To an undiscerning and/or unsuspecting segment of the electorate, John Kerry emerged from the debates with his facade of moderation intact.
Partly that is a consequence of a practiced politician who shuns the liberal label the way a cat rejects a branding. And partly it is a consequence of protection by a mainline press broadly sympathetic to Kerry as "one of us."
To see the shamelessness of it all regarding the operative double standards applied to Kerry's statements, votes, and behavior, imagine if he went by another name.
If John Kerry's name were, for instance, Teddy Kennedy:
- Beyond Massachusetts, he would be dismissed as the Massachusetts leftie he truly is. Attention would be given to his unremitting votes for higher taxes and against crucial weapons systems. His lifetime voting record, marking him as the Senate's most liberal member (more liberal than Kennedy himself), would be seen as utterly in character.
- His early 1970s lobbing of peacenik rhetorical bombs from the ramparts with Jane Fonda would have marked him as a siren of defeatism doing the work of the enemy.
- The electorate would see the disconnect between Kerry deploring the absence of a "global test" prior to the current war in Iraq (which he voted for), and his vote against war in 1991 when precisely the "global test" he now demands had been easily passed.
- When he was termed "unfit" to be commander in chief, the electorate would understand clearly how and why. And when his Senate colleague from Massachusetts was his principal campaign surrogate, the voters would not wonder at his brazenness in parading the liberalism he otherwise so diligently sought to conceal.
Indeed, if Kerry's name were Kennedy:
- The electorate likely would not accept a top campaign aide (Joe Lockhart) disparaging Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi as a puppet. Nor would the electorate allow Kerry to get away with dismissing our current allies (e.g., Britain, Australia, Poland, Italy) as a "coalition of the bribed and the coerced." The re-election of Australia's government would be an obvious repudiation of such arrogance - as would the first Afghan elections in 5,000 years and the enfranchising of women there.
- Perhaps the reaction of Poland's President Aleksander Kwasniewski would not be buried - or perhaps it would be buried farther down. He said: "It is really sad that a senator with 20 years of experience does not notice the Polish input into the coalition and the Polish sacrifice. It is immoral . . . it is something immoral not to note the commitment which we embarked upon [because] we accepted this challenge convinced that terrorism had to be fought, that we had to show international solidarity, and that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the world."
- Kennedy's Sept. 27, 2002, comment ("We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction") and Kerry's Oct. 9, 2002, comment ("I will be voting to give the president of the United States the authority to use force - if necessary - to disarm Saddam Hussein because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave threat to our security"), would be understood as the Tweedle-Dum, Tweedle-Dee comments they are - giving the lie to his rush-to-judgment comments about the war now.
- In pretending to be the moderate he is not, the candidate would be able to run but he couldn't hide.
Or if John Kerry's name were, say, George W. Bush:
- He would not get away with campaigning routinely in minority churches, while having the "religious right" deplored as a malevolent influence. But possibly he would wonder at his opponent's depiction of him as manipulated - driven - by an "extreme right-wing ideology."
- If he and his running mate separately had cited the daughter of his opponent's running-mate as "a lesbian," he would be ripped to shreds for malign campaign practice.
- Likewise, he would be ripped for applying the very "litmus test" for judicial nominees that he condemns in his opponent.
- And he would be loudly derided for suggesting he could bring into the anti-terrorism coalition the same German and French regimes so hostile to the deposing of Saddam he says he still supports.
- Imagine what they would say about his heavy suntan and his goo-goo windsurfing at the height of the campaign.
- His many "plans" to "Iraqify" the enterprise still costing American lives would be widely compared to Richard Nixon's similarly voiced "plans" for withdrawal of American forces under the rubric of "Vietnamization." Kerry the Slickster would be likened to the Trickster himself.
- And comparing his opponent to Teddy Kennedy three times in the last debate might be seen as perfectly defensible.
- The economy - from job growth and inflation-adjusted consumer spending, to productivity increases and manufacturing spending growth, to low mortgage rates and highest-ever levels of home ownership - might not be dismissed as somehow insufficient.
- And if Kerry (named Bush) were to have the most conservative lifetime voting record of any member of Senate, he would be blasted daily as dismally unacceptable in a society wherein anyone with a brain regards himself as unequivocally moderate.
. . . If his name were Teddy Kennedy, so if his name were George W. Bush: John Kerry, oddly the stealth candidate making his way as an undetected liberal under the radar, would be able to run but he wouldn't be able to hide.