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Saturday, September 04, 2004

Bone Up on the Candidates 

It's one of the small kinks in democracy that imbeciles get to vote just as you do (and boy howdy, is their name Legion or what). Are our friends from other, older -- and let us say it, wiser cultures wrong to be appalled by the vacuity and chronic doltishness of the American electorate when the most crucial presidential election of the century (to date) can be deliberately, successfully reframed as a national referendum on which candidate has the bigger dick? And the issue could be so easily resolved! -- perhaps in lieu of a third debate. From Frank Rich in tomorrow's NYT:
But with the high stakes of an election at hand, it's not enough to stuff socks in the president's flight suit. Mr. Kerry must be turned into a girl. Such castration warfare has been a Republican staple ever since Michael Dukakis provided the opening by dressing up like Snoopy to ride a tank. We've had Bill Clinton vilified as the stooge of a harridan wife and Al Gore as the puppet of the makeover artist Naomi Wolf. But given his actual history on the field of battle, this year's Democratic standard bearer would, seemingly, be immune to such attacks, especially from the camp of a candidate whose most daring feat of physical courage was tearing down the Princeton goalposts.

No matter. Once Mr. Kerry usurped Howard Dean, whose wartime sojurn in Aspen made the president look like a Green Beret, the Bush campaign's principals and surrogates went into overdrive. Mr. Kerry was said to appear "French." (That's code for "faggy.") His alleged encounters with Botox and a Christophe hairdresser were dutifully clocked on Drudge. For Memorial Day weekend, the redoubtable New York Post published hypothetical barbecue memos for the two contenders, with Mr. Bush favoring sausage and beer (albeit nonalcoholic) and Mr. Kerry opting for frogs legs, chardonnay and crème brûlée. Ann Coulter, that great arbiter of the marriage bond, posted a column titled "Just a Gigolo" in which the presumptive Democratic candidate was portrayed as "a poodle to rich women." Eventually John Edwards would become "the Breck girl," and Dick Cheney would yank an adjective out of context to suggest that Mr. Kerry wanted to fight a "sensitive" war on terror. (For a translation of "sensitive" in this context, see "French" above) . . . .

The rest is the rewriting of history. Democrats are shocked that the Republicans have gotten away with it to the extent they have. After all, John O'Neill, the ringleader of the Swifties, didn't serve "with" Mr. Kerry anywhere except on "The Dick Cavett Show." Other members of this truth squad include a doctor who claims to have treated Mr. Kerry's wounds even though his name isn't on a single relevant document and a guy who has gone so far as to accuse Jim Rassmann, whom Mr. Kerry saved from certain death, of being a liar. How could such obvious clowns fool so many? It must be Karl Rove's fault, or Fox's, or a lack of diligence from the non-Fox press . . . .

But Mr. Kerry, having joined the macho game with Mr. Bush on the president's own cheesy terms, is hardly innocent in his own diminishment. From the get-go he's tried to match his opponent in stupid male tricks. If Mr. Bush clears brush in Crawford, then Mr. Kerry rides a Harley-Davidson onto Jay Leno's set. When the Democrat asks "Who among us does not love Nascar?" and lets reporters follow him around on a "day off" when his errands include buying a jock strap, he is asking to be ridiculed as an "International Man of Mystery." In the new issue of GQ, you can witness him having a beer (alcoholic) with a reporter as he confesses to a modicum of lust for Charlize Theron and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Presumably the only reason he excluded the demographically desirable Halle Berry is that her Catwoman outfit too closely resembles his own costume for windsurfing.

The flaw in Mr. Kerry is not, as Washington wisdom has it, that he asked for trouble from the Swifties by bringing up Vietnam in the first place. Both his Vietnam service and Vietnam itself are entirely relevant to a campaign set against an unpopular and ineptly executed war in Iraq that was spawned by the executive branch in similarly cloudy circumstances. But having brought Vietnam up against the backdrop of our 2004 war, Mr. Kerry has nothing to say about it except that his service proves he's more manly than Mr. Bush. Well, nearly anyone is more manly than a president who didn't have the guts to visit with the 9/11 commission unaccompanied by a chaperone.

The truth is that Mr. Kerry was a man's man not just when he volunteered to fight in a losing war but when he came home and forthrightly fought against it, on grounds that history has upheld. Unless he's man enough to stand up for that past, he's doomed to keep competing with Mr. Bush to see who can best play an action figure on TV. Mr. Kerry doesn't seem to understand that it takes a certain kind of talent to play dress-up and deliver lines like "Bring it on." In that race, it's not necessarily the best man but the best actor who will win.

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