Jewish World Review August 3, 2004 / 16 Menachem-Av, 5764

Matt Rosenberg

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Hardline humor about prez reveals a lot about his opponents


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | I'm trying to get a handle on what constitutes "humor" for the hardline, anti-Bush Left. And I'm having a hard time. What I'm getting in Seattle, as of this weekend just past is - perhaps fortunately for George W. Bush - a broader, and thoroughly distasteful phenomenon.


Example One: I'm coming out of a store in West Seattle's central shopping district early Saturday evening and getting back into my car. Three white guys in their late 30s/early 40s are walking into a local sushi restaurant. A nice place actually, I eat there myself. I overhear this bit of conversation.


"....and the sticker said, 'Bush is a lying sack of s**t.'" Hearty chuckles all around. They go in the door.


OK, I missed the set-up. But I have to wonder, what kind of "joke" or humorous anecdote has this as the pay-off? I'm stumped, frankly.


Example Two: I'm at a birthday celebration for a close friend Saturday evening. As is usually the case in the Blue State where I live, every one else present is a Democrat. I'm used to this, and have some good conversations with people, including some civil talk with one Democratic party animal who quite obviously doesn't share my support for Bush or the Iraq effort.


Then another guy offers this. It's a joke, but revealing. He's got the perfect way to kill Republicans. A special gun that shoots golf balls. The operator will hide in a tree in golf courses and pick out victims. No one will know it's the work of a sniper because the cause of death will seem a plausible accident each time, he explains. His preferred target: Bush.


Um, oops. Moderate suburbanites in many swing states - and Washington is just about one of those in the Presidential race - don't go for this stuff, which is evident everywhere, from online venues to bumper stickers and yard signs.


Multiply such misguided natterings ten-thousand-fold daily and you've got the heart and pulse of Kerrydom. Which highlights Kerry's need to articulate a clear vision and pull enough swing voters into his column to win.


That didn't even begin to happen last week, says Oakland pastor and Internet commentator Byron Williams at the lefty rag Working For Change. He says Kerry's performance at the Democratic Convention last week was uninspired; reminding him that Kerry was chosen by Democratic primary voters for his resume, above all.

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"Practically every speaker reminded the faithful that John Kerry was a war hero. The speeches given by the retired generals supporting Kerry (were) powerful, but they were not carried by network television....There wasn't much talk about the legislation he has authored because there is not much to speak of. The Democrats nominated Sen. Kerry because of the perception that he could win....On the heart-and-soul meter, my nonscientific polling places Kerry's nomination speech no higher than sixth among those at the convention, easily trailing Kennedy, Obama, Rev. Al Sharpton, vice presidential nominee John Edwards and, of course, Clinton."


Example Three: Williams then frankly concedes the intellectual and political poverty at the heart of the Kerry effort.


"Conventional wisdom suggests the "anybody but Bush" strategy may not be the most effective one. If the Democratic National Convention is any indicator, for all of the unity, nostalgia and patriotism that was on display, 'anybody but Bush' may be all the substance they have. This year, however, it may be all they need."


Democrats had better hope the Kerry campaign is shooting higher.


Why? Consider Example Four: A prominent Democrat, St. Paul, Minnesota Mayor Randy Kelly, Sunday jumped ship, declaring his support for George W. Bush. He cited the moral vacuum of the Hate Bush left; the need for Bush's continued leadership against terrorism, and on Iraq and the U.S. economy.


Mayor Kelly said: "I am more determined than ever to send the message to my sons, and to the sons and daughters of other Moms and Dads in St. Paul, Minnesota and America, that we can, we should and we must stop, now, this poison partisanship that threatens to destroy the national will to come together to win the War on Terror here, at home, and across the world."


"...Americans are looking for strong, steady, and principled leadership. They crave politicians who stand for something, rather than rally us against someone. The American people I know, the ones I represent in St. Paul, care about leaders who stand steady in difficult times, who do not waver nor bend to the wind. They want strong, determined leadership, and I believe George Bush provides us that leadership today at this point in our history....Whatever the cost of this decision is to me, the expense of remaining quiet in this election year is of far greater consequence to me."


Kelly's shot across the bow of the Kerry campaign betrays an uneasiness I suspect other Democrats must feel with Kerry's apparent desire to "game" a victory, relying on dislike of Bush and maybe a few good negative news pegs as Election Day draws closer.


The last part was explained to me by an elected Democratic state politico, who's been in the game for quite some time. He says Kerry's middling performance last week was part of a conscious strategy. People aren't likely to be paying much attention to grand themes right now, so why go there? The point of the speech, this loyal D believes, was primarily to inoculate against perceptions of Kerry's weakness and equivocation on Iraq, and terrorism.


I pressed him: what are Kerry's core values? None are glaringly evident right now, the D replied, but that's OK. He explained the Kerry campaign will be looking for opportunistic hooks for their message in swing states, such as bad economic news that will resonate in Ohio. That's the kind of stuff that could put Kerry in the White House, he said.


Undecided voters in the presidential election ARE going to be much more influenced than the base on either side by breaking news; whether it's another terrorist attack on the U.S., the thwarting of same, the capture of Osama, or something dramatic on the economy, which I don't expect.


So this D soothsayer may be on to something. But it's a thin, thin string to clench. Likewise (Oakland pastor) Williams' hope the "anybody but Bush" theme constitutes a winning message.


It still comes back to this. With Bush, you know what you've got. Kerry remains the international man of mystery.



Freelance writer Matt Rosenberg contributed a regular guest op-ed column to The Seattle Times for three years. Click here to visit his site. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2004, Matt Rosenberg