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Jewish World Review August 26, 2004 / 9 Elul, 5764

James Lileks

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The character (or lack) behind the Kerry candidacy | If presidents weren't limited to two terms, the Boston convention would have seen a familiar face at the podium, accepting his fourth nomination. I'm Bill Clinton, and I'm reporting for booty!

Leaving aside that pesky constitutional prohibition, Clinton could have gotten the nod if he'd wanted. He would have beat George W. Bush in 2000. He would probably beat Bush today, given our nostalgia for the happy, shiny '90s. But perhaps he enjoys retirement. Sure, it's good to be king, but there's something to be said for turning on "Monday Night Football" and letting someone else worry about loony long-beards with nukes.

So why does John Kerry want the job? It's the end of a private life, forever.

You can never walk down to the corner store for a beer again. You can't even rent "Wild Things 2" at the video store without wondering whether the Secret Service agent is noting your selection behind his dark glasses. The pay isn't bad, but your wife drops that every month in jet fuel bills. Half the country, which otherwise would have no opinion about you, now loathes your guts. Unless, of course, you have 80 percent approval ratings because you really united everyone after New York got nuked. But that's going down on your permanent record.

So why does Kerry want to be president?

The reason is almost tautological: John Kerry wants to be president because he is John Kerry, and John Kerry is supposed to be president. Hence his campaign's flummoxed and tone-deaf response to the swift boat vets. Ban the books, sue the stations, retreat, attack. Underneath it all you can sense the confusion. How dare they attack Kerry? He's supposed to be president. It's almost treason in advance.

It's not enough to believe you should be president. Clueless mortals need some hints. Is he motivated by a broad ideological agenda? There's no Kerry Doctrine, no Kerry Approach, no Tony-Blair-style "third way" gambit. There's just Lurch, lurching.

The war? He's said he would have gone to Iraq even if he knew then what he knows now — he just would have done it differently, whatever that means. He has endorsed the concept of pre-emptive war — but of course he would do it differently. It all seems to boil down to getting the French and the Germans on board so they can complain about the food and the quality of the sheets. He's pro-war when it counts, anti-war when it matters.

Inconsistencies are irrelevant, because he's consistently John Kerry. And he's supposed to be president.

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Is he running to reseed the blasted heath we call America? But he's already had decades in the Senate without much to show for his effort. Good for him! Run on that record! It would be a refreshing campaign ad: "For years I have steadfastly avoided using my power to screw things up, preferring to aid the people of my state with small riders on large bills. Who am I to overturn the American health care system? I can, however, provide a nice swimming pool for poor Bostonians."

It's fair to wonder why Bush wanted the job — and please, spare us all the Daddy psychobabble. Bush wanted to be president for the usual reasons. It looks nice on the resume. It's a select club. You might get your face on money or a mountain.

He had two issues: tax cuts and cutting taxes, with some mushy conservatism thrown in to realign moderate voters. If Sept. 11 hadn't happened, he'd be running again for no particular reason except inertia. Who wants to move after just four years? You have to pack, you have to change your magazine subscriptions. It's easier to stay.

But Sept. 11 changed him and his presidency. He wants to win the war and change the world. That usually takes more than one term; ask FDR.

Some men run because they truly wish to shake up the old order. Alan Keyes ran because he believed passionately in his ideals, but unfortunately he struck many people as somewhat insane. Ronald Reagan ran because he believed in a new direction, and inhabited his ambitions with ease and grace.

John Kerry is running because his turn has finally come. See also: Bob Dole, Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale. And Richard Nixon.

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JWR contributor James Lileks is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


