In the 1980s, when it seemed like the "squishes" in the Reagan White House were getting the upper hand over the Reaganites - or, if you prefer, the hardliners - in the battle for Reagan's ear, the call went forth, "Let Reagan be Reagan." The argument was that Reagan's instincts and principles were better than those of his New York Times-pleasing handlers, and they shouldn't try to make the Gipper be somebody he wasn't.
Today we're witnessing the same thing in reverse. A host of Democratic operatives, elder statesmen, consultants and pundits have launched a campaign that says in effect, "Don't let Kerry be Kerry."
Here's the problem. Kerry is, as he's been known to brag, a "man of nuance" or of "complexity." What he means by these terms, of course, is that he should be permitted to say whatever he wants - or whatever the audience at a particular moment wants to hear - without feeling like he's contradicting, or making an ass of, himself.
The little examples are legion. "Who among us doesn't like NASCAR?" Kerry asked not too long ago, about as convincingly as a French chef lauding Spam. More recently, he tried to convince a crowd of farmers that even though he grew up the son of a diplomat, spending most of his time in Europe or boarding school, he was actually a farmer at heart because as a kid he got to ride a tractor a few times at a relative's house. By this standard, I joined the circus as a kid because I once got to ride an elephant when Barnum and Bailey came to New York.
Now, it's in the nature of all politicians to want to be liked by as many people as possible. What distinguishes a statesman from the common run, however, is what he is willing to be disliked for. And the answer, in John Kerry's case, is "almost nothing" - even on the central issues of the day, such as Iraq and the War on Terror.
During a primary debate in Minnesota, Kerry was asked if he'd call himself a "war president" the way George Bush does. He responded: "I'd see myself first of all as a jobs president, as a health care president, as an education president, and also an environmental president. So I would see myself as a very different kind of global leader than George Bush."
And, as we all know by now, Kerry's position(s) on the war have more possible combinations than a Rubik's Cube. He voted for it, but he was really against it. He voted against the $87 billion funding for reconstruction, but he was really for it. He said recently that he would vote for the war all over again, given the opportunity.