In My Midas Rating, Kerry Beats George On the Negatives

Last week, two days before the third debate, John Kerry had an opportunity to do something that could have sunk George W. Bush, or at least left him rudderless. But he didn’t —and once again I ask myself, “What’s with this guy?”

On Monday the 11th, the Senate showed that, no matter what the public thinks, Cheneyworld still calls the shots. It legitimated a raid on the Public Capital, embracing subsidies, buyouts, tax breaks, preferences and so on that will add up to $140 billion over the next 10 years. The bill passed the upper house 69-17.

Not voting were Senators Kerry and Edwards. The excuse lamely given in The Times —or perhaps it should be the lame excuse given in The Times —was that the two were busy campaigning.

I don’t understand that. This bill, economically spurious and socially indefensible, is redolent in every stinking pore and orifice of attitudes toward public money and the public purse that we might collectively call “The Halliburton Syndrome.” Halliburton and all that it entails are something Senator Kerry and his party have had in their sights since Day 1.

What an opportunity this bill presented for John Kerry to break off campaigning, fly to Washington, stride onto the Senate floor and vote loudly, massive chin held high, against a bill that “represents everything that I and my ticket stand against, and everything this administration stands for!” What a chance to display a profile in courage, if you will.

But he didn’t do that. Instead he stayed away, blathering on in some swing state or another about health insurance and continuing, in a hard-edged, bitter, few-holds-barred campaign, to indulge in utterances like his terrorism/nuisance trope, which invariably boomerang because they lend themselves to calculated misquotation in the best tradition of Fox News. Watching the Kerry campaign makes one bless the sweet Lord that the venues in which he appears don’t accommodate themselves to PowerPoint.

But back to the main issue. Where was you, Johnny, you man of principle, on the Big Giveaway? As the King of Siam notably mused: “Is a puzzlement.”

The suspicion has to be, well, if Lyndon Johnson could boast that he had an opponent’s “pecker in my pocket,” perhaps Teresa Heinz Kerry can say that she has her husband’s in her pocketbook.

For a more benign view, let me recommend Daniel Gross on Slate (10/12; http://slate.msn.com/id/2108136/), who points out that really rich people like Teresa Heinz Kerry don’t care about such things, any more than they care about two- or three-point bumps in the income-tax rate—which they don’t pay anyway. The Kerrys only paid an effective rate of 12 percent on their 2003 income of nearly $7 million, of which a small fraction is attributable to the Senator. His contribution reminds me of an anecdote involving Nick Etten, a good hit/no-field Yankee first baseman of long ago. Around 1944, he signed a contract for $15,015, whereupon a New York sportswriter opined: “The fifteen bucks is for fielding.” So doth the Senator’s take-home relate to the whole.

The giveaway bill was for people and companies that need to cheat to build wealth, because wealth is the key. What people don’t understand is that you need capital to cut your effective tax rate, capital with which to buy tax-exempts or put up the money for non-suspect tax fiddles (you should see what accountants can do with private-jet ownership). Capital-poor wage slaves can’t play this game. Thus do the rich get richer.

So where are we now? It is clear that the President thinks he was picked by the deity to lead us against the heathen and is instructed by divine voices (God’s mouth to his ear)—we might as well call him “George of Arc.” It is evident that Dick Cheney is a thug, albeit possessed of the cunning one frequently encounters in not-all-that-bright (look at his record at Halliburton) people who have an instinctive feel for how to game the system. Still, many of us who dread another four years of George Bush fear four years of John Kerry only slightly less and still need convincing. Web sites like http://www.Kerryisadouchebagbutimvotingforhimanyway.com don’t quite do the job.

We need a non-rhetorical rating system. I’ve got one.

Years ago on Wall Street, I absorbed a great truth: Every number exists in two dimensions, the absolute and the proportionate—and you use whichever best supports the lie you are about to tell. I have applied that to the present campaign and evaluated the two candidacies in terms of absolute and relative negatives. In this race, there are no positives—none.

Here’s how my rating system works. I’ve broken the campaign down into five essential categories: Bush vs. Kerry personally; Bush vs. Kerry in terms of policy substance and realism; Cheney vs. Edwards; Kerry-knockers vs. Bush-haters; Fox vs. CNN (media slant and performance). I then rate each in terms of relative and absolute awfulness (a term that encompasses every negative and minus I can think of, of every kind) on a scale of 1 to 10, the latter being the absolute worst. High score loses, which is in keeping with the spirit of the campaign.

Here’s where I come out. George W. Bush a 9, John Kerry a 9 personally. On policy, both get a 10. Dick Cheney is, of course, a 10 on every count, but John Edwards gets off with an 8. I find Bush-haters unacceptably shrill and obtuse: 10 for the pack of them. The Kerry-knockers come across a shade less mindlessly hysterical, so say 9. As for the media, each polarity of the commentariat gets a 10: a plague on them both!

Now add it up. The Bush side: 9+10+10+9+10 = 48. The Kerry side: 9+10+8+10+10 = 47. John Kerry by the thickness of a hair on Pinocchio’s nose. With two weeks to go, he’s my man. But that could change.