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Jewish World Review Oct. 20, 2004 / 6 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765

James Lileks

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Kerry's Senate Record is a 78 played at 33 RPM | In his recent speech in New Jersey, President Bush hammered on John Kerry's Senate record. Such as it is. It's like taking a blacksmith's hammer to a sheet of tinfoil. Can't get any thinner.

Granted, the bare bones of a voting record don't tell the whole story. Saying someone "voted against a weapon system" can be misleading. A parsimonious senator might have voted against a bill declaring May 2nd National Mandatory Spam Consumption Day because it had a rider adding $20 billion to develop robot sharks with laser-beam eyes. While such weapons might be handy, a senator may wish to address the issue separately from the issue of spurious meat. You have to look at the details, in other words.

Say what you will about Bush, the record is clear and blunt and simple.

Taliban: gone. Saddam: gone. Tax cuts: booyah! Deficit: (cough). No Child Left Behind still strikes most as a catch-phrase and a talking point. Prescription drug entitlement hasn't quite penetrated the national consciousness. Perhaps the most vivid part of his record: 9/11 wasn't followed by 5/25 or 2/03. We know what Bush has done, in other words.

An examination of Kerry's record shows that he's done very little in two decades. Bush says Kerry passed five bills. Kerry says he passed 56.

Well, according to, a Web site run by the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center, the story is a bit different. Kerry authored seven bills that passed, co-authored four, and co-authored four joint resolutions.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact it almost seems counterintuitive for a Republican to hammer a Democrat for insufficient legislating. Imagine if he had belonged to the Bill of the Month Club:

  • S. 146 — Changed the generally accepted pronunciation of "Genghis Khan" to "Jen-jis."

  • S. 189 — Petioned the International Olympic Committee to include the 30-meter medal toss as a recognized event.

  • S. 346 — Congratulated Dick Cheney on his daughter's birthday, and let the Congressional Record show she's a lesbian.

You'd expect such things from an average senator. We don't expect the Senate to generate good ideas. Senators are the great mediators.

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The Senate is the saucer in which the nation's passions are cooled, then dribbled out onto the tablecloth and blotted up by the servants who apologize even though they didn't spill the coffee. It's a millionaire's club whose occupants run the range from ancient steam-powered devices like Robert Byrd, to Mark Dayton, the Minnesota newbie who made headlines when he rabbited out of D.C., citing a fortune cookie message that could have been construed as a terrorist warning.

There are guys like John Edwards, who breeze in for a term, make serious faces on a few committees, and appear to enjoy being a senator in the sense that Gidget enjoyed being a girl. There are serious types like Daniel Moynihan, the gold standard for steel-trap intellect and decency. Then there are the Kerrys.

So what did he do? He authored a save-the-dolphins bill that he might have withdrawn if the dolphins had ever come out against the Sandinistas. He took co-authorship credit on several "joint resolutions," including one to make Oct. 22-28, 1989, "World Population Awareness Week." Remember that? All the parties, the street festivals, the lovely collectible snowdomes? Good times. And it was such a success, he co-authored another joint resolution in 1991, just to recapture the magic. There were two other joint resolutions to establish more special days, both in 1992 — which means he hasn't even come up with one of those rote ceremonial flourishes in 12 years.

Again: Thank you, Sen. Kerry, for not doing any more damage than you might have done. But if one is going to insist that one has fought for working families, fought for health care, fought for defense, it might be helpful to show where one led the charge. Otherwise, "fighting" sounds a lot like nodding your head as the parade goes by, and imagining you're the guy with the baton.

Incidentally, John Kerry has a plan to strengthen America's parades. And he'll fight for it.

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


10/14/04: Meaning of War on Terror eludes Kerry
10/06/04: Kerry's global test fails the reality exam
09/29/04: Dems' mixed messages alienate the Center
09/23/04: Kerry's almost just about final position on Iraq
09/21/04: Will anyone trust them again?
09/09/04: Now can you name the enemy?
09/02/04: Save America from those who would save it
08/26/04: The character (or lack) behind the Kerry candidacy
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

© 2004, James Lileks