Sunday, March 21, 2004

I wonder if John Kerry has perhaps launched his descent into caricature a couple of months too early.

Usually, the successful losing candidate waits till late spring/early summer before shifting gears and beginning each day with the campaign trying to explain some rhetorical triviality from the previous week that has stuck to his shoe and that he can’t seem to shake off.

Ever since last summer, I’ve been mocking Sen. Kerry’s tortured explanations of why his vote in favor of such-and-such in fact demonstrates his staunch opposition to it. As I wrote a couple of months back:

“His vote against the first Gulf war was, he says, a sign of his support for the first Gulf war. Whereas his vote in favor of the Iraq war was a sign of his opposition to the Iraq war. And his vote against funding America’s troops in Iraq is a sign of his support for America’s men and women in uniform. On the same principle, I think the best way voters this November can demonstrate their support for John Kerry is by voting against him.”

Even I, though, would have balked at so crude and obvious a parody as this line some Kerry impersonator did on the radio the other day:

“I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.”

Oh, hang on. That’s apparently the real senator, explaining to an audience of veterans why he voted against funding the Iraqi reconstruction:

“I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.” Got that?

Q: How many John Kerrys does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: At least four. One to unscrew the old light bulb. One to simultaneously announce his courageous commitment to replacing the old bulb. One to vote against funding the new light bulb. And one to denounce George W Bush and America’s Benedict Arnold CEOs for leaving everyone in the dark.

Q: Why did John Kerry cross the road?

A: He didn’t cross the road. He crossed to the middle to demonstrate his grasp of all the nuances and subtleties involved in crossing the road, and was still explaining them to the New York Times reporter when the logging truck hit him.

Then there was the senator’s clumsy attempt to declare himself America’s “second black president.” Bill Clinton was at least canny enough to get himself anointed as the first black president by an actual black person, the novelist Toni Morrison, who declared he displayed “every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.”

It’s harder to pull that off when you’re a Swiss finishing school boy from Massachusetts. Many’s the night John and the other boys in his dorm would lie awake dreaming of their freedom as they murmured one of the traditional spirituals of their people: “Swing by, sweet limousine, comin’ for to carry me home.”

Of course, like many African-Americans, he understands what it’s like when people are prejudiced against you because of your skin. In Mr. Kerry’s case, his skin is extremely thin. So it was inevitable that, when a voter named Cedric Brown, in Bethlehem, Pa., needled the candidate to name one of the world leaders supposedly desperate for him to beat President Bush, within moments the senator would be snarling it’s “none of your business.”

It’s never a good idea in vernacular politics to leave the impression you’re more comfortable with the global elite than with American citizens. Instead of the second black president, Mr. Kerry sounded awfully like America’s first French president.

Since then, a world leader has, indeed, endorsed the senator: it’s the recently retired Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohammed, last heard from advancing his theory the Jews control the world. Presumably he is unaware, as Mr. Kerry claimed to be during the many years he insisted he was Irish, that the senator’s forebears were Czech Jews.

I’m reminded of the old Boston joke: An Irishman, a black and a Frenchman walk into a bar, and the Malaysian Prime Minister says to him, “I’m sorry, Sen. Kerry, we don’t serve Jews.”

Anyway, worried lest Mr. Mahathir’s endorsement prompt a stampede of approval from Bashir Assad, Robert Mugabe and the ayatollahs, the Kerry campaign has now said foreign endorsements are inappropriate to an American election.

Also nonoperative is the senator’s go-ahead-punk bluster about foreign policy. For months, he has been droning in his stump speech that, if George W Bush wants to fight this election on national security, Mr. Kerry has three words for him: “Bring it on.” So Mr. Bush brought it on — with a 30-second ad arguing that the senator is weak on defense.

And suddenly the campaign is curled up on the floor in a fetal position whimpering it’s just totally unfair making such a horrible personal attack. Watching him in New Hampshire, I always thought, when Mr. Kerry dares you to “bring it on,” he couldn’t quite bring it off. As all military strategists say, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. And so it proved.

What else? For more than a year, there have been jokes about the ponderous way the senator brings Vietnam up at every opportunity. Ask him about John Edwards’ pretty-boy bangs and Mr. Kerry says solemnly, “I know something about bangs for real.”

But he is beyond satire now. The Humane Society sends him a questionnaire asking, “Do you have any pets that have made an impact on you personally?” And, instead of citing any of the ginger toms, gerbils and cockatoos that have passed through the Kerry household in the last four decades, he goes back to those four months in Vietnam and recalls a pooch named VC who accompanied him on his swift boat missions.

Is it normal to take a yappy mutt on a swift boat patrol through enemy territory — especially a mutt named after the enemy? Calling out “Over here, VC” in the middle of the jungle seems a good way to get taken out by friendly fire.

Come to that, how many folks name their dogs after the enemy? Did British Tommies stumble across stray French poodles on the beach at Normandy and think, “Aw, cute li’l feller. I’ll call him SS”?

Weird. And, just to round out a weird week, John Kerry, accompanied by the press, went into a sporting-goods store and bought a jock strap. Even for a campaign marked by a strangely insecure macho exhibitionism, this was a little too self-parodic. Next time he shouts “Bring it on,” I want to see that VC puppy trot out with the jock strap between his teeth so Jacques Chirac can ceremonially drape it round the senator’s neck.

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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