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.

The most Nixonian of Kerry's traits is his obsession with secrecy and conspiracies. In August, Kerry announced he had a secret plan to get America out of Iraq. When George Stephanopoulos said it sounded like Nixon's secret plan, Kerry responded with Nixonian combativeness: "I don't care what it sounds like. It's truth. I don't care what it sounds like."

OK, fine. But at the same time, Kerry has accused Bush of having more secret plans than SPECTRE from the James Bond movies. As the blogger Slings and Arrows has documented, Kerry has accused Bush of having secret plans to privatize Social Security, slash social services, wage nuclear war, fix oil prices at the Saudis' behest, cut VA Benefits, cut education funding, send jobs abroad and, of course, bring back the draft. On Monday the Associated Press reported, "John Kerry told voters in America's Dairyland... that President Bush had a secret plan that would hurt milk producers after the election."

Because Kerry Syndrome can cause dementia, it's not always clear whether Kerry thinks he's running as Nixon or against Nixon.

And other times it seems he's running as George W. Bush. It's hard to remember a time when one presidential candidate so completely controlled the agenda of the other. If they were cellmates, Kerry would be doing Bush's laundry by now. John Kerry's whole foreign policy is cemented to the notion that allies are everything. And yet he spends precious time ridiculing America's allies as a "coalition of the bribed" and letting his surrogates call the Iraqi prime minister a Bush puppet.

The Kerry campaign accuses the White House of fear-mongering with its talk about mushroom clouds; it moans when Dick Cheney's warns that a loss for Bush would be a setback in the war on terror. Then Kerry puts Ted Kennedy out there this week to warn that another term for Bush would make - you guessed it - "mushroom clouds" more likely. The Kerry playbook should be subtitled, "I know you are but what am I?"

Kerry even seems to want to speak like Bush. Just this week, Kerry called a Wisconsin audience's attention to Bush's negative ads. "I'm calling them 'misleadisments,' " the candidate declared, so lamely it makes your heart ache. When Kerry starts scripting Bushisms, you know the syndrome is in its final stages and the end is near.


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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