Jewish World Review March 19, 2004/ 26 Adar 5764

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Macho, Macho Man: Slow down, John-Boy, November's a while away yet


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Here's a suggestion for Teresa Heinz Kerry: The next time you mix up a hot toddy "without the toddy" to relieve your husband's hoarse voice and exhaustion, sneak a shot of rum into the glass. It's clear, and understandable, that Sen. John fears being branded as the second coming of the emotionally challenged Mike Dukakis, who was savaged in 1988 during his pathetic race against the first President Bush. But Teddy Kennedy's new best friend ought to pace himself on the campaign trail; it's still March and Kerry's acting like there are only three weeks until Election Day.

Kerry's dopiest recent snit, an outburst in Chicago on March 10 at a rally with union factory workers — mingling with the "average people" he and fellow multimillionaire John Edwards identify with — wasn't clever. He characterized Republicans, maybe knowing a microphone was on, maybe not, "These guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group I've ever seen. It's scary." There's nothing wrong with throwing out some red meat to supporters, but jeez, John, get a little more sleep. One could argue that the impeached Bill Clinton was fairly crooked himself — does the name Johnny Chung ring a bell? — and Richard Nixon was no slouch in that department either. However, that's not really the issue. Kerry, if he wants to win this election, can't stay on the offensive every single day without risking fatal backlash.

William Safire (always ambivalent on anyone named Bush), writing in Monday's New York Times, was puzzled. "My first reaction," he said — "like that of millions of parents and schoolteachers around the country — was to wince at a prominent politician's use of 'you know,' a halting interjection that has been cluttering the speech of teenagers for years." Like, well, yeah, Bill, U R sure right about that one. More seriously, Safire wondered about Kerry's lack of contrition in slandering millions of Americans: "Maybe Kerry-Kennedy-Soros masterminds in Boston passed the word to the candidate: Apologies are for wimps."

Soon, people are going to wonder whether Kerry's lost his marbles.

On March 11, the Times typically buried the hissy fit, incorporating it into an article about Kerry's smoking the peace pipe with Howard Dean, while the Washington Post correctly gave it greater prominence, running a story by Dan Balz (no pal of Bush) under the headline "Kerry Decries GOP as 'Crooked' and 'Lying.'" The Post also included a statement from Kerry's certifiable spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter, who defended her boss after Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot said the president was owed an apology. (A pro forma request, obviously, but that's what he's paid to do.) Cutter told Balz that Kerry had no regrets about his charge, saying, "There's been a pretty high level of Republican attack machine working for the last four years for the sole purpose of smearing the Democrats. We're trying to make this campaign about issues; Republicans are making it about attacks."

I had no idea Gore/Kerry/Clark operative Chris Lehane had opened a charm school, but it appears that Cutter has graduated with a 4.0 grade average.

John Ellis, a former Boston Globe columnist who covered Kerry's '96 Senate race against former Massachusetts GOP Gov. William Weld, and not incidentally a first cousin of Bush, made the following comment March 10 on johnellis.blogspot.com: "Is Senator Kerry becoming Howard Dean? What in the world is he going to say in September?" He then recalled an excerpt of Clinton's 1996 Democratic National Convention speech, in which the smooth operator said, "I believe that Bob Dole and Jack Kemp and Ross Perot love our country, and they worked hard to serve it. It is legitimate, even necessary, to compare our record with theirs, our proposals for the future with theirs. And I expect them to make a vigorous effort to do the same. But I will not attack. I will not attack them personally or permit others to do it in this party if I can prevent it."

Never mind that that load of blarney is so rich you can put on 50 pounds just reading it, and Clinton was clobbering Dole in the polls, but it still demonstrates how superior he was to Kerry in the art of political warfare.

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I can't figure out who's advising Kerry to keep up the "Onward Democratic Soldiers" routine. If the Chicago incident were isolated, that'd be one thing, a robust attack that'd make sense. But consider what the senator's also been saying recently. My favorite was his imitation of the vanquished Clinton stalking horse Wesley Clark, who infamously picked up all sorts of conspiracy theories about the Bush administration from cocktail chatter in DC and the Sunday talk shows.

Earlier in March, while meeting with Florida contributors, Kerry came out with this pip: "I've met foreign leaders who can't go out and say this publicly, but boy, they look at you and say, 'You've got to win this, you've got to beat [Bush], we need a new policy,' things like that. Not that Kerry identified a single "foreign leader." Apparently, North Korea's amiable Kim Jong Il is on Kerry's side, and one would assume Jacques Chirac is as well. But why the secrecy on Kerry's part? If, for example, Tony Blair is one of those leaders who met with Kerry and offered support, you know the senator's campaign would leak the information.

