Man Without Qualities

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose XII: Himself Defining Himself

I believe it was Napoleon who counseled against attacking an opponent destroying himself. On this advice, the Bush campaign's new ads criticizing John Kerry are ill advised - but that doesn't seem to matter because Senator Kerry seems determined to get on with the job of self-destruction anyway.

We are repeatedly told that this is the period in which Senator Kerry must "define himself" to the great majority of Americans outside the rather tiny core of Democratic voters who actually participated in the primaries. And Senator Kerry is obliging with outre comments that could have been written by Howard Dean or Wesley Clark. Yet the mainstream media sounds no alarms when Senator Kerry says these similar things, although sources like the Wall Street Journal have doubted whether such comments will appeal to independents and moderates.

I think it's much worse than that. I think the Senator is rapidly "defining himself" in self-destructive ways that will not easily be concealed or corrected by his campaign or his doting masses in the mainstream media.

Senator Kerry's self-demolition began in earnest with his characterizing his "Republican critics" as a "crooked, lying group," etc. - and was substantially accelerated by his subsequent refusal to apologize, instead trying to destroy his Republican critics with a mean but nutty negative claim: "There is a Republican attack squad that specializes in trying to destroy people and be negative."

Mainstream media coverage of the Senator's bizarrely self-destructive statements has been entirely consistent with the early media infatuation with Howard Dean. The mainstream media resisted detecting the self-demolition implicit in very similar comments and speeches by Howard Dean until the Iowa primary made such resistance impossible. Similarly, there has been essentially no suggestion in the mainstream media that the presumptive candidate has done himself any real damage with these comments. I don't think that is correct - and I expect the next round of polls to show that these comments of Senator Kerry, which did receive widespread coverage (albeit without appropriate media analysis), have substantially and negatively defined him to the public.

Senator Kerry is also defining himself as someone who makes up the darnedest things for the purposes of self promotion. It's a trait that may have entirely undone General Clark - but the Senator seems not to care. Indeed, he is well on his way to making Al Gore, whose penchant in this area is widely thought to have seriously eroded his support, seem a piker. He says that foreign leaders want him as the next U.S. president - but he provides no names and his claim to meeting with them is demonstrably inconsistent with his schedule - leading Colin Powell to the brink of exasperation:

"I don't know what foreign leaders Senator Kerry is talking about. It's an easy charge, an easy assertion to make. But if he feels it is that important an 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."

Senator Kerry has also recently suggested that Mr. Powell has been "undercut" by the Bush administration - a suggestion Mr. Powell also dismissed and challenged Kerry to substantiate. It's a particularly odd claim, since Senator Kerry would be "undercutting" the Secretary of State by going around him secretly to obtain expressions of support against the interests of Mr. Powell's boss from world leaders. But, as noted, Senator Kerry seems only to have confabulated those expressions of support. Senator Kerry's claim to having unverifiable memories of being supported by terrestrial alien leaders is a little too much like his having unverifiable memories of being abducted by extraterrestrial alien leaders. It's probably going to leave some nasty "definition" that won't go away easily.

Then there's his "memory" of having voted for what he calls the Helms-Burton legislation - where he was actually one of only 22 senators to vote against it.

Most presidential elections are mostly about the economy - and this one might turn out to be one of them. That, in turn, might be to Senator Kerry's advantage, if the "jobs" issue really tilts as much in his favor as the mainstream media is suggesting it does. That suggests that he should "define himself" by focusing on the economy and deal with national security issues to the extent he must. That approach would play best to his own military service record. Instead, he is doing his best to define himself as a "warrior." He has been calling attention dramatically to national security issues and therfore his own weak Senate record on national security by attacking Bush's own service record, sending his own representative to Iraq and falsely "remembering" being very committed to the defense and security of the nation (wait one minute after launching this site for the music video to begin; you needn't click anything once you are at the site).

He may well be defining himself into oblivion.

