Jewish World Review August 10, 2004 / 25 Menachem-Av, 5764
Peter A. Brown
Kerry deserves an A in history, and in his willingness to mimic the mantra of those he has spent an entire political career vilifying
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | John Kerry's speech at the Democratic convention sounded like Ronald Reagan in his rhetorical commitment to be, if necessary, a tough and combative commander in chief.
On the campaign trail, Kerry also does an excellent imitation of Richard Nixon's 1968 promise to end the Vietnam War with a secret plan.
Kerry touts his exit strategy to bring home the U.S. troops from Iraq but won't make it public because, like Nixon then, Kerry argues that doing so would somehow render his plan inoperative.
One wonders if next on Kerry's reincarnation list of successful GOP presidential campaign pitches will be Dwight Eisenhower's 1952 pledge to bring home U.S. troops by visiting Korea - oops! - Iraq.
Kerry deserves an A in history, and in his willingness to mimic the mantra of those he has spent an entire political career vilifying.
There is a Yiddish term - chutzpah - that Webster's defines as "shameless audacity," and these days the dictionary entry could have Kerry's picture alongside it.
But then the Irish-Catholic Kerry last year - before the Democratic primaries in which Jewish voters carry disproportionate influence - suddenly took pains to publicize that his paternal grandfather was Jewish.
The important question that Kerry's behavior raises, however, is whether he has indeed turned over a new leaf and become a born-again hard-liner. Has he turned his back on a lifetime of peace marches and congressional votes to reduce federal spending on defense and intelligence gathering? Was his ability to prosper in the land of the Kennedys and his rating by the impartial National Journal as having the Senate's most liberal voting record all a facade?
That would include a slew of votes against defense spending and military operations, criticism of Reagan as a reflexive Cold Warrior who would take the United States to that third world war that never occurred, precisely because Reagan's hard line worked.
Or it is legitimate to ask whether Kerry's current Reagan-like rhetorical demeanor is an astutely nuanced result of a facile understanding that even in a deeply polarized country his record still isn't close to falling within the political mainstream?
Perhaps Kerry really is a new man. Maybe Sept. 11 convinced him that he needed to re-examine his worldview. If so, however, why did he suddenly discover this new persona only after clinching the Democratic nomination earlier this year?
Primary candidate Kerry was successful by competing with Howard Dean for the Democratic voters who thought the war in Iraq was not only badly managed but wrongly conceived.
Of course, Kerry has the advantage of knowing that there are millions of voters who hate George W. Bush so much that they'll vote for him anyway, believing that his Reagan and Nixon imitations really are just an act. He has been quite adept, so far, at marginalizing Ralph Nader's efforts to coalesce the antiwar folks toward that independent candidacy.
Kerry's minions will respond that their candidate quoting Reagan is no different than the Gipper invoking Franklin D. Roosevelt on the campaign trail. They are right - but only superficially. Reagan extolled FDR's optimism and manner. On matters of substance, however, the Gipper presided over the reversal of the New Deal's signature achievement - a larger government role in American life.
Moreover, Reagan admired FDR's ability to guide America through troubled times. Kerry sees the Reagan years as a source of our problems today. The key question is whether Kerry has the political skills to successfully adapt Nixon's secret plan.
Remember, earlier this year Kerry claimed that he had spoken with unnamed foreign leaders who were rooting for him to prevail because they could not stomach Bush. When challenged to name names, of course, Kerry backed down into obfuscation.
We'll see if Americans will buy Kerry's secret plan, which his supporters say will succeed because foreign leaders like him better than Bush, not because they have suddenly become convinced of the rightness of the U.S. cause.
The voters allowed Nixon to win without putting his cards on the table. Later, in Watergate, they found out he spoke with forked tongue. Ever since, Americans have demanded more candor and openness from their politicians.
Maybe voters will force Kerry to choose between his Rambo imitation and his political history that puts Ted Kennedy to his right. If not, Kerry can quote another Republican president - Calvin Coolidge, perhaps - in his inauguration address.
08/03/04: Kerry's challenge: Closing the deal