View Full Version : Misoverestimating Kerry

02 Mar 04,, 08:32
The news that Boris Johnson and half his Tory colleagues have been flirting with John Kerry like a Congressional overseas exchange intern programme came as no surprise to me. Though the Senator likes to think of himself as exuding Kennedy-esque glamour, to Conservatives he has the reassuring mien of an unexciting Cabinet heavyweight back when the party still had heavyweights and a Cabinet to put them in.

You can see why the Tory benches have been mesmerised by the immobile features of the Botoxicated Brahmin: superficially, he has the air of a cadaverous Douglas Hurd. As the Tories used to say in the old days, he has bottom - though, in the current climate, Senator Kerry would perhaps be ill-advised to adopt it as a campaign slogan.

One appreciates that Dubya and his Texan tics are not to everyone's taste, especially overseas. That said, one reason why America is one of the few places on the planet where conservatism remains a going concern is because it's a vernacular conservatism, not the patrician kind.

Conversely, it's easy to mistake boringness for seriousness, as Dustin Hoffman and Barbra

Streisand did in last year's ratings-bust Oscar show. So I defy any Tory MP to spend as much time with Kerry as I have this past year and still say they want him on the BBC News every night for the next eight years.

In Ohio the other day, he was trying to attack Bush's economic policy for the benefit of the television crews and staggered through three minutes of puffy incoherence. At the end, the CBS guy said none of what he'd droned was usable and would he mind trying again. Eventually, they coached the Senator into a soundbite: "It's the biggest say-one-thing-do-another administration in the history of the country." He likes this so much he now uses it all the time.

I recognised the CBS problem. Last spring and summer, I went to three Kerry campaign events in New Hampshire, intending to write about them for the Telegraph. Each time, I staggered groggily out of the diner or American Legion hall and, after checking my pulse and administering self-resuscitation, I figured that everything he said was so rambling and platitudinous that to inflict it on readers would be unfair, if not actually career-jeopardising.

But I wrote the stuff down. He used the word "courage" a lot. He said that he had "the courage to take the tough decisions", and America needed "the courage to stand up". His campaign was billing itself back then as the "American Courage Tour". I think it was after his "Fresh Air Forum" (sadly misnamed) that I looked at my notes and found the following: "Sometimes real leadership means having the courage not to have any courage."

That can't be right, I thought. It must be two separate answers, or there's some missing words about a Senate Appropriations Bill in the middle that I left out. But funnily enough, I find if you stick it on the end of almost any Kerry response - the explanation as to why his vote in favour of the Iraq war was actually a vote against the Iraq war and the one about why his vote to refuse funding to the troops was actually evidence of his strong support for the troops - it makes things much clearer.

So the notion that Kerry is more verbally felicitous than Bush depends on one's appetite for sonorous senatorial blather. The Tory benches may have what Boris calls "a certain snobbish resistance to his syntax", but I love Bush-speak. "Misunderestimate" encapsulates brilliantly what his opponents keep doing.

Senator Joe Biden - a man so rhetorically insecure that he's the only presidential candidate ever to plagiarise Neil Kinnock - was bending Bush's ear about the need to take a more "nuanced" approach to Afghanistan, and Bush replied: "I don't do nuance." Beautiful, and pithy, and a lot funnier than anything in the Bush parodies.

The smart guys don't think it's funny. Richard Cohen wrote a column for the Washington Post, headlined "Bush's War against Nuance". If you've gone over to the forces of nuance, Kerry's your guy - or your nuancy boy. He's got nuances coming out of his nuances. As the New York Times put it in its endorsement of the Senator: "What his critics see as an inability to take strong, clear positions seems to us to reflect his appreciation that life is not simple. He understands the nuances."

That may be the most lethal endorsement since Al Gore leapt on the Howard Dean bandwagon and sent it careering into the ravine. Just for the record, Kerry can take strong, clear positions. It's just that he tends to take both of them. For example. On January 22, 1991, he wrote to Wallace Carter of Newton Centre, Massachusetts:

"Thank you for contacting me to express your opposition to the early use of military force by the US against Iraq. I share your concerns. On January 11, I voted in favour of a resolution that would have insisted that economic sanctions be given more time to work and against a resolution giving the president the immediate authority to go to war."

Nine days later, he wrote to the same Mr Carter in Newton Centre:

"Thank you very much for contacting me to express your support for the actions of President Bush in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. From the outset of the invasion, I have strongly and unequivocally supported President Bush's response to the crisis and the policy goals he has established with our military deployment in the Persian Gulf."

It is in trying to reconcile both of his strong, clear positions that Senator Kerry winds up tying himself up in nuances. He was at it again this weekend. "This President always makes decisions late," he huffed apropos Haiti. Hang on. He's just spent the past year complaining that Bush makes decisions too early, rushing in when he could have spent another year or so chit-chatting with the French.

I'm sure there are millions of Kerry supporters who'd like to take a tough Kerry-like stand this November. The best way to do that, in the spirit of his war votes, is to vote for Bush and then spend the next 10 years solemnly explaining that that was your bold courageous way of expressing your opposition to Bush.

02 Mar 04,, 23:50
Originally posted by Gio
I'm sure there are millions of Kerry supporters who'd like to take a tough Kerry-like stand this November. The best way to do that, in the spirit of his war votes, is to vote for Bush and then spend the next 10 years solemnly explaining that that was your bold courageous way of expressing your opposition to Bush.

03 Mar 04,, 02:21
Well it was the most famous Democrat of all that made a successful presidential campaign out of image and not policy perhaps John Forbes Kerry is trying to mimic another JFK. Except without the style, sophistication and clan to back him up. I wonder if the dead will come out to vote for this JFK as they did the last one although i don't suspect for one minute the good people of the US will stand for another farcical election.

IMHO, John Kerry should be tested on his legislative background over 20 years in the senate. He knows the people and processes of Government. He knows what his constituents want, what his party wants, what his colleagues want. He knows that the opposition wants.

In those 20 years he has successfully sponsored nine laws, apparently, six of which were ceremonial (i am not sure what that means, i admit to reading it somewhere and quoting it in ignorance).

My point is. Is that the right background for a president?

And, before i get roasted for my ignorance of US politics i would just like to offer something on UK politics and this article.

Under no circumstances should a journalist write an article quoting Boris Johnston in any sort of authoritative capacity. The best description of the man i can think of for "you colonial types" :) is that of Bertie Wooster or Billy Bunter. If those mean nothing to you, think of a humourous, but blundering upper class buffoon.

And before you ask, yes the beer was strong, yes i am off to bed.

03 Mar 04,, 03:32
Oh, i agree with you, Kerry should be judged on his record. The problem for him, though is that his voting record is far to the left of the centre. Since Mr. Kerry has only had to deal with constituents from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, that entire area - New England - is considered a liberal stronghold, his voting record seems very off nationally. He's attempting to block any attempts the GOP has to question his record by accusing them of questioning his patriotism. Quite frankly, it's becoming ridiculous, he claims to be pro-defence yet voted aganist every major weapons system of his tenure. A recent article in the respected publication, National Journal, says that Senator Kerry is the most liberal senator in the entire senate. God, I can hear the ad's now.

03 Mar 04,, 21:17
Gio, Kerry is the most liberal canidate ive seen in my life (ive lived through part of Reagan, Daddy Bush, Bill Clinton and now Bush Jr). And the possibility that he could win is quite scary to me.