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.
Whatever Kerry meant, he managed to spin Democratic gold into hay with his kinda-sorta-maybe apology.
He botched the botch.
Here in forgiving America, you make a mistake, you apologize, and the world keeps turning. It's so simple and easy -- unless you're the sort who can't admit error.
Nobody needs a psychology degree to know that much. We all struggle with apologies, and we all know that pride is what gets in our way. It took Kerry several tussles with denial to finally get out a semblance of an "apology":
"I sincerely regret that my words were misinterpreted to wrongly imply anything negative about those in uniform and I personally apologize to any service member, family member or American who was offended."
And your little dog, too.
Roughly translated, here's what Kerry really said: "I'm sorry you're so stupid that you didn't get my meaning, but then, you're so stupid."
A non-apology isn't an apology. A less prideful -- and funnier -- Kerry would have done better to spit out his shoe and say something like:
"Boy, I don't know what's wrong with me. I always get so nervous around college students because they're so cool and I'm not. I would never malign American troops or take cheap shots at their commander in chief in the midst of war."
Except of course, he would, and famously did upon returning from Vietnam. Days before the midterm elections, Kerry merely reminded Americans of that history, as well as why they didn't vote for him in '04.