A Message to John Kerry from Iraq
Novak summaries well Kerry’s foot-in mouth disease in the Evans-Novak Political Report for 11/1
The Kerry Effect: It’s not the biggest October Surprise, but Sen. Kerry’s political self-destruct yesterday is the latest unexpected event. The entire incident reflects a man who missed the presidency by an inch, and who feels at the core of his being that he miscalculated in his 2004 campaign and doesn’t want to make the same mistake again.
- Kerry, addressing a crowd of Democrats in California on the topic of education, tied in the Iraq War by bringing up the long-standing complaint by some on the left that the military preys upon poor and uneducated youths in their recruitment. “You know, education, if you make the most of it, if you study hard and do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.” That is a slightly meaner version of what several Democratic members of Congress have been saying for years.
- Republicans were delighted when the remarks came to light and drew somber rebukes from the White House and from several Republican politicians, especially Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). It was shaping up as a motivator for a disillusioned Republican base, when Kerry issued an angrily written statement, apparently hastily written, aimed at “right-wing nut jobs” who were criticizing him.
- In sum, Kerry said something he shouldn’t have (nothing an apology could not have mended), but then gave his strident response to the criticism, which may have dealt a blow to Democrats and a death-blow to Kerry’s political future. Kerry’s extremely angry, aggressive follow-up presentation was so lacking in contrition that he made matters worse. As House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) put it in a television interview, “He’d better apologize, or we’re gonna beat him to death over this one.”
- Kerry still believes that his failure to respond quickly and aggressively to the attacks on his military record in 2004 cost him the presidency. He has taken so much grief from Democrats over his failure to stand up for himself and for liberal ideas that he felt the need to act decisively yesterday. That is what brought on his extremely ill-considered behavior.
- Kerry’s explanation — that his original comment was meant as a jab at President Bush — was lost in a sea of angry anti-Bush rhetoric. The explanation also falls flat because his remarks are so clearly in line with accepted left-wing positions. If Kerry’s fear was that Republicans would divert attention away from a failed Iraq policy, he managed only to give extra life to the news story that will indeed divert it. Whatever the truth at the heart of it all, the story going into the final week of the election is about John Kerry, who insulted the troops, refused to apologize, and erupted in a defiant televised speech.
- How much damage will this cause Democrats? It unquestionably knocks them off their message, and it may even poison the well with respect to remarks critical of the Iraq War. Kerry’s angry denial that he would ever speak ill of the troops brings back memories from 2004 — specifically his 35-year-old testimony that his comrades in Vietnam were murderers and rapists. More immediately, Democratic candidates all over the country will now be asked whether Kerry owes an apology, which is a no-win proposition no matter how it is answered.
- But the real damage will come in the form of increased Republican base turnout. Their old boogeyman has returned from the dead. What could be more effective in motivating disillusioned conservatives to vote next week than the sight of a defiant John Kerry insulting the troops and angrily refusing to apologize? We are told that the ads are already being cut and the mailers printed as we write. The effect will remain unknown until next week.