus in the Morning, Nov 1, 2006, as transcribed by MSNBC
Say what you will about whether Republicans are making fair hay of Sen. John Kerry's remarks in California last Sunday (no, they are not, and yes, it is good politics), but even the most liberal of liberal die-hard Democrats have to admit this was an avoidable gaffe by a criminally inept campaigner. This time it didn't take even swift-boating to get Kerry on the ropes he can never seem to disentangle himself from because he is happy to steam over his own tow line. My goodness – even when he gets indignant he sounds insincere.

Here is the problem: it is traditional liberal dogma that the armed forces are overweighted with underclass people. This was a rallying cry during Vietnam and is an especially potent charge when there is a draft, since the privileged can usually get deferments or easier duty than being sent to the front.

Some who espouse the point of view that the U.S. military is endemically comprised of poor, undereducated kids -- unlike, say, Israel's -- take it a step or two further, alleging that macro economic forces are manipulated so that poor, undereducated kids see military service in a better light than they would if there were more good jobs in the private sector to be had.

So, the more conspiratorial theory goes, why bother going to too much trouble to protect domestic jobs when you need a steady supply of recruits? President Reagan fueled this fire a bit by including the military in jobless rates reporting. Critics said this was a disingenuous way of hiding the true rate of unemployment. Reagan said it reflected the reality that service in the military is a job.

Kerry has to know all this, and what a sensitive subject it remains, even if he didn't read the Heritage Foundation report on this subject which came out two days earlier. Maybe he even believes some of it. I think in his aristocratic version of liberalism it's possible he'd be tone deaf to what is implicit in the basic argument – when you suggest that dupes are being manipulated by evil people, you aren't just calling your enemies evil but your friends dupes. This is a trap that people who want to do good sometimes trip, in all innocence.

So that's why I think Kerry has been caught completely off-guard by this, and why his people are struggling to find the envelope the original joke was written on. The defense is that Kerry left one word was left out. So it comes down to the meaning of "us."

Sadly, none of this had to happen. Kerry is running for nothing. He lost the last presidential election that few believed a Democrat could lose. Not nearly enough time has elapsed for a Gore-ification. So why is Kerry even campaigning for the Phil Angelides, a sacrificial lamb who is going to be slaughtered by Arnold Schwarzenegger? I mean, what is the point?

Kerry has, thankfully, decided to cancel his upcoming campaign appearances, affirming my strategic advice to his 2004 presidential team (in my mind): if only you will be quiet and stop campaigning, maybe you will win.

This time, listen to Imus: please stop it.

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