This isn’t your father’s JFK. This one lacks all the charm, warmth, and presence of the other. But Thursday evening was spent recreating him in the image of the original. It didn’t work. It’s all in his eyes, and his voice.
I remember John Kennedy. I was ten when he was elected; the 1960 election was the first I paid attention to. No one I knew–even my dad, who voted for Nixon–disliked JFK. You couldn’t avoid the warmth. John Kerry’s eyes don’t radiate that warmth. His voice rises and falls, but remains flat and uninspiring. He tried so hard to be Kennedy with the movie, all Swifties on the podium, the “help is on the way,” and “what if” riffs. But it didn’t work. A good speaker, better than Gore. As good as Edwards? Nah. This man is not easy to like.
He asked to be judged by his record, and many of us will oblige. His antiwar radicalism in the 1970s–not just in my opinion, but in the opinion of former POWs I have interviewed–lengthened the war, and increased the abuse they suffered at the hands of their North Vietnamese captors. There’s a lot he has done to be undeserving of our votes. But what he will do–as he described it–is worse than what he did in the past.
On the one hand, he said, “I will wage this war with the lessons I learned in war. Before you go into battle, you have to be able to look a parent in the eye and truthfully say: I tried everything possible to avoid sending your son or daughter into harm’s way….” Couple that with his statement that, “After decades of experience in national security, I know the reach of our power and I know the power of our ideals.” And with his earlier statements that he would abandon Bush’s policy of preempting terrorist attacks on America.
What you have–like it or not–is a presidential candidate who wants us to believe three things. First, he wants us to believe that American power is insufficient to win this war. Second, he wants us to believe he can get our former allies–such as France and Germany–to join with us to fight terrorism. He can, if he pays the price Mr. Bush refuses to pay: to allow them to control how we fight–or don’t fight–the war. Third, he believes we can deal with terrorists and the nations that support and harbor them by diplomatic means. This is a policy of weakness, and of defeatism. No matter how much he wraps himself in Old Glory, he’s still what he’s always been. He’s a pure-as-Ivory-soap liberal who lacks confidence in his country and looks abroad for validation.
He is full of “plans” to win in Iraq, to lower the deficit, to make the world safe for children, kittens and puppies. Just what are those plans? What makes him think that Old Europe will come running to help in Iraq and Afghanistan? He says he’ll enact the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission right away, but he doesn’t tell us why that will change anything in the near future. Wasn’t it just a few months ago when George Tenet the now (thankfully) departed DCI, was saying that it will take at least five years to restore our ability to put real spies into the black depths terrorists go into to hide? How is he going to lower the deficit, raise wages, cut middle class taxes, and not have inflation through the roof?
Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. This is the great Oz. And–God help us–he may be the 44th president of the United States.