Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose XXXII: Medal As Mnemonic

The always insightful Mickey Kaus cites to an excellent John Podhoretz column that includes:

The problem is that the conventional wisdom hasn't taken a proper accounting of John Kerry. Here's the truth that Democrats don't want to admit and that Republicans are fearful of speaking openly because they don't want to jinx things:

Kerry is a terrible, terrible, terrible candidate.

It's not so much the policies he proposes, although they don't add up to all that much. The problem is Kerry himself. He no sooner opens his mouth than he sticks first one foot and then the other right in there.

Perhaps the words "Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose" are those for which you search, Mr. Podhoretz? Please. Take. Enjoy! Tell your friends.

But Mickey says that he doesn't think the Podhoretz's column's discussion of the Kerry medal fiasco "has a lot of truth in it," which propmpts this trademarked Kaussian dialogue:

[What's wrong with Pod's medal discussion?-ed [Podhoretz] seems to think the issue is whether Kerry actually threw his medals over the wall (or merely his ribbons). I assume Kerry didn't throw his medals, and think the issue is whether he let people think he threw them when really he played it safe by holding on to them...

With all due respect to both of these worthies (and I use that word without nuance or irony), I must disagree with each of them on this point. The most serious thing about the Kerry medal episode is the thing that is most representative of his character: after more than 30 years of his explanations and despite the fact that the Capitol decoration-toss has been held out by Senator Kerry as one of the most important and defining moments in his life, we just cannot feel we know whether John Kerry actually tossed his medals or didn't. Viewed another way, no thoughtful person could be truly surprised to find at this point that the medals went over ... or that they didn't. If Senator Kerry keeps medals on the wall of his office in a frame, no thoughtful person could be truly surprised to find at this point that the framed medals are his ... or aren't.

For all its garish attention-getting, the Capitol decoration-toss is by itself mostly just an anecdote. It gains meaning to the extent it is a representative anecdote - a mnemonic for something deep and troubling in Senator Kerry's character. And it surely is all of that.

To see that clearly, consider another anecdote: The Man Without Qualities recently attended a talk by at which the speaker was asked about how she thought the "gay marriage" issue would affect the campaign. The speaker responded by asking everyone in the informed and energetically interactive crowd who did not feel they knew where George Bush stood on "gay marriage" reasonably well to raise his or her hand. No hand went up.

Then she asked the same of everyone in the same crowd who did feel they knew where John Kerry stood on "gay marriage" reasonably well. Same result.

She could have played that game with a lot of issues.

That's why the medal fiasco is a revealing anecdote. And, in my view, that's why this story is never, ever going to go away.

It is worth asking how Senator Kerry differs from Bill Clinton in respect of the above. To my mind, it is this: Bill Clinton could waffle and say quite inconsistent things on an issue and still make a lot of people feel that they knew where he "really" stood on that issue ("Let's end welfare - as we know it!"). Often, that "feeling" was bogus, the product of an eccentric but very skilled politican in flying rhetorical mode. His worst victims were accordingly quasi-self-deluded Friends of Bill.

Senator Kerry can't do any of that. Not even close. He is just pathetic when he tries. And there are no Friends of John.

UPDATE: Astute reader MT e-mails another choice example:

I can usually silence Kerry supporters by asked them whether or not they can figure out whether or not Kerry would be (a) happy or (b) unhappy if the Saudis announced tomorrow that they would turn the oil spigot to "gush" tomorrow. As I recall, last week Kerry, either on the same day or within a two-day period, criticized Bush (a) for purportedly having a deal with the Saudis whereby the Saudis would pump oil to keep the price down to help Bush's re-election and (b) for high oil prices and Bush's inability to get OPEC to increase production.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I think the words that the Village Voice is searching for are "Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose."

Link from DRUDGE.

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