NASHUA, NEW HAMPSHIRE—John Kerry, the man the press now most adores, may be heading into tonight’s debate as a surging frontrunner, but in an appearance at Daniel Webster College here yesterday he wasn’t so hot. Buoyed by cheers from his supporters and a growing scrum of cameras and reporters, Kerry offered up a pitiful list of ideas that don’t amount to a hill of beans: Let’s buy drugs from Canada, and be nicer to veterans—at the very least let them see a doctor once in awhile. And hey, let’s not give too much power to the special interests.
While the New Hampshire voters who fought their way to seats in the college theater received the senator with politeness and attention, they issued few cheers, and greeted his statements with light applause. Kerry’s lackluster speech may well have been due to laryngitis and tiredness. Whatever the case, he looked like a wind-up doll. It was hardly inspiring. He pales in comparison to Teddy Kennedy. Kerry is no populist. He voted for welfare reform. He voted agaist teacher tenure. He has suggested that the
concept of affirmative action needs change. And he looks pitiful when compared to Dean, who can speak sensibly about the issues of the day.
Meanwhile, the attacks on Dean remain unrelenting. The former Vermont governor’s roar to his supporters in Des Moines reveals him, says the press, to be a raging maniac. The only thing the media hates more than Dean is Michael Jackson.
It is true that during the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Kerry was looked to as a keen defender of veterans. Now he is painting himself as a ruthless critic of the special interests. Actually, the senator has always been pretty much in the background in Washington: He’s not known for doing much of anything, and he’s hardly a staunch foe of special interests. Kerry is circumspect in what he says and careful never to hurt his good-guy image. This is no John McCain.
The single best thing that happened to Kerry was not Dean howling to his supporters, but Clark losing it to Bob Dole on Larry King. Dole told Clark he was a nice guy, but most likely a loser in New Hampshire. Clark barked back that he was a general while Kerry was just a lieutenant, inferring that the senator didn’t know jack shit about leadership.
Yesterday Clark continued to run around like a chicken with its head cut off. Clark is now referring to himself as “General Smith Goes to Washington,” and saying things like: “I’m the only one who has pitched in a major league game, and I can throw a 95-mile-per-hour fastball.” He concludes his appearances with a patronizing story about how as General Clark he visited Cite Soleil, the big slum in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. There he met a young man who grasped his hand and wouldn’t let it go, hoping, the general imagined, that Clark could haul him out of his miserable circumstances and bring him to freedom in America. It is a sad fact that about the only good thing that happened to Haiti as a result of the American invasion there was the high-class garbage from the American military camp. It was driven down to the big dump on the edges of Cite Soleil from the military camp and dumped, to be quickly scavenged by kids for the family supper. In truth General Clark’s army contributed most to uplifting Haiti by upgrading the garbage. The general is certainly welcome to take credit for that.
John Edwards ought to benefit from Dean’s decline. He can actually articulate carefully worked-out plans for improving health care, curbing war profiteering, holding back lobbyists, and extending the nation’s public education system, among other things. These are couched in cautious terms, but are a good deal more to the point than Kerry’s stick figure parody of a Boston reformer. Dreamy though he may be, Edwards, unlike Kerry and Clark, gives at least the appearance of knowing what he’s talking about. Or to put it another way, following Kerry’s poor performance, the conservative Democratic Leadership Council, from which Edwards comes, is starting to look good.