08/19/04: Time for Old Media to make like McGreevey
08/12/04: Another Swing Vote: the Sufferers of Sudden Bush Hatred Fatigue Syndrome
08/05/04: Is Kerry's Problem nuance? Or is it obfuscation?
07/30/04: Intimate liability
07/26/04: Sandy Berger's classified wardrobe
07/15/04: Pretty faces, ugly words
07/08/04: Genocide can't happen if we banish the word
07/01/04: Dropping political discourse level
06/24/04: Kerry's Science Buddies and the Silly Sanctity of Life
06/17/04: Behold the Summer of Bill Clinton!
06/10/04: Whatever happened to respect for the presidency?
06/03/04: Tales at the intersection of war and popular culture
05/20/04: Athletes on Notice: Strive Unflaggingly
05/13/04: America likes Rumsfeld, and the Dems can't take it
05/07/04: Kerry Supporters Have a New Take on Vietnam War
05/05/04: New cell phone does everything, but there's a problem...
04/29/04: John Kerry, prisoner of symbolic politics
04/22/04: Shall we grovel? Kerry Plan to Restore America's Place in the World
04/08/04: Sept. 11 Might Have Been Different If ...
04/02/04: Slinging slime or citing facts?
03/26/04: One War, One Enemy
03/22/04: Bloodied Spain Rejoins Old Europe
03/12/04: Why All Those Foreign Leaders Want Kerry to Whup Bush
03/08/04: Introducing the Kerry Doctrine
02/27/04: Introducing the AWOLs: Angry White Outraged Libs
02/20/04: Sifting the headlines of election year 1992
02/18/04: Guess Which Candidate Our Enemies Want to Lose in 2004?
01/29/04: Every Laptop a Truth Squad
01/27/04: When the battle over artistic freedom goes over the edge
12/31/03: For the Left and Right, Some New Year's Resolutions
12/22/03: Dean's black helicopters
12/15/03: Dems Are Mainstreaming the Extreme
12/08/03: Does Dean Really Want to Be President? One Wonders, When He Opens His Mouth
11/24/03: The real story: Most Brits see U.S. as force for good
11/19/03: The Trouble With Al Gore's Screed on Civil Liberties
11/11/03: Can a fellow win with the Confederate Metrosexual vote?
10/22/03: Let's make Greenpeace pay
09/29/03: Ah-nold & Clark may be on different sides of the aisles, but their supporters are cut from the same cloth
09/19/03: All Hail the Ninth Circuit Court of Surreal
08/26/03: This time, the record industry doesn't stand a chance!
08/18/03: Assessing the Schwarzenegger Factor in Republicanism
08/08/03: No wonder Howard ‘Two Covers’ Dean gets all the buzz
08/04/03: Expect bad news for the foreseeable future
07/28/03: Despot's Deserts
07/21/03: No winners in this game of gotcha
07/14/03: Doing the right thing in Liberia may not be the right thing to do
06/27/03: On feet in Democratic mouths
06/16/03: The real story behind Hillary's book
06/09/03:America's new mission was and remains: Extirpating the flaming nutballs and the societies that nurture them
06/03/03: The Constitution as gag order
05/23/03: Sometimes the theme of world events is chaos itself
05/16/03: Newspapers are only human, after all
05/13/03: What McCarthy messed up
05/06/03: Still think the International Criminal Court was a good idea?
04/03/03: The world is ending, the world is ending! Doesn't anybody care!? Why won't anybody listen!?
03/14/03: Kerry and the Dems are banking on American electorate's tendancy to forget history
02/28/03: Roadmap to peace?
02/13/03: We live in an age where the poet has been cast out from the halls of power --- sob, sob
02/10/03: Found: League for International Justice and Peace talking points
01/30/03: The US can go to war whenever it likes for its own reasons, and all the UN can do is pass more worthless paper
01/23/03: People who'd volunteer for the Iraqi army if they saw Saddam wearing a "Free Mumia" button
01/16/03: One of those head vs. heart things
12/27/02: Whistleblowers?
01/06/02: The second year of this jangled millennium
11/16/01: Attack of the 'Patriotism police' and other Hollywood fare
11/12/01: From the bleats of dismay
10/30/01: Osama and the Genie
10/08/01: "We can stop the Bush Death Juggernaut"
11/04/01: America, loathe or it leave it
09/25/01: Do the Europeans actually think that the war on murderous zealotry will be furthered by undercutting America?
08/27/01: If the economy is in a funk, why aren't we dancing?
08/14/01: Dubyah's embarrassing presidential vacation
08/10/01: Hail to our co-chiefs?
08/03/01: Constitution: George the Uniter picked a doozy to unify detractors
07/25/01: The real reason why we need missile defense (What those uppity policy wonks won't tell you!)
06/18/01: Paining the egalitarian soul
06/01/01: One of the stranger indexes you'll ever hear about
05/21/01: One man's toke is another man's snort
05/08/01: Republicans want poisoned water
04/23/01: We bleat as we're sheared
04/10/01: Boys will be boys. And that's the problem
04/06/01: Pity the anti-American Left, they're gonna have a hard time on this one
03/26/01: You've been warned
03/16/01: The GOP's inexplicable desire to fold
02/23/01: Will the Jeb Bush administration attack Saddam in 2011?
02/09/01: In search of the the first ashtray thrown by a member of the First Family
02/06/01: Can you say 'Ayatollah Bush'?
01/24/01: The new Executive Orders
01/22/01: Hey, Dubya: Wanna save Ashcroft? Teach him to rap!
01/09/01: Bubba gets his last licks
01/05/01: The low-down on the coming recession (What those snooty economists won't tell you)
12/23/00: Memo to Dubya: Wanna show who is boss? Nuke 'em!
12/06/00: The Count of Carthage
At the Sore/Loserman Transition HQ
12/01/00: The Count of Carthage
11/28/00: Clinton knows history isn't written by the victors anymore
11/17/00: Chad's the word
11/08/00: The strangest political night
11/07/00: Get ready to return to the Dark Ages

© 2003, James Lileks