Kathleen Parker

I started a joke, which started the whole world crying, But I didn't see that the joke was on me, oh no.

I started to cry, which started the whole world laughing, Oh, if I'd only seen that the joke was on me. -- The Bee Gees, 1968

Tell me if you've already heard this one:

"You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. And if you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

That was the hilarious Sen. John F. Kerry speaking to a group of college students a few days ago. It was supposed to be a joke, he says, but he botched it.

What he really meant to say was, wait, wait, this is really funny:

"I can't overstress the importance of a great education. Do you know where you end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy?"

No, Mr. Kerry, where, where? Please don't say we end up married to a poor woman.

"You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush."


The obvious lesson here is that some people should never try to be funny. Otherwise, Kerry seemed to be addressing a group of second-graders. "Do your homework"? "Make an effort to be smart"?

Oh, OK, Dad, you go first.

Kerry's blunder and the subsequent uproar from Republicans (and even some Democrats) at first seemed overblown -- a political opportunity too sweet to be ignored. In the final days before an election that has evolved as a referendum on an increasingly unpopular war, Kerry might as well have saluted George Bush and handed him a bullhorn.

Did Republicans, including the president, milk the moment until it was begging for mercy? Of course. Just as Democrats have milked every mispronounced syllable in Bush's repertoire to suggest that he's almost as dumb as Kerry.

Neither man is dumb, obviously, and each is afflicted with different problems. But in Kerry's case, it doesn't really matter what he meant to say. Why not? The answer goes a long way toward explaining what has gone wrong with the Democratic Party in recent years.

Whether Kerry is hanging with blue collars in a Boston pub -- or sniffing snifters with his Brahmin brethren -- he comes across as a pandering, elitist, effete limousine liberal who doesn't have a clue what ordinary Americans, including our gang in Iraq, are all about.

The same goes for the political party that anointed Kerry as its presidential candidate two years ago, and ordinary Americans sense it. They can smell smarter-than-thou elitism an ocean and a continent away.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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