UPDATE: William Safire construes:

Kerry's pollsters apparently told him that his defiant embrace of the nasty crack backfired, and he was being tagged not as deliciously tough but as distastefully negative.

The other night, uncomfortable in his role as the Massachusetts Mauler, Kerry spun around with a gentlemanly "Americans shouldn't have to put up with eight months of sniping," and deplored "personal attacks." Hustling to the high road, Democratic weekend commercials flip-flopped too, enervating the base but calming independents with crocodile tears about "misleading negative ads."

It was, like, I mean, you know, an indirect apology.

Yeah, OK ... but, it was, like, I mean, you know, also a defining moment. And a lot of the damage is done. The effect will, you know, like I said above, probably show up in the polls. In fact, Mr. Safire thinks it already has - which is why the fake Kerry "tough guy" line is now fake-retracted with a fake apology.

But I think the consequences will, like, more than last the night even with the fake apology and everything. Like, you know, the Senator knocked himself up, or something.

FURTHER UPDATE: The Senator is now reported by the New York Times as coming close to (but not quite) denying that he ever said he had private conversations with foreign leaders offering support for his candidacy - even though he has said that he could not name them because that would "violate" his "conversations:"

As his aides have all week, Mr. Kerry refused Sunday to cite any names of foreign officials or describe their rank, telling reporters, "I can't violate any conversation because no one would share something with me again."

Instead, Mr. Kerry disputed the wording of his comment, and tried to change the subject from individual leaders' specific support of his efforts to oust President Bush to a broader deterioration of the United States' international reputation.

"I think the quote, the quote in the comment I made publicly, I believe, was that I `heard from,' that's the direct quote," Mr. Kerry said. "I've likewise had meetings. I've also had conversations. I said I've heard from, that was what I believe I said."

The remark came at a breakfast with about 50 fund-raisers in Florida, after one observed that Europeans were "counting on us" to "get rid of Mr. Bush."

"I've met foreign leaders who can't go out and say this publicly, but boy, they look at you and say, `You gotta win this, you gotta beat this guy, we need a new policy,' things like that," Mr. Kerry said, according to a transcript from a reporter who attended the session.

On Sunday, Mr. Kerry said that he had not been abroad since he announced his presidential ambitions in December 2002. In Bethlehem, he told voters he had "had conversations with a number of leaders in the course of the last two years, up until the present moment," and that he had "also had friends of mine who have met with leaders, as recently as the past week I've heard from a couple."

Speaking afterward with reporters, he said the who, when and where was not the point.

"The point is that all across the world Americans and America is meeting with a new level of hostility," Mr. Kerry said, "and that there are relationships that have been broken, and everybody who follows the foreign policy of the United States understands that."

So the Senator now says that he can't violate any conversation because no one would share something with him again even though he has only, you know, "heard from" those leaders, apparently in the sense that he assumes or deduces that they support him because he's, you know, on their side. But he's not really had "conversations" with them - although he says he has also had "conversations" and "meetings." And sometimes he's "heard" from those leaders through friends but those leaders also look at you and say, `You gotta win this, you gotta beat this guy, we need a new policy,' things like that. Is that all clear now?

Yes, the Senator is defining himself very quickly now.

Contrary to the Senator's thinking, the who, when and where is the point. He said that he had had private conversations with foreign leaders who looked at him and expressed support. If it never happened, if there was no who, when and where, then what he said was a lie or a fairly serious and weird delusion. It's that simple. And it's not going to go away.

This New York Times article suggests that the Senator's strategy here is to obscure exactly the who, when and where. He'll say he actually met the leader (say, Chancellor Schroeder) something like two years ago - and the leader then said that he didn't like President Bush's policies. Then the Senator "heard" more recently through friends that the leader was now supportive of the Senator presidential ambitions. Etc., etc.

But the problem with that approach is that his original comments were pretty clear - his challenge to the transcript notwithstanding. Perhaps the Senator needs to write a "Note to self: Don't make unnuanced statements."

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