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Kerry: Simply not being himself

This column was sent to the Standard-Times November 5, 2004. It has not been published yet.

by Greg Stone

As I search for reasons behind the narrow victory of President Bush, I can find one common thread. President Bush was himself. Senator Kerry was who he (or his advisors) thought the American people would elect. Now I know it sounds like Iım kicking a man when heıs down, but itıs critical that we understand what happened, and I think what happened was the majority believed President Bush and did not believe John Kerry. His complex intellect and experience that has led him to wrestle successfully with the uncertainties of our times and choose reasonable courses of action, never came through.

As President Bush frequently declared, you knew where he stood. You seldom knew exactly where Senator Kerry stood, though he tried mightily to convince you otherwise.

Why was this important? Because the world is a confusing and dangerous place. No one doubts that. And in a time of confusion and intense danger it is natural for many to favor the leader who appears to know his own mind and have the answers to problems. President Bush appears certain about his faith, his cultural values, and the direction in which the country should move. Everything about Senator Kerryıs record speaks of uncertainty, and so when he tried to appear decisive and strong he was not credible.

An interesting example came just days before the election when the Osama bin Laden videotape surfaced. Here is what Senator Kerry said:

³In response to this tape from Osama bin Laden, let me make it clear, crystal clear. As Americans, we are absolutely united in our determination to hunt down and destroy Osama bin Laden and the terrorists. They are barbarians. And I will stop at absolutely nothing to hunt down, capture or kill the terrorists wherever they are, whatever it takes. Period.²

Ouch! Was it ³crystal clear?² I donıt think so. Watching and hearing him deliver those words, I thought he was acting. I remembered the Senator Kerry who looked William Weld in the eye during a classic debate on the death penalty and said: ³I know something about killing. I don't like killing. And I don't think a state honors life by turning around and sanctioning killing. Now, that's just a personal belief that I have.²

Really? And yet when talking about bin Laden and the terrorists he sounds more blood thirsty than President Bush. I think he was trying too hard to sound that way. And in doing so he comes across as dishonest. He looks like he doesnıt trust the voters to elect the real Senator Kerry, so heıs showing them a Senator Kerry he hopes theyıll want to elect.

This, I believe, was a pattern in his whole campaign. To put it simply, he was frequently trying to out-Bush Bush. The effort got particularly painful with the goose-hunting photo-op near the end of the campaign. It didnıt fool anyone. It angered supporters like me who feel that no one should make a sport of killing. And it didnıt fool the hunters he was trying to reach who saw it all as an act. All I could think of at the time was that silly picture from 1988 of Michael Dukakis in a tank.

I think doubt is a good thing. An individual grows when he doubts and honestly faces those doubts. So does a society. To me, certainty is death ­ a death of the mind and the spirit. To live means to confront doubt, which leads to change and growth.

But Senator Kerry didnıt say that. Senator Kerry did not defend uncertainty, though it screams from every note of his record as a public figure. Senator Kerry is a man who could go fight for his country in Vietnam, then come home and fight to end a terrible, unjust war. A lot of people donıt understand that, and Senator Kerry kept playing up his record as a warrior and playing down his record as a war protester. I respect him for both roles. But he tried to put emphasis on his role of warrior, and I could not help feeling that he actually favored the other role ­ the one as war protestor. But he played the warrior ­ ³reporting for duty² ­ and it looked like he was doing so because he thought thatıs what the American public wanted to hear.

He rarely defended the doubts that naturally arise when weaving your way through complex problems in a confusing world. In short, I donıt believe he was true to himself and this led to 51% of the people having more confidence in President Bush. He was himself. Iım not sure who John Kerry was, but his campaign should make one thing clear to the Democratic Party: Know thyself. Be thyself. Trying to look like the other guys depresses your supporters and amuses your detractors.
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