Many months ago, I penned a column asking John Kerry to go away, or at least back to the U.S. Senate to pursue elder statesmanship instead of further national political ambition.
Alas, he has not done so.
So, the Democrats must try to win the midterm elections while carrying Big John on their backs as they endeavor to extract his big foot from his big mouth.
I’m not sure they have either the strength or dexterity.
Apparently Kerry carries the notion that Hillary Clinton won’t run for president or can’t win and that Barack Obama’s bright flame will flicker. Apparently he carries the notion that — Evan Bayh, John Edwards, Wes Clark and Bill Richardson aside — he would then naturally ascend to carry his party’s banner again. Apparently he carries the notion that he’ll get to show that he won’t get swift-boated next time.
Vindication, validation, affirmation, a second chance — it’s what we all want, I guess.
The problem is that there usually are sound reasons a politician loses an election. It’s probably that he’s not a good candidate. That was, and remains, Kerry’s problem. Good men and good politicians are different species, you know.
Kerry is a stereotypical Northeastern liberal in a country with a prevailing Southern, Midwestern and Western mainstream that eschews his region and his philosophy. He’s a plodding elitist in a game that, as the successes of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush demonstrate, places its premium on ease and common touch. He perspired buckets through his convention acceptance speech, wind-surfed through a negative assault, plotted an electoral strategy that bet everything on a big Republican state, Ohio, and struggled to inspire while more readily stumbling into gaffe.
It says something about Wisconsin that Kerry won it after talking about how pleased he was to be there in Green Bay at “Lambert” Field. It says something about Kerry that he ran against Bush and could do no better than battle him to a tie on the malapropism front.
So, it came to pass last week — one week to the day before the mid-term elections — that Kerry spoke to a student group on education and, gulp, attempted a joke.
Kerry told college students in Pasadena that if you study hard and apply yourself and do your homework, you can grow up to succeed in life. He said that if you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.
When I first saw the quote’s text displayed on a television screen with the mute button engaged, I clearly understood that Kerry was calling George W. Bush stupid.
When I activated the volume, I heard that the ever-clever Republicans were alleging something quite different and much worse. It was that Kerry had ridiculed our fighting men and women in Iraq, calling them uneducated or stupid, and suggested that they were serving their country militarily only because they didn’t have enough sense to do something better.
Republicans were seizing the remark for all it was worth — more than it was worth — to tell Americans that true patriots supporting our sacrificing warriors would vote Republican.
With security remaining the dominant factor in our elections, the tactic could bear fruit.
Would chicken-hawk Republicans get away with challenging a war hero’s devotion to the troops? They’ve gotten away with worse.
Kerry meant Bush, of course. He admitted to a “botched joke.” But that didn’t really matter. He deserved his treatment, asked for it, in fact.
He made a bad and an inappropriate joke without sensitivity to how it might be taken.
The point is that Kerry shouldn’t still be itching to fight Bush. He fought him already, and lost, fair and square, unlike Al Gore.
There’ll be no Bush-Kerry rematch. Bush is retiring. Nobody would buy a ticket, anyway.
Quiet senior statesmanship in devoted service to his Massachusetts constituents — that’s my hope for John Kerry.