Jonah Goldberg

"When your horse is drowning, it's a good time to change horses in midstream," John Kerry declared this week. Maybe he got this line eavesdropping on his staff. How many strategy meetings are delayed as Kerry consultants daydream about how they'd be knocking down swing states if Dick Gephardt, Howard Dean, John Edwards or even the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man were their boss? By the way, when do the milk cartons with John Edwards' face on 'em start showing up on grocery shelves?

I have a theory to explain why the Democratic presidential ticket is growing lamer by the week. It suffers from a little-understood condition known as the "Kerry Syndrome." This is closely related to Simple Chronic Kerrytosis, a malady that causes poll numbers to drop when the candidate opens his mouth.

The Kerry Syndrome is a rare variant of the Stockholm Syndrome. The latter phenomenon is the condition where hostages - Patty Hearst, for example - grow to sympathize with, and in extreme cases become like, their captors. The Kerry variant, first diagnosed in the junior senator from Massachusetts, works along similar lines, prompting the patient to ape his enemies. The Democratic nominee, for example, seems to have been captured by George W. Bush and, to a certain extent, by Richard Nixon.

Nixon? you ask. Well, yeah. Tricky Dick looms very large in Kerry's personal narrative. Indeed, Kerry founded his post-Vietnam political career on his brief stint as an anti-Nixon truth-teller. Consequently, whenever the candidate talks about Vietnam, he makes it sound like that whole war was launched, conceived and waged by the Republican president. That whole bit about being in Cambodia on Christmas Day 1968 was revealing. It seems what was actually "seared" into his memory was his hatred of Nixon. After all, the moral of Kerry's story was that Nixon was lying about U.S. troops not being in Cambodia. The problem: Not only was Kerry not in Cambodia, but Nixon wasn't president yet.

Strangely enough, however, Kerry has become the most thoroughly Nixonian candidate since, well, Nixon. From his blatant pandering and fear-mongering (yes, yes, the Bush campaign plays on peoples' fears, too) to his constant changes in policy based on polls and tactics, Kerry comes across as a Democratic version of Nixon with McGovern's foreign policy.

Kerry's a stiff like RN, too. But at least when Nixon said, "Sock it to me!" on "Laugh-In," he understood the joke was on him. John Kerry rips off Donald Trump's "You're fired!" like a substitute teacher looking for a laugh.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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