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Oops, He Did it Again (and again and again…)

By Brian | November 2, 2006 | Share on Facebook

Much has been made of this already, but let me just add one small point: I don’t believe for a second that John Kerry thinks our troops are dumb. Nor do I believe that he has anything but the deepest respect for those in uniform, especially given his own military history. It seems clear to me that he meant to say one thing and said another, and it earned him some justifiable embarrassment in a “Gotcha!” sort of way.
If he ever laughed at a George W. Bush clip (“Fool me once, um…er….you can’t fool me again”), then we can chalk it up to karmic balance and move on.

But there’s still something that bugs me about the whole thing, and it’s this:

Here’s what Kerry actually said:

You know, education, if you make the most of it, and 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.

Ouch. Now, here’s what he intended to say, as per his prepared remarks:

Do you know where you end up if you don’t study, if you aren’t smart, if you’re intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush.

So rather than implying that our troops are dumb, what he meant to do was to jokingly imply that our President is dumb (not to mention irresponsible and lazy). I can just imagine him reviewing his prepared remarks for the California speech and telling the speech writer, “it’s a little dry – how about we start with this, move that to the end, and insert a one-liner calling Bush a moron right there? Great, perfect. Thanks.”

This kind of thing bugs me every time I see it. Bush, like all prominent politicians, has what I like to call a “Late Night TV Caricature,” that of a simpleton and/or bad public speaker. Al Gore had “stiff,” Bill Clinton has “slick,” Dan Quayle had “stupid,” Ronald Reagan had “forgetful,” and the list goes on. These memes made for some funny talk show monologues and Saturday Night Live skits, all of which were generally in good fun, even if they seemed a little bit mean at the time. Either way, they were delivered by comedians on television shows that were intended to be funny.

More recently, the line has begun to blur. We’ve got shows like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and Real Time with Bill Maher, which toe the line between news and entertainment. There’s enough real content in them that when they refer to Bush as stupid, some folks start believing it, rather than writing it off as a joke, or at least the opinion of a single talk show host. We also have actual candidates/politicians who appear on these shows, and attempt to fit in by trading quips with the host (if I see one more presidential candidate appear on Letterman with their own Top Ten list…) In the end, though, these shows are still just entertainment vehicles and on their own, probably don’t do too much damage. For example, had Kerry made the above statement while appearing on The Tonight Show, it probably would have passed without comment. “Time and place” and all that…

But that’s not what happened. This was a sitting senator, a former (perhaps future?) presidential candidate, and arguably the most prominent member of a major political party, telling jokes at a campaign appearance on behalf of a congressional candidate.

What makes him think this is a time for jokes (botched or otherwise)? The best case scenario for this kind of thing is a cheap laugh from the crowd. The worst case is a national political incident, a distraction from his message (or, in this case, the message of the candidate he’s stumping for), and another small bite out of whatever’s left of the respect people have for the office of the President. It also reinforces the theory that John Kerry has absolutely nothing to say about himself or his party, and can only ask for our vote by telling us how terrible the other side is.

And don’t get me started on the whole, “I was against an apology before I was for it” bit…

Stick to governing, Senator, and leave the jokes to the professionals, OK?

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