A story published March 12 in the Washington Times searched Kerry's Senate travel records and discovered that his last trip abroad was early in 2002. Additionally, the only time a foreign leader was in the same location as Kerry was last Sept. 24, when New Zealand's foreign minister met with the State Dept. So is Kerry pulling an Al Gore and fibbing about phantom meetings?

Colin Powell, already pissed at Kerry for suggesting that he's been undermined in the Bush cabinet — a metaphorical lawn jockey — challenged the senator on a March 14 talk show. He said: "If he feels it is an important assertion to make, he ought to list some names. If he can't list names, then perhaps he should find something else to talk about."

Kerry backed off from his original statement about foreign support, which, according to the New York Times, was from a reporter's transcript of the Florida event. Kerry said: "I think the quote, the quote in the comment I made publicly, I believe, was that I 'heard from,' that's the direct quote. I've likewise had meetings. I've also had conversations. I said I've heard from, that was what I believe I said."

Got that?

Also at the Washington Times, editor Tony Blankley, a Bush partisan, nonetheless made a smart point in his March 10 column. He wrote: "Whether or not he actually met with any of these leaders, I would suspect that he is right that they would much prefer to do business with a notional President Kerry. Doubtlessly, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev enjoyed dealing with President Carter more than with President Reagan. Weak American presidents who feel the need to apologize for America protecting its interests in the world are invariably favored by both our enemies and our competitive friends. The French couldn't stand our last cowboy president, Ronald Reagan."

Yet another whopper from Kerry — and remember this is in the space of 10 days — came when he pandered to the audience of the American Urban Radio Network by saying, "President Clinton was often known as the first black president [by Toni Morrison, at least]. I wouldn't be upset if I could earn the right to be the second."

In an AP article published on March 8, Paula Diane Harris, founder of the Andrew Young National Center for Social Change, struck back. She said: "John Kerry is not a black man — he is a privileged white man who has no idea what it is in this country to be a poor white in this country, let alone a black man."

The Chicago Tribune's John Kass, on March 4, lampooned Kerry in his column. He said: "Great. That's just what Urban Radio Network listeners need: a rich white guy married to an even richer white woman to form the second black family to occupy the White House. I just got used to the idea that Kerry wasn't Irish, and now he's gone and confused me even more by becoming black… We all have wishes and dreams. Well, I wouldn't be upset if my wife surprised me by inheriting hundreds of millions of dollars in ketchup cash… And after spending my wife's new ketchup fortune on boats and fine cars, Cape Cod [actually, Nantucket] vacation homes, gigantic plasma TVs, and so on, I'd happily condemn those evil, rich special interests."

I suspect Kerry will lead the public opinion polls for a period of time — and then the advantage will flip back and forth — but if he wants to beat Bush, the guy's got to get a grip on political reality. Even the New York Observer, a weekly where you won't find much sympathy for the president, ran an editorial on March 15 that tore Kerry apart. That's the equivalent of the Weekly Standard criticizing the Bush campaign for lacking continuity and rapid response to Democratic smears — in other words, giving advice to its favored candidate.

The Observer's editorial, which began with the senator's inconsistencies on Israel and gay marriage, concluded: "Mr. Kerry is a smart, able candidate who is said to appreciate the nuances of foreign and domestic policy. One person's nuance, however, is another person's horse hockey. Mr. Kerry needs to articulate his positions with greater clarity, or risk being seen as indecisive and too cunning for his own good. We can take comfort in knowing that he is consistent in at least one thing: He marries rich women."

Even Maureen Dowd, taking time off from her midnight confessions and daytime movie star hallucinations to write a New York Times column on March 11, is taking on Kerry. The subject is Botox, of course, but no matter. Claiming she interviewed the candidate in Evanston, IL on March 9 (Dowd's so nutty that, like Kerry with his "meetings" with foreign dignitaries, she might be in Jayson Blair's peculiar universe), the senator wouldn't budge on the subject of cosmetic enhancement.

Dowd writes: "A few years back, some Hollywood TV producers I know were thinking about making a sitcom with Cher. Before they committed, they wanted to make sure that, after all she'd had done on her face, Cher could still actually move it… With all the fuss about the 60-year-old John Kerry going from Shar-Pei to whippet, I figured a physiognomic quiz might be in order… Desperate for furrows, I recite unflattering depictions: Roger Simon saying he put the 'grave' into gravitas; The New Yorker calling him 'sepulchral'; the Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway saying he looks as if he 'sucked on a lemon.' 'Sometimes it's been my own fault,' he says, his voice, and face, stubbornly affectless. 'I can be as wild and crazy as the next person.'"

Cool. Maybe Kerry's next "wild and crazy" gambit will be a recitation of George W. Bush's ancestral ties to Adolf Hitler.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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