Man Without Qualities

Monday, September 06, 2004

The Fuss And The Fury And The Coverage

John Kerry likes to be seen by the media engaging in lots of sports and physical activities. Windsurfing. Skiing. Football. Motorcycling. Bicycling. Hunting. Scuba. Bowling. Hockey. Baseball. More. He likes having the media record him in such activities that he sometimes has them there at times and places that any political professional would recognize as posing very real and obvious potential political costs, costs the New York Times reported he incurred on one of his recent jaunts:

Several Democrats said they were not happy to see news photographs of Mr. Kerry windsurfing in the Atlantic waters off Nantucket during the convention, suggesting that it underlined the very image of Mr. Kerry - as a wealthy, culturally out-of-touch liberal - that the Republicans were trying to convey.

"I might have gone windsurfing - you certainly have a right to clear your head,'' said Mr. Rendell, a former head of the Democratic National Committee. "But I'm not sure I would have taken the press with me."
Mr. Rendell's comment is clearly correct and very general. The issue is not Senator Kerry's heavy engagement in sports and other physical activities - he may just like such things and/or use them to clear his head. The question concerns why he brings the media along so often even though their coverage of his sporting jaunts often impose clear costs on his political ambitions. His media-covered bicycle fall costs him substantially - including by suggesting that he is a klutz (shades of Gerald Ford!) and by drawing attention to his hyper-expensive custom Serotta bicycle. Worse for the Senator, his sporting activities are often a rather bad mix with his often rather nasty personality. For example, while snowboarding in Ketchum, Idaho, Senator Kerry was knocked over by one of the Secret Service men assigned to protect him. When asked about the crash by a reporter, the Senator infamously replied , "I don't fall down. That son-of-a-bitch ran into me." Or "knocked me over," depending on which version you heard. Snopes observed:

[T]hat Mr. Kerry didn't deliver the insult directly might speak worse of him.... [I]t's almost understandable to call the other party to an accident all manner of cuss words in the immediate aftermath of a collision. Such an outburst is akin to dancing about swearing a blue streak after dropping a hammer on your foot, in that what is vented - though heartily felt at the time - is inappropriate and is realized to be such once the moment has passed. Yet, once there is distance between the accident and the fulmination, the "heat of the moment" defense no longer applies in that sober reflection is presumed to have taken place in the interim.
So why does Senator Kerry bring the media along on his sporting jaunts so often, even with a potential downside so obvious and potentially serious and sometimes clearly experienced? Certainly some physical activity helps present the image of a vigorous leader. But the current and most past presidents have not felt the need to go beyond taking the media along on presidential jogs or periodic wood chopping on the ranch. Why does John Kerry go so much further?

Well, one thing an over-documented sporting life has been used for in the past is to conceal serious health problems - with the most notorious example being John F. Kerry's idol, John F. Kennedy. John Kennedy is now known to have been a very sick man, with a seriously injured back and Addison disease, among other problems. At critical points in his term he was impaired by powerful painkilling and anti-inflammatory drugs. It is now also known that John Kennedy and his organization used an ultra-active media campaign depicting Mr. Kennedy in sporting and physical activities to distract attention and counter adverse consequences arising from his precarious health.

Mr. Kerry has refused to date to release his complete medical records. He is a cancer survivor. John Kerry may also suffer from parasomnia, a sleep disorder, which can manifest in many ways, including insomnia, sleepwalking, night terrors, and restless leg syndrome, among others.

Would distracting attention from those infirmities be worth the cost of the political embarrassment of bringing the media along on so many sporting jaunts?

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