Jewish World Review Dec. 10, 2003/ 15 Kislev 5764


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Kerry's Last Stand: Coming to you live from New Hampshire | It's getting to the point where charitable Americans might start to feel a smidgen of pity for Sen. John Kerry. The Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries are now on the horizon —just ignore Beltway hacks [insert favorite name here] who still insist that even a month is an eternity in politics —and with the holidays blacking out political coverage for a week or two, Kerry faces nearly insurmountable odds of winning the nomination he assumed was his for the asking.

Maybe that's why he now resembles an aging politician trapped in a haunted house where all the doors are locked. Kerry's interview with Democrat-friendly Rolling Stone, posted on the irrelevant pop culture magazine's website last week, was another example of his attempt to act like a regular guy. He says "gonna" a lot. Asked by puffball inquisitor Will Dana if Howard Dean's success surprised him, Kerry unloaded, saying, "I mean, when I voted for the war, I voted for what I thought was best for the country. Did I expect Howard Dean to go off to the left and say 'I'm against everything'? Sure. Did I expect George Bush to fuck it up as badly as he did? I don't think anybody did."

Kerry's use of what major newspapers still refer to as a "barnyard epithet," is not unprecedented. Back in '99, Tucker Carlson's profile of GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush in the debut issue of Talk included the Texas governor lapsing into profanity, much to his staff's horror. Arguably, there's a difference. Bush, even at that early point in the campaign, was the prohibitive favorite, with his enormous wad of cash and endorsements, not to mention the perception that he was a simpleton with a sailor's mouth.

Also, Bush wasn't talking about a sitting president, which doesn't bother me, but did cause Stephen Hess, a scholar at the liberal Brookings Institution, a case of heartburn. Hess told the New York Post's Deborah Orin "[i]t's so unnecessary… I think John Kerry is going to regret saying this." Kerry, in contrast to Bush, is supposed to be Mr. Breeding, even as he increasingly shoots pheasants, rides motorcycles and talks about "average Americans," as if he's encountered one of those animals in the past 25 years.

Coming next: Kerry boasts about his wife's "gorgeous tits" in Playboy.

That said, Bush chief of staff Andrew Card, appearing on CNN Sunday, sounded dopey protesting Kerry's language. "I've known John Kerry for a long time, and I'm very disappointed that he would use that kind of language," Card said. "I'm hoping that he's apologizing, at least to himself." Andy, Andy, Andy. Get off the high horse and just ignore it.

Dana asks another probing question: "Do you think that same anger [that elected Arnold Schwarzenegger, a "friend" of Kerry's] is propelling Dean's candidacy?" Well, what do you think, Will? Dean simply tapped the rage of the hate-Bush crowd earlier and more effectively than any of the other challengers, which is why he can get away with gaffes and contradictions that would've sunk more conventional candidates. But Kerry, who probably believes Rolling Stone is still on the "cutting edge," can't give a straight answer. Which is one of the reasons he's had such a miserable year.

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Instead of blasting Dean —calling him an "a--hole" would not be inappropriate —Kerry goes the diplomatic route. He says: "Other people have to determine that. I'm not an analyst. [Sure. After 30 years in politics, he can't provide election-year "analysis"?] I'm running for president based on my vision for the country, and I think I have a longer, stronger, deeper record of fighting against those interests, and representing that anger, than Howard Dean."

Kerry's freefall is so pronounced —the latest Zogby poll has Dean leading Kerry in New Hampshire by 30 points —that even Dana Milbank, the Washington Post nudnik who specializes in needling President Bush on the most picayune details, has tossed Kerry overboard. It's just another indication that the Democratic establishment, which includes the Post and New York Times, is looking to the goofy Wesley Clark, Dick Gephardt or even John Edwards to square off with Dean in the expected two-man contest for the nomination. These newspapers, like many a scared-silly Democratic congressman, dread having Dean atop the ticket in November, fearful that not only Bush would win convincingly but that he'd have long coattails as well.

