Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I don't care what John Kerry said.

[Updated below]

Literally: I don't give a shit.

These kinds of inadvertent gaffes happen all the time in politics, and they generally fall into two camps: statements that are ill-considered but mainly harmless, and statements that are genuinely revealing of something the speaker believes. I think that Kerry's gaffe falls into the former category; his "botched joke" explanation rings perfectly true, given that the wording of the actual joke is so close to what actually came out of Kerry's mouth. Another famed example, I think, of gaffes that don't reflect what the speaker believes is Gerald Ford's "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe" in his 1976 debate with Jimmy Carter; ditto the diastrous Ronald Reagan joke that we were about to start bombing Russia in five minutes.

Gaffes that are actually revealing of character? Well, Trent Lott's idiotic paean to Strom Thurmond leaps to mind, as does Dick Armey referring to Barney Frank as "Barney Fag". And of course, there's a third category: gaffes which were never gaffes at all, but which thanks to relentless pressing of talking points and a passive media that presents talking points as news, come to be seen as gaffes. Here we have Kerry's old "I voted for it before I voted against it", and Al Gore's "claim" that he had "invented the Internet".

So I don't give a shit about what John Kerry said. What I do care about is how much ink is being spilled over it, and the media's fascination with it. I actually don't have a problem with Republicans pounding it; that's the way the game is played. But it pisses me off that the media just lets this non-story become a huge story. Really: how much consideration should Kerry's tongue-tripping be given by a voter in, say, Virginia, when said voter comes to pull the lever for George Allen or Jim Webb? Obviously, none whatsoever.

Serious things are decided by our elections -- and yet, here we are, acting like kittens who have just seen a ball go bouncing by. Ugh.

UPDATE 11-3-06: In comments, Lynn states that she thinks Kerry was indeed voicing how he actually feels about the troops (i.e., that they're stupid). This is an unbelievable stretch, given that there is no evidence at all other than this gaffe that Kerry believes any such thing, and given that the actual prepared remarks of the speech contain the joke as it was supposed to have been read. What's more plausible, then? That Kerry simply mangled his prepared text, or that he mangled it in such a way as to reveal something simmering deep in his subconscious? Note that Kerry himself enlisted in the armed forces after graduating from an Ivy League institution, so it would be a bit odd for him to believe that enlisted men are dolts who only go into the armed forces because they can't do anything else.

On a related note, Kevin Drum notes how weird it is that so experienced a speaker as John Kerry would botch a prepared text like that. But that's not weird at all! Remember all those "blooper" shows that used to be on TV, all the time? The ones that would consist of nothing but clips of newsreaders mangling prepared texts that were right in front of them? Remember Ronald Reagan, when reading from a prepared text in greeting Prince Charles and his wife, addressing Diana, Princess of Wales, as "Princess David"? Remember George H.W. Bush, reading from a prepared text, tripping over the line "We've had setbacks" and saying instead, "We've had sex"? Remember the 1980 Democratic National Convention, when in his acceptance speech, Jimmy Carter paid tribute to a long line of historical Democrats, which went very nicely until he got to Hubert H. Humphrey and called him "Hubert Horatio Hornblower"?

People screw up prepared texts all the time, whether they're Great Communicators or tongue-tied peanut farmers. That's one reason public speaking scares so many people. That's why the scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral when the Anglican Priest completely bungles his first-ever trip through the marriage liturgy ("Father, Son, and Holy Spigot") is funny. That we're making this big a deal out of Kerry bungling his speech says far more about us than it does about John Kerry.

UPDATE II: I'm shutting off comments on this post now. There's really nothing useful to be gained in hashing over the degree to which John Kerry is an arrogant SOB, after all. He's not on any ballot this year, and should he end up on a ballot in 2008, nothing I say here is going to convince anyone that Kerry doesn't secretly loathe the men and women in our armed services.


Call me Paul said...

What did John Kerry say?

Kelly Sedinger said...

He was speaking to students somewhere (a college, I think), and he said something like "Keep studying and learning, because if you don't, you might get stuck in Iraq", which can be construed as "Dumb kids who don't do their homework end up as soldiers in Iraq". He maintains, plausibly, that what he was supposed to say was something like "Keep studying and learning, because if you don't, you might get us stuck in Iraq", meaning, you might end up doing dumb things as President.

And the guy's commanding all this attention despite not running for anything. Arrgghhhh!

SAW said...

Unfortunately, we won't be pulling a lever here in Virginia. We'll be mashing a touch screen electronic voting machine. Help Merikuh vote and all that.

Good night and good luck.

Matt said...

Living in the Virginia area, I'm still waiting to see my first POSITIVE TV ad for either candidate on TV. I will declare that one the winner. Sadly, I think the second Tuesday in November will pass before this happens. Politics suck.

