Some Sage Advice for John Kerry

By - Oct 1st, 2004 02:52 pm
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By Donald Kaul

Let’s face it, fellow liberals: Commander Kerry’s swift boat isn’t looking too swift these days.

The shore is lined with people shouting advice to him: “Be tougher! Be more positive! Defend yourself faster! Don’t defend, attack! Don’t talk about so many issues! Broaden your agenda!” Good advice all, but easier to give than to follow.

So I thought I’d try my hand at it. I figure if he uses it and it works, I might get a job in the new administration; something that comes with a big office and not many duties will do. Here are just a few things I would tell John Kerry if I had his ear:

Do not use the word “nuance.” Don’t use it in a campaign speech, in private conversation or in your sleep. Your Secretary of State can use the word. So can your ambassador to the United Nations. In an emergency, your press secretary can use it (although I wouldn’t recommend it). You cannot. People running for president do not say “nuance” unless, of course, they’re running for president of France. In the first place, a good number of the people you’re trying to get to vote for you don’t know what it means. In the second place, it not only sounds like a French word, it is a French word and, for better or for worse, France is not the favorite country of the American people right now. (Hey, I’m like you, I love the place. Great food, beautiful cities and towns, stylish women. What’s not to like? But you’ve got my vote already, you know? You might try reaching out to those with less sophisticated palates.)

Stop saying that you’ll fight a “more sensitive” war against terrorism. It’s okay to be more sensitive, but you don’t want to talk about it. It sounds like you want to get Osama bin Laden on a couch and have him tell you his life story. I know that’s not what you mean, but it leaves you open to that kind of misinterpretation (and, as we know, if the Republicans didn’t have misinterpretation, they wouldn’t have any interpretation at all). You’re not teaching English Lit 101, John. You’re running for president. Act like it. Talk about fighting a “smarter” war on terrorism. Smart is good; smart plays in Peoria.

Never say you would still vote to authorize the president to attack Iraq even if you knew then what you know now. Never, ever. Don’t tell me you didn’t really say that. It sounded as though you said it, and that’s good enough for the Electoral College. When you said whatever it was you said, you could hear the air begin to escape the Kerry balloon. You picked a hell of a time to be nuanced on an issue. All those Dean and Kucinich voters who were stirred by the passion of their candidates suddenly became aware that you really weren’t one of them and they sagged. George Bush spends a lot of time cultivating his base, have you noticed that? You should try it sometime.

What is it with you Massachusetts politicians anyway? You and Dukakis, you run for president like you were taking your SATs. The dirty little secret of politics is that American voters like C-student candidates. That’s what most of them were when they were in school and they’re comfortable with candidates who sound like they were too. Eisenhower, Reagan, both Bushes, they were all thought to be intellectually inferior to their opponents by the liberal establishment.

But they won, John, they won. You might think about that.

And, lastly, I would think about ditching that focus group you’ve been using. Where is it, Cambridge? It’s not working. (I have a confession to make. I came up with this memo six weeks ago but I forgot to mail it. Sorry. I hope it’s not too late.)

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