Election season is bad time for slip of the quip
November 5, 2006
My face time with John Kerry has been brief but choice. In 2003, I was at a campaign event in New Hampshire chatting with two old coots in plaid. The senator approached and stopped in front of us. The etiquette in primary season is that the candidate defers to the cranky Granite Stater’s churlish indifference to status and initiates the conversation: “Hi, I’m John Kerry. Good to see ya. Cold enough for ya? How ’bout them Sox?” Etc. Instead, Kerry just stood there nose to nose, staring at us with an inscrutable semi-glare on his face. After an eternity, an aide stepped out from behind him and said, “The senator needs you to move.”
“Well, why couldn’t he have said that?” muttered one of the old coots. Why indeed?
Right now the Democratic Party needs the senator to move. Preferably to the South Sandwich Islands, until Tuesday evening, or better still, early 2009.
He won’t, of course. A vain thin-skinned condescending blueblood with no sense of his own ridiculousness, Senator Nuancy Boy is secure in little else except his belief in his indispensability. We’ve all heard the famous “joke” now: “You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. And if you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.” (Rimshot!) Yet, tempting as it is to enjoy his we-support-our-dumb-troops moment as merely the umpteenth confirmation of the senator’s unerring ability to SwiftBoat himself, it belongs in a slightly different category of Kerry gaffe than, say, the time they went into Wendy’s and Teresa didn’t know what chili was.
Whatever he may or may not have intended (and “I was making a joke about how stupid Bush is but I’m the only condescending liberal in America too stupid to tell a Bush-is-stupid joke without blowing it” must rank as one of the all-time lame excuses), what he said fits what too many upscale Dems believe: that America’s soldiers are only there because they’re too poor and too ill-educated to know any better. That’s what they mean when they say “we support our troops.” They support them as victims, as children, as potential welfare recipients, but they don’t support them as warriors and they don’t support the mission.
So their “support” is objectively worthless. The indignant protest that “of course” “we support our troops” isn’t support, it’s a straddle, and one that emphasizes the Democrats’ frivolousness in the post-9/11 world. A serious party would have seen the jihad as a profound foreign-policy challenge they needed to address credibly. They could have found a Tony Blair — a big mushy-leftie pantywaist on health and education and all the other sissy stuff, but a man at ease with the projection of military force in the national interest. But we saw in Connecticut what happens to Democrats who run as Blairites: You get bounced from the ticket. In the 2004 election, instead of coming to terms with it as a national security question, the Democrats looked at the war on terror merely as a Bush wedge issue they needed to neutralize. And so they signed up with the weirdly incoherent narrative of John Kerry — a celebrated anti-war activist suddenly “reporting for duty” as a war hero and claiming that, even though the war was a mistake and his comrades were murderers and rapists, his four months in the Mekong rank as the most epic chapter in the annals of the Republic.
It’s worth contrasting the fawning media admiration for Kerry’s truncated tour of duty with their total lack of interest in Bob Dole’s years of service two presidential campaigns earlier. That convention night in Boston was one of the freakiest presentations in contemporary politics: a man being greeted as a combination of Alexander the Great and the Duke of Wellington for a few weeks’ service in a war America lost. But Kerry is the flesh-and-blood embodiment of the Democratic straddle, of the we-oppose-the-war-but-support-our-troops line. That’s why anti-war Dems, outspinning themselves, decided they could support a soldier who opposed a war. And as Kerry demonstrates effortlessly every time he opens his mouth, if you detach the heroism of a war from the morality of it, what’s left but braggadocio? Or, as the senator intoned to me back in New Hampshire when I tried to ask what he would actually do about Iraq, Iran or anything else, “Sometimes truly courageous leadership means having the courage not to show any leadership.” (I quote from memory.)
In fairness to Kerry, he didn’t invent the Democrats’ tortured relationship with the military. But ever since Eugene McCarthy ran against Lyndon Johnson and destroyed the most powerful Democrat of the last half-century, the Democratic Party has had a problematic relationship with the projection of power in the national interest. President Jimmy Carter confined himself to one screwed-up helicopter mission in Iran; Bill Clinton bombed more countries in a little more than six months than the Zionist neocon warmonger Bush has in six years but, unless you happened to be in that Sudanese aspirin factory, it was as desultory and uncommitted as his sex life and characterized by the same inability to reach (in Ken Starr’s word) “completion.” As for John Kerry, since he first slandered the American military three decades ago, he’s been wrong on every foreign policy question and voted against every significant American weapons system.
To be sure, like Kerry in 2004 deciding that the murderers and rapists were now his brave “band of brothers,” the left often discover a sudden enthusiasm for the previous war once a new one’s come along. Since Iraq, they’ve been all in favor of Afghanistan, though back in the fall of 2001 they were convinced it was a quagmire, graveyard of empire, unwinnable, another Vietnam, etc. Oh, and they also discovered a belated enthusiasm for the first President Bush’s shrewd conduct of the 1991 Gulf War, though at the time Kerry and most other Democrats voted against that one, too. In this tedious shell game, no matter how frantically the left shuffles the cups, you never find the one shriveled pea of The Military Intervention We’re Willing To Support When it Matters.
To be sure, the progressives deserve credit for having refined their view of the military: not murderers and rapists, just impoverished suckers too stupid for anything other than soldiering. The left still doesn’t understand that it’s the soldier who guarantees every other profession — the defeatist New York Times journalist, the anti-American college professor, the insurgent-video-of-the-day host at CNN, the hollow preening blowhard senator. Kerry’s gaffe isn’t about one maladroit Marie Antoinette of the Senate but a glimpse into the mind-set of too many Americans.
©Mark Steyn, 2006