Anonymous said...

It was obviously both a botched joke and a statement that was "genuinely revealing of something the speaker believes." To say that he was really talking about President Bush is a huge, huge stretch.

Oh GEEZ, I hope that idiot doesn't get nominated again. I really would like to see the Democrats win. Unfortunately, both Republicans and Democrats seem to really love their idiots.

Kelly Sedinger said...

Lynn, Kerry's aides distributed his prepared remarks from that speech the day after his gaffe, and they make crystal clear that it was an attack on Bush and not the troops. It's not a stretch of any type; it's the simple truth. To continue to insist that Kerry, who went to an Ivy League institution and then enlisted afterwards, believes that enlisted men and women are just the dolts of society is the real stretch.

Anonymous said...

It could be a botched joke, but given his history of disdain for the military, I'm not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Particularly not when he hasn't acknowledged that his remark, as it came out, was insulting and hurtful. All he was willing to do was write that "right-wing nuts," among others, had "misinterpreted" his remarks.

If his prepared remarks had been released before the speed, as is sometimes done, I'd believe it was a misspeaking. As it is, I look on the release as a CYA measure - I've no way of knowing that those were his actual prepared remarks.

And to make such remarks about the President, who went to the same Ivy league school during the same time period and got better grades, makes Kerry's explanation an insult, as well.

Kelly Sedinger said...

Insulting the President is more in-bounds than insulting the troops, but even so, getting better grades than Kerry doesn't prove that Bush is smarter than Kerry. All it proves is that he got better grades. Big whoop. It's pretty clear that Kerry wasn't talking about just getting good grades in school.

But where is this "disdain for the military" on Kerry's part? I've sure never seen it, and I see no reason for not believing that the released remarks weren't the actual text. Do you have any evidence for suspecting otherwise, other than simply not liking Kerry?

That's what it all boils down to: I've yet to see any real argument that doesn't ultimately reduce to "I don't like Kerry, so I don't believe him". I don't particularly like Kerry either (for completely different reasons), but I see no reason to doubt his word here. This is all just right-wingers really desperate for something to go their way in an election cycle.

LC Scotty said...

"Kerry, who went to an Ivy League institution and then enlisted afterwards, believes that enlisted men and women are just the dolts of society is the real stretch."

As a technical gnit to be picked, Kerry did not enlist, but rather accepted a commission. Historically, commissions were granted to landed gentry types as a sort of evolution of knighthood, while enlisting was, historically, reserved for poor, uneducated types. As far as such traditions go, there is a subdued two way vein of distrust-a tiny fraction of officers see enlisted guys as semi-literate ne'er do wells, and a small fraction of the enlisted guys see officers as effete snobs incapable of any practical task like changing a tire. Even in units where respect flows to and from the officer and enlisted corps, there are still two distinct communities there.

I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I really don't care for Senator Kerry, and I will undoubtably (despite my best efforts to the contrary) allow that distaste to color my perceptions. He really does strike me as the sort of officer that would have perceived his enlisted guys as the semi-literate thugs.

He has historically said things that cast troops in a bad light, some of it cited by the swift boat types, some of it on recent (2004) national media. See here:

The guy exudes arrogance-is it difficult to believe that he had little more than contempt for his militarily ranked inferiors?

"getting better grades than Kerry doesn't prove that Bush is smarter than Kerry. All it proves is that he got better grades. Big whoop."

True that.

Kelly Sedinger said...

Of course Kerry exudes arrogance. He's a Senator who ran for President of the US; such people are by definition arrogant. Any person who willingly stands up and says "I should be the leader of the free world!" is arrogant, pure and simple. Not that this is a bad thing necessarily, but I find accusations of arrogance on both sides to be fairly uninteresting. (Or do you not think that George W. Bush is arrogant as well?)

That YouTube clip doesn't strike me as any kind of example of this contempt for the troops you insist is in Kerry's heart. He's clearly saying that our troops should not be conducting policing activities that should be the job of Iraqi authorities, and it's also fairly clear that he's not suggesting that "the troops" are doing all this willy-nilly, but on the basis of orders that are part of a bad policy. Did he use strong language (the verb "terrorizing")? Yes, but it's obvious that he did so meaning to convey the wrongness of the policy.

The caption on the video seems to suggest that Kerry thinks that our troops in Iraq are just roaming all over the place, killin' and terrorizin'. That's not supported by the video, and I hold this as another example of people hearing what they want to hear from Kerry rather than what he's really saying.

I think I'm going to shut off the comments to this post now, by the way. There's no point in continuing this, for all the reasons cited in my post. Kerry's not running for anything, and he doesn't speak for any Democrat save himself.