All doubt about John Kerry’s ethnicity is now removed: He’s as Irish as Paddy’s Pig.
Yes, there’s the Jewish grandfather on his father’s side; and, yes, his mother’s WASP forebears sent their grandchildren off to fight the Revolutionary War; and, yes, George Bush’s elves would have us believe that Mr. Kerry looks like he’s related to Gerard Depardieu-but only 100 percent–certified Sons of Erin possess John Kerry’s luck this week.
How lucky was he? Well, if an announcement is forthcoming that genealogical research has determined Mr. Kerry’s middle name to be Finian, not Forbes, don’t be surprised.
First, there was the ’round-the-clock Republican National Committee campaign commercial masquerading as collective mourning for Ronald Reagan. Kerry partisans predicted a political version of The Day After Tomorrow , former campaign manager Jim Jordan saying that the thought of Reagan passing in the middle of a Presidential election had been the source of dread an entire decade.
The media did their best to realize Mr. Jordan’s nightmares with coverage that exhausted every superlative in the unabridged OED and skipped stuff like Iran-contra, the blowing up of the Marine barracks in Beirut, the ignored AIDS crisis and anything else that tarnished the “Shining City on a Hill.”
What Karl Rove didn’t count on when he was pulling out the funeral stops were unflattering comparisons. Each invocation of “the Great Communicator” reminded who wasn’t. Ditto every mention of Mr. Reagan’s amiability with opponents; his willingness to listen, cut deals and change course (biggest tax increase follows biggest tax cut); his aversion to open-ended, unwinnable war; and-not least-the affection much of the world had for him and the country he led.
But the best shot at Mr. Bush came from his sky-diving dad, whose Presidency looks better every day his son remains in office. In his choked-voiced eulogy, George Herbert Walker Bush commended his former boss for his decency, his humility, his fairness, his kindness, his lack of mean spirit, his embrace of survivors of national tragedies. All qualities AWOL in his oldest kid.
Undeterred, Dubya-who looked awfully small midst the giants crowded into the National Cathedral-devoted his weekly radio address to wrapping himself yet again in the Reagan shroud. And what did Mr. Kerry talk about in the Democratic reply? Stem-cell research, an issue that resonates among swing voters in perfect-lawn places like Shaker Heights, Ohio, and Winnetka, Ill., a helluva lot more than the umpteenth tribute to Mr. Reagan-whose beloved Nancy, by the way, has been hitting Dubya over the head for his Christian Right–commanded opposition.
Indeed, barely had the late President begun to enjoy his new hilltop view of the Pacific than the Texas Republican Party was providing further confirmation of Dubya’s dissimilarities to more or less secular Ronnie by affirming its belief in America being “a Christian nation” (tough, Neiman-Marcus and y’all), and that part in the First Amendment about separation of church and state being “myth.”
With enemies like this, Mr. Kerry must be asking himself, who needs friends?
The Iraq news, meanwhile, read like a fund-raising letter from Terry McAuliffe.
Turns out, for starters, that the prime minister in the new, sorta sovereign government Dubya thinks so highly of was once a player in a C.I.A.-supported group that expressed its annoyance with the previous regime by purportedly blowing up a school bus full of kids. Further turns out that the much-ballyhooed “decapitation strikes” at the war’s start had a batting average even worse than Derek Jeter’s at the season’s start. Out of 50 launched, according to The Times , none hurt whom they were supposed to, but did kill God knows how many collateral others not in the game plan. Whereabouts of the intended victims fall into the “Anybody seen a W.M.D.?” category. All that’s known for certain is that the missing cards from the Bad Guys deck have found new employment leading the plinking of American G.I.’s. For those who plan their television news viewing well in advance, a programming tip: At the present rate, U.S. K.I.A.’s will reach the magic 1,000 threshold roundabout Nov. 2.
Elsewhere, the only sure friends we had in Iraq became ex-, when the Kurds-fed up with a second President named Bush selling them out, this time by caving in to Shia constitutional demands-walked out on the government, setting the stage for civil war. If it comes to that, the Shiites are bound to win, since there are way more of them and we’re on their side, even though the only other Shia government in the world is Iran, the next evildoer on Dubya’s list. In any case, the odds don’t daunt the Kurds. They’re like the Irish, only with sand instead of clover: good fighters who can’t resist doomed fights.
As all this was going on, numerous indigenous high and low were getting murdered on their way to work in Baghdad, proving conclusively that Iraq is not Vietnam. In Saigon, the worst you had to worry about driving from the Caravelle to Ton Son Nhut was that the pedi-cab crush might make you miss your flight. You could also watch reruns of Little House on the Prairie day and night because the electricity worked all the time, and we could rely on whichever puppet was inhabiting the presidential palace at the moment to do pretty much what we wanted-except, of course, win.