In any case, Milbank last Sunday tweaked Kerry for fibbing about his primary chances. He writes: "The polls have not been kind to erstwhile front-runner John Kerry, so the Democratic presidential candidate has settled on a novel solution: make 'em up." He then catches Kerry saying on a CBS talk show that at this point four years ago "John McCain [who trounced Bush in New Hampshire] was 30 points behind Bush in New Hampshire." Milbank, obviously not worrying about covering a President Kerry, points out that in reality McCain was ahead of Bush —by seven points in an American Research poll; by 15 in a Franklin Pierce College survey —and suggests that Massachusetts' junior senator invest in a better research team.

Of course I never feel charitable toward self-aggrandizing, pseudo-populist Eric Alterman, the scheming writer who enjoys an affluent lifestyle in Manhattan, has his "Altercation" blog underwritten by MSNBC and preaches to the converted that the media is conservative.

Last Friday, on his website, Alterman fretted about Kerry's candidacy. The day before he'd joined a group of "journalists, writers and the odd historian, poet and cartoonist" in Al Franken's living room to have a two-hour conversation with the Man Who Has No Hope. Alterman, like his fellow Upper West Siders, was "deeply impressed" with Kerry, and endorsed Art Spiegelman's idea that the senator don a public hairshirt and admit that he made a mistake when he voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq. This would be tough for Kerry, Alterman says, because he's a "proud man."

Then he lays it on thick: "[A]s Kerry himself pointed out, we have a dysfunctional government and this is the most important election facing America since 1968. America, as many of us know her and love her, may not survive another four years of this administration's horrific combination of audacity, incompetence, ideology and mendacity."

Why 1968? As Alterman might recall, that election was between Richard Nixon and Vietnam hawk Hubert H. Humphrey, as well as George Wallace as a third-party candidate. In fact, although Nixon barely defeated HHH, after the assassinations and riots of that year, November's contest was somewhat anticlimactic, with not much difference between the Democratic and Republican candidates. As far as "audacity, incompetence, ideology and mendacity," many people said the same thing about John F. Kennedy's administration up until Nov. 22, 1963. Actually, next fall's square-off will be the most important election since 2000. The thought of a President Gore, especially after 9/11, gives me nightmares that alternate with those remembering seeing the Twin Towers crumble from Hudson and Reade Sts.

Alterman concludes, while noting that he doesn't endorse candidates: "All I care about in 2004, as a citizen, a father, a patriot, a non-Christian, and a member of the 'world community' is saving the country from four more years of a catastrophe I believe to be inevitable should George W. Bush win his first honest election to the presidency."

What "catastrophe" could Alterman be alluding to? That France's government still won't like us? Or that his British and continental friends will continue to make fun of him for being a barbaric American? More likely, there might be a downside to his career, since if the president is reelected, the market for hate-Bush books will be saturated. Just like elections, it always comes down to the wallet.

On the Outer Limits chance that Kerry gave me a fat envelope stuffed with $100 bills in exchange for a coherent strategy to knock off the insufferable Dean, not to mention Dick Gephardt, I'd have plenty to say. One, stop talking about spilling blood in Vietnam. That was a generation ago, and military service certainly didn't help the first President Bush against Bill Clinton.

Second, let the over-confident Dean conduct his national campaign and live in New Hampshire until the primary (while airing commercials in Iowa). Have Christmas dinner with a Durham family of nine and leave your batty wife at home in the Boston townhouse. Knock off the regular-guy routine and start wearing suits again; Americans don't like fakes. Pencil in a paragraph in your stump speech to praise President Bush for something; that alone would be a distinct difference from the other contenders. Blast DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe for his inept, ineffective, amateurish stewardship of the Democratic Party and name someone you'd replace him with. That'd piss off Hillary and Bill Clinton, but so what? The duplicitous Clintons have no interest in a Democrat winning the White House next year; they're simply preparing for a 2008 return. Slam the Boston media, especially the Globe, for covering your campaign in such a negative way. "Ordinary" people, the kind you've failed to connect with, despise journalists almost as much as politicians and lawyers.

Finally, once the last cattle-call forum with all the candidates is over, demand one-on-one legitimate debates with Dean and Gephardt, and if they refuse, say they're scared to face you without the cover of comedian Al Sharpton, moral flip-flopper Joe Lieberman and Eddie Haskell's alter ego, John Edwards.

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

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