John Kerry's presidential candidacy has all the makings of a classic flop -- in the modern sidesplitting tradition of Thomas Dewey, Adlai Stevenson, George McGovern, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis. This is not a prediction -- merely an assessment of some potentialities.
I am mindful that events in Iraq and elsewhere could leap up and bite the Bush candidacy hard on the backside. The hysteria about phantom lost jobs could grow, rather than recede. The nation is closely divided between Republicans and Democrats. And, most valuably, the Democratic Party's carefully nurtured four-year Bush-hatred should yield strong turnout for its base in November.
And yet, John Kerry has impressive downside potential. Like Thomas Dewey in 1948, his deepest flaw as a candidate is his sheer unlikeability. It was said of Dewey that you had to know him really well to dislike him. But his pompous, stilted style rang through even in his public appearances.
In his Sept. 20, 1948, kick-off speech for his "Victory Special" national tour, Dewey proclaimed: "Tonight we enter upon a campaign to unite America. On Jan. 20, we will enter upon a new era. We propose to install in Washington an administration which has faith in the American people, a warm understanding of their needs and the competence to meet them." If you close your eyes, you can hear the Massachusetts Mandarin in Dewey's old words. Listening to Dewey, one understands why the scrappy, uneducated Harry Truman beat the striped pants off him in November.
But what may become the enduring exemplar of the Kerry style was his spontaneous expletive on the ski slopes when his Secret Service guard bumped into him by accident (while guarding him): "I don't fall down. The S.O.B. knocked me over." To instinctively say that about the man who is sworn to put himself between Kerry and a bullet, paints a lasting and contemptible character portrait. Contrast that with what Ronald Reagan said shortly after he was shot: "Honey, I forgot to duck." It was at that moment that 60 percent of the American public fell permanently in love with the Gipper. As Ernest Hemmingway put it in another time, that is grace under pressure -- and Kerry doesn't have it.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.