These events-and others we’ll get to in a minute-came at a most opportune juncture for Mr. Kerry, whose Iraq policy was beginning to call to mind what the late Michael O’Donoghue, the comic genius at the root of the early Saturday Night Live , told his father on being informed that his mother had “lost her toe.” Said Michael: “Have you looked behind the refrigerator?”
In this case, better to scour the Oval Office, which seemed to have swiped all Mr. Kerry’s Iraq solutions. Leave it to luck, in the person of Jacques Chirac, to save him. No sooner was Mr. Bush done taking credit for the notion of dragging NATO into the killing fields (precisely what Mr. Kerry’s been bannering for months) than Monsieur le Président was saying, ” C’est impossible .” At least while you’re still around, Georges .
For Dubya, it was downward from there. By the end of the week, he’d impersonated Ronald McDonald at a G8 press conference; violated the Ninth Commandment by insisting he’d only envisioned NATO armies serving as “trainers”; claimed he couldn’t remember whether he’d read the memo from his White House counsel saying torture was O.K., if he said so; and been caught by the National Catholic Reporter asking a cardinal during a Vatican chat to twist His Holiness’ arm into saying some unholy things about his Democratic rival.
The final bump at the bottom of the hill was the revelation that a State Department terrorism report the White House had been trumpeting was 180 degrees wrong: Instead of 2003 being the best year for messing up terrorist plans since 1969, it was the worst. Seems somebody forgot to count a few bloody months.
Never at a loss when looking for others to blame, Colin Powell pinned the boo-boo on the C.I.A.-whose recently departed chief, George Tenet, was unavailable for rejoinder: He was busy belatedly building a tree house for his college-age son. In fact, the bad arithmetic came straight out of Mr. Powell’s own shop, specifically the State Department’s Counterterrorism Office, which is run by one of Mr. Bush’s favorite spooks, J. Cofer Black. If the name’s familiar, you’ve read Bob Woodward’s Bush at War , in which then–C.I.A. man Black, on the eve of giving the Taliban what-fer, promises a rapt Dubya, “When we get through with them, they will have flies walking across their eyeballs.” There remain ample flies in Afghanistan, but at last report, plenty of eyeballs are still free of them, including the set belonging to Osama bin Laden.
More good news: According to a friend of the Secretary of State, Mr. Powell’s secretly rooting for Dubya’s defeat. His reasoning: “Colin won’t be able to write his book if Bush wins.”
Speaking of which, Bill Clinton-who reportedly had a hissy fit at not being invited to speak at the Reagan funeral-doesn’t even have his book out yet, and Borders has already cut the price 40 percent. In hustling the goods, The Times reported this week, Mr. Clinton’s first priority will be returning Knopf’s investment. But he’ll also find time for uttering warm words about Mr. Kerry during appearances on Oprah and the like. Additionally demonstrating his consideration, the former President-who’s scheduled to lead off the Democratic National Convention-is refraining from Boston bookstore appearances the rest of that week. The political impact of his to-ing and fro-ing is tricky to gauge. On the one hand, Mr. Clinton retains a devoted following. On the other, says a source close to the Kerry camp, if he’s discovered relapsing at an activity that’s famously brought him trouble, “we’re toast.”
Where does all of this leave John Kerry? According to Los Angeles Times and CNN polls conducted after the death of President Reagan, seven points up on George W. Bush.
The question is how much longer Mr. Kerry can count on the lightning strike that gave him Dubya as an opponent to win the election for him.
Your correspondent’s guess is, worst case, until he selects a running mate, which, with John McCain definitively spurning the latest and apparently last try at seduction, stands to disappoint everyone but (please, say it isn’t so, Finian) John Edwards, if the South and his Senate colleagues have their way. After that, tiddlywinks becomes guts ball.
In the interval, we can reflect on The Times ‘ disclosure of Mr. Kerry’s preference for riding motorcycles, passing footballs and strumming the guitar over campaigning. If ever there were testament to his sanity, this is it.
Since he first trod the hallowed snows of New Hampshire, the press has supplied many such tidbits about the presumptive Democratic nominee. We’ve learned that he speaks flawless French; was a member of Skull and Bones; dated women reporters would kill to spend five minutes with; changes his mind as much as the next office-seeker; lands on his keister sometimes while snow-boarding; became fond of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while serving in Vietnam; is not someone most Americans would like to take bowling; on and on.
About the only thing we haven’t been told about John Kerry is what kind of President he’s likely to be.
A wise one, we’d better hope.