What a pathetic spectacle John Kerry has become. Twenty-four hours after his instantly infamous "botched joke," he was back in Washington - pulled off the campaign trail as shrewd Democrats hoped he would (please, dear God) stop trying to explain himself.
Radio host Don Imus caught the sentiment perfectly when Kerry made an unsolicited call into his program. "Please stop it," Imus pleaded. "Stop talking. Go home, get on the bike, go windsurfing, anything. Stop it."
Kerry embodies the old saw about the Bourbons, "They learned nothing and forgot nothing." He hasn't forgotten the Swift Boat attacks on him from 2004, but also has learned nothing of use from them - except the mistaken lesson that he should respond venomously to any and all criticisms. Hence, his initial rant in response to the controversy, personally insulting Tony Snow ("a stuffed shirt") and Rush Limbaugh ("doughy") and lambasting his critics generally as "crazy" chicken-hawks.
Markos Moulitsas, the leader of the left-wing blogosphere from his perch at Daily Kos, pronounced himself much pleased: "Kerry responded perfectly." It was the blogosphere that encouraged Kerry to believe that what cost him the election in 2004 was that he hadn't denounced his detractors angrily enough.
Even if that were true of 2004 (it's not), it was exactly the wrong prescription for de-fusing his "botched joke."
Kerry's defense is that he mis-spoke, leaving a few key words out of his statement that people had better do well in school or they will get "stuck in Iraq" - words that supposedly would have made it clear he was criticizing President Bush, not the GI's.
But when someone mis-speaks, the normal human reaction is to apologize and feel a little humility. (That's spelled H-U-M-I-L-I-T-Y, Sen. Kerry.) When Kerry instead went on the attack, it only fueled the sense that he'd been caught out saying something horrendous.
Now, it is entirely plausible that Kerry was trying to make a joke about President Bush, for two reasons. One, typically of the humorless Kerry, it wouldn't have been funny. Two, typically of the arrogant Kerry, it would have reversed the usual convention, wherein politicians tell jokes at their own expense in their opening remarks. (Someone needs to take Kerry aside and tell him, "It's the hauteur, stupid.")
But Kerry's statement was also plausibly interpreted by people of good faith as a slam against the military. After all, he never mentioned the name Bush. And the fact that a lot of the Left believes exactly what Kerry seemed to be saying - that members of the military are cannon-fodder and boobs gulled into signing up because they have no other options in life.
Certainly, many service-members interpreted Kerry's remarks that way, and they aren't the partisan attack-artists Kerry wanted to make all his critics out to be. The comically mis-spelled sign from soldiers in Iraq, posted on the Drudge Report, said it all: "Halp us Jon Carry - we r stuck hear in Irak."
Kerry said that it is "crazy" to think that "a veteran would criticize the more than 140,000 heroes serving in Iraq." That's true of almost all veterans - except John Kerry. After Vietnam, he returned to the United States to smear the 3.4 million heroes who served there as monsters routinely committing the most grotesque war crimes.
Incredibly, Kerry still pats himself on the back for this enormous lie. On Imus yesterday, he said, "When I came back from Southeast Asia, I told the truth."
As much as smart Democrats would like him to, John Kerry isn't going away anytime soon. He's not a fringe figure, but the party's presidential nominee from two short years ago.
Democrats running as conservatives this year - like senatorial candidate Harold Ford of Tennessee and Jon Tester of Montana - have denounced Kerry's remarks and demanded an apology that he finally coughed up late Wednesday. But Kerry better represents the mainstream of the Democratic Party than they do, and it is old-school liberals like him - with all their sense of superiority and all their intellectual baggage from Vietnam - who will gain most from a Democratic majority won on the strength of relatively moderate candidates.
They can distance themselves from John Kerry now, but he awaits them in Washington, ready to emerge unrepentant as soon as Election Day passes.
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