Jewish World Review August 2, 2004/ 15 Menachem-Av, 5764
"The embattled farmers stood and fired the shot heard round the world," declared Ted Kennedy, in a moment of Revolutionary War nostalgia. Or he would have done, if he'd managed to stick to his text. But, in a strikingly erratic performance even by his standards, what actually emerged from the senator's lips was: They "fired the shirt round the world.''
That sums up better than anything what the Democratic Party's been trying to do this last week for its presidential candidate: fire the stuffed shirt round the world, put a rocket up a guy who seems weighed down by his own self-importance and project him into the stratosphere. All the star speakers through the week were the equivalents of those bits of the rocket that boost you up into space and then fall away, leaving just the little capsule up there. And, who knows, if they boosted him up high enough, maybe nobody would notice just how little there is to John Kerry's little capsule.
Well, that was the theory. "I'm John Kerry," began the candidate on Thursday night, "and I'm reporting for duty!"
Democratic Party partisans appreciate this stuff a stageful of Swifties, the war-wounded Max Cleland, "we band of brothers, a little older, a little grayer" but they appreciate it mainly as a post-modern jest, a way of sticking it to the GOP. To anybody else, including those sought-after "swing voters" in "battleground states," it's starting to sound a little weird. John Kerry says he's running on his record, but, of his four decades of adult life, he's running on his four months in Vietnam. Of the other 39 years and eight months, there's nary a word.
Take any one of the showbiz luminaries at the Dem convention Glenn Close, say. Imagine if she's up for a big role in a new movie and the producers say, "Well, what have you done?" And she says, "I've got a great resume. I did summer stock in Vermont in 1969. Third Indian maiden in Rose-Marie." And no, I'm not comparing Vietnam to summer stock: What I'm saying is that, whatever you were doing in 1969, it's simply unnatural to emphasize that at the expense of the subsequent 35 years. Certainly, no previous veteran Dole, Bush Sr., Carter, McGovern ever thought to do it.
Vietnam's paying diminishing returns for Kerry. The more he harps on it the more hollow seems the post-Vietnam Kerry i.e., Senator Kerry and the more he sounds like a man whose world view was frozen in the '60s. "We believed we could change the world," he said of those times. "And you know what? We did. But we're not finished."
Just what we need: more boomer self-congratulation. Amid the variously labored song titles selected for the Convention "We Are Family," "You've Got A Friend" the one that struck me as most pertinent to the Kerry campaign was "Blowin' In The Wind.'' The archetypal weathervane pol thinks he's got it figured out: The voters want tough talk "strong," "stronger," "strengthen" evidently all poll-test well but rather less action when they switch on the evening news. So Kerry's position on the war is this:
"Any attack will be met with a swift and certain response."
Got that? If the Empire State Building's taken out, he'll certainly respond to it. Next time 'round, there won't be any mistakes about where the WMD are because they'll be in the middle of a big crater in Chicago.
For me that one line encapsulates the stale, dozy complacency of the supposedly complex Kerry. Others evidently feel differently. But it seems to me emblematic of the Democratic Party's problem intellectually: It's almost wholly reactionary: on national security, on Social Security. What are the Democrats for? Well, they're for getting rid of George W. Bush, but what else?
Floundering for a cause with which to rally the citizenry, the party eventually found one: itself. "Our greatness is also measured by our goodness," declared Howard Dean.
"I've seen it in the people I've met and their desire to take our country back for the American people. I saw it in a college student in Pennsylvania who sold her bicycle and sent us a check for $100 with a note that said, 'I sold my bicycle for democracy.' "
Really? John F. Kerry's bicycle cost $8,000. Why doesn't he sell his for democracy? If you throw in the designer French T-shirt and buttock-hugging lemon-hued lycra shorts, you'd probably be up around an even ten grand. When Howard Dean and John Kerry and John Edwards talk about "change," what they mean is you send these bazillionaire grandees the hundred-dollar bill and they'll keep the change.
What did that co-ed cutie get for her hundred bucks? Presumably she sent it to Governor Dean because he was anti-war. He lost to Senator Kerry, who at that time was for-and-against the war, in the same way that he's for-and-against abortion and for-and-against gay marriage. But he seems to have come down, Iraq-wise, on the "for" side of the ledger. He'll be spending a little more time ineffectually chit-chatting with Kofi and Jacques and Gerhard, but other than that his Iraq policy is sounding more like Bush's every day. That college kid ponied up her $100 and isn't getting a lot of "change." I wonder if she's missing her bicycle this summer.
There's a narcissism about the tone of this convention that cuts to the heart of the Democratic Party's difficulties: They don't believe in anything except their monopoly of goodness. That's why John Edwards' supposedly "appealing biography" is appealing only when put next to John Kerry's. Instead of marrying his money, he sued his way into it. But his message doesn't resonate with most Americans because it boils down to: If I can do it, you can't. But here's some government programs instead. On the other hand, Edwards' very condescension to the downtrodden masses confirms middle-class liberals in their sense of their own virtue.
That's the essence of this convention: a condescending media congratulating a condescending leadership for effectively communicating to their condescending activists their plans for everyone else. John F. Kerry should enjoy it while he can. It's downhill from here.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington
and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
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