What John Kerry Really Meant

David Strom
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Posted: Nov 02, 2006 12:01 AM
What John Kerry Really Meant

John Kerry, Democrat Senator from Massachusetts and 2004 candidate for President is back in the news reminding us all why we didn’t vote for him.

If you haven’t been on vacation in New Zealand or living under a rock, you probably have been bombarded ad nauseum with his offhand comment to California college students: “You know, education, if you make the most of it, if you study hard and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

On its face, what Kerry said is clearly an insult to the troops, and if for no other reason than that alone Kerry both owed them an apology and needed to do some serious damage control to save his bid for the 2008 nomination for the Presidency. Predictably, Kerry did neither. Instead, he used the inevitable criticism as an opportunity to lash out at President Bush and the “Republican hate machine” for mischaracterizing his comments.

Few of us are surprised at Kerry’s blunder in itself; this is the guy who voted for the $87 billion before he voted against it. It’s no news that he is his own worst enemy.

But is this all a tempest in a teapot, hurting only Kerry, or does it really make a difference in how Americans view the 2006 election?

I think it matters, and perhaps a lot, for a pretty simple reason: for one of the only times during this campaign season Americans are being forced to consider why they haven’t been voting for Democrats in recent years, not on why they are so disappointed in the performance of Republicans.

To oversimplify a bit, the storyline of this campaign season has been dominated by the general discontent with the way that Republicans have been running the government. Spending has gotten out of control, the war is unpopular and getting more so, and few people are enthusiastic about Bush’s leadership right now. Add in the Foley scandal and mistakes by some candidates, and you have a recipe for a bad election year for Republicans.

John Kerry’s comments—at least for the moment—have served as a stark reminder to many swing voters of why they have tended to pull the lever for Republicans in recent years: the cultural elitism of the Democratic Party.

Kerry comments, which imply that members of the military are second-class citizens who are stuck there because they have no other options, reflects a cultural bias that we have come to expect from leading liberals. Kerry may indeed not have intended to say exactly that, but this comment will stick like glue to him because we all know that he really meant it in some way. Maybe the troops aren’t exactly stupid, but why on earth would you join the military if you didn’t have to?

Since the 60’s, the intellectual elite of the Democrat Party has revealed a very thinly veiled contempt for the military and a suspicion of patriotism that has deeply hurt it politically. While most Americans are proud of our troops and what they do, it’s clear that a significant minority see them as rednecks inclined to, in the words of John Kerry himself, act in a manner reminiscent of Genghis Khan. Since Vietnam, the Democratic Party has been identified as the home of this minority.

For years, Democrats have tried in vain to erase the impression held that it is reflexively anti-war, anti-military, and even anti-American. In other words, the party of Michael Moore. The 2004 campaign was often punctuated by candidates, led by Kerry himself, decrying all criticism of their foreign policy positions as attacks on their patriotism. And for a very good reason: Democrats know that in the minds of many Americans, their patriotism is indeed suspect.

That conversation has, for all intents and purposes, been off the table this year. Despite that fact that the U.S. is still at war, both in Iraq and against Islamic fascism worldwide, Republicans could not successfully steer the conversation to the issues on which Americans have tended to trust them most, especially war and peace. Simply put, to the dismay of many Republicans, the dominant theme of this campaign has been the exhaustion of the Republican agenda and the incompetence of Republican leadership.

What Republicans couldn’t do, John Kerry succeeded in doing: getting Americans to focus once again on what irks them so much about today’s Democratic Party. Their cultural elitism, their preference for internationalism over Americanism, their…well…Frenchness.

Will it be enough? Will this one reminder, so late in the campaign, of what is so wrong with today’s Democratic Party rally the Republicans and Middle-Americans to fight off the Democratic tide this year? Obviously, we won’t know until next Tuesday evening.

But if the Republicans do hold onto control of the House and Senate, or even limit their losses and beat expectations, they should thank John Kerry as much or more than anyone else. He accomplished in one unguarded moment what Republicans have been trying to do for the last several months: make this election a choice between competing candidates and not a referendum on Republican rule.