Jewish World Review Jan. 30, 2004/7 Shevat, 5764

Wesley Pruden

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Uneasy rides the pol on a skittish horse | John Kerry is riding high, but on Howard Dean's horse, and it's a skittish critter. The governor is still rubbing his raw rear end.

The senator is running well in nearly all the states where Democrats vote next Tuesday, and anyone could tell, watching last night's debate in South Carolina, that the prototype Massachusetts liberal is suffering a case of front-runner disease. He's not trying to win so much as trying not to lose. It's what the football coaches call "the prevent defense" — let the opposition complete a few passes and make a plunge or two between the tackles while the clock runs down.

Sometimes it works, but sometimes it doesn't when the cliches fall like stars on Alabama. The political-science professors are furiously recycling to the lazy reporters the things they read in the newspapers: Kerry has the momentum. He's raising the cash. People want a winner. Voters are naturally gravitating to somebody who has won something. Kerry, Botox or not, looks presidential. And of course, there's the standby bromide: "Only time will tell." Howard Dean won the Pundit Primary, and John Kerry is winning the Pundit Runoff.

Mr. Kerry is getting the endorsements now, in the way that Howard Dean was getting them barely more than a fortnight ago. Al Gore is only one of the has-been pols who wishes he could take his back. Jimmy Carter, who never made the major leagues despite his one term in the White House, was nevertheless clever enough to hedge his endorsement. He invited Mr. Dean to Sunday school, where if he paid attention he could learn the difference between Jesus and Job, but he left without the words that he went all the way to Plains to get.

Endorsements are important only to the people making them (and that usually includes newspaper endorsements), as we saw demonstrated again in Iowa. The only ones that count will be the endorsements beginning Tuesday night in seven states.

The results to watch are the delegate counts. Howard Dean, John Edwards and even Wesley Clark could nibble enough to deny Mr. Kerry delegates even as he wins the popular votes in the primaries. John Edwards looks like the chief nibbler in South Carolina, where Messrs. Edwards, Kerry and Clark are fighting for the right to name 45 delegates to the Boston convention. Joe Lieberman is in South Carolina, too, though it's not clear why. Joe the ambitious candidate could never come to terms with Joe the principled man.

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Mr. Edwards is the empty suit in the race, who ran for president when he concluded that he couldn't get re-elected to a second term in the Senate. Mostly hair and teeth with the trial lawyer's gift of gab, he makes a certain kind of female voter go all moist and giggly in the way she went aflutter for an earlier presidential Bubba, and this may be the formula for nibbling just enough of the delegates to prevent an early Kerry lockup. You can bet Bill and Hillary are watching anxiously.

Mr. Edwards can't win in Missouri (74 delegates), where the Widow Carnahan endorsed Mr. Kerry yesterday, but he can do well enough to pilfer a few delegates. In New Mexico (26 delegates), Bill Richardson, the savvy governor, says Mr. Kerry is "the clear front-runner" but warns that "the race is not over." Howard Dean can nibble at him here.

Messrs. Edwards and Clark are slugging it out for the Bubba vote in Oklahoma (40 delegates), where the general was thought to have the situation well in hand only days ago. There aren't as many Bubbas in the Democratic primaries in Oklahoma (or anywhere in the South) as there used to be, and the general has revealed himself to be a little weird for most Bubbas, who instinctively mistrust anyone above the rank of sergeant.

John Kerry's military record, lieutenant or not, has so far made him a sentimental favorite with many veterans, but it's a military record that won't withstand the scrutiny that's coming. His slander of the GIs he left behind in Vietnam is not yet well known.

"They ... raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power," he told a Senate committee in 1971 when he was just home from the war, and "cut off limbs, [blew] up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam."

Miserable lies, and he never produced evidence or repudiated the lies. Americans tolerate a lot of hyperbole in election season, but stuff like this will unhorse even a Botox man.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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