It was as if John Kerry understood that now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the other party.
Whatever possessed him, he got up in front of a student audience in California and told them:
"You know, education - if you make the most of it, you study hard and you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."
The worst of it was that not until the speech started drawing flak from a suddenly revived GOP did it occur to the senator that he had screwed up - bad.
And that he had some explaining to do. Even then, he resisted apologizing for an agonizingly long time.
It's remarkable when you think about it:
Here the country now has what may be our first dyslexic president in George W. Bush, a lead-tongued orator who can scarcely get through a presidential address or press conference without making word-salad of his speechwriters' finest efforts. His manful struggle with the English language is renewed every time he gets behind a rostrum, and it's a rarity when the language wins.
Yet offhand I can't think of anything George W. has said, or attempted to say in his clumsy way, as stupid - or as self-destructive - as this mangled "joke" from a supposedly sophisticated man of the world, a Beacon Hill Brahmin no less. But maybe that's precisely why John Kerry has such a problem communicating with the rest of us: He's so removed.
Windsurfing through his prepared text, the senator's mind and mouth must have disconnected. Sen. Kerry wound up insulting the troops - which may be the one thing in this long, bitter, bare-knuckle campaign season that the American people will not tolerate.
How like John Kerry. The man has a talent for political disaster. Of course he'd fall into a hole like this. He's the Joe Bfstplk of American politics; raindrops keep fallin' on his head. How'd you like to have him campaigning for you? Right now his endorsement would be toxic. As sharper Democrats immediately realized:
A Democratic congressional candidate locked in a close race in Iowa called off a joint appearance with his party's most recent presidential nominee. Canceled, too, was John Kerry's scheduled appearance with Bob Casey, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania. And with her eye already on '08, Hillary Clinton called Sen. Kerry's comment "inappropriate," which is schoolmarmish for Just Plain Awful.
All of which is understandable. What prudent Democratic office-seeker now wants to be seen with John Kerry? Not even John Kerry wanted to be seen with John Kerry. Passing up interviews, he was soon hightailing it back to Washington. And to think, till only a few days ago George W. Bush was the man to avoid in this campaign.
To quote one Democratic strategist on the subject of Sen. Kerry: "He has already cost us one election. The guy just needs to keep his mouth shut until after the election." The best thing the senator can do for his party at the moment just now is to disappear. The man is a verbal danger to himself and others.
The senator's disappearance from the news would certainly disappoint Republican strategists. At this point, John Kerry may be one of the GOP's few rays of hope in an election many pundits and pollsters have already handed the Democrats without waiting for a mere formality like counting the votes. But let him deliver more speeches like this one, and Sen. Kerry may yet be able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
The man has a genius for what the pols call Energizing the Base - the Republican base, that is. A few more replays of this affair on Fox News, and the GOP may still be able to pull this one out of the fire.
Never complain and never explain, said Disraeli. John Kerry does little else. First the senator explained that it was all a misunderstanding, an accident, a botched joke, a case of a politician's wandering away from his prepared remarks. Nice try. Pity he wasn't writing instead of speaking. Then he could have resorted to the newspaperman's favorite out and claimed it was a typo. (Hey, it works for me.)
Then he started complaining about his critics: "It disgusts me that a bunch of these Republican hacks who've never worn the uniform of our country are willing to lie about those who did."
The way Franklin D. Roosevelt, another wartime leader, never served in uniform? And didn't FDR's more fervid critics back then accuse him, too, of "lying" us into war? Is the senator saying that only veterans have the right to discuss war and peace? Or does he just think free speech ends where Republicans begin? And is this the level of civility a once again Democratic Congress will exemplify?
I know politics ain't beanbag, but does it have to be mud-rasslin'?
Apparently so. But this time the mudslinger muddied himself. John Kerry has provided the GOP with the grist it needed in a campaign that appeared all but lost. No wonder his Republican critics must be sorely disappointed to hear that he's giving up the campaign trail. This guy is better'n Howard Dean.