Friday, October 29, 2004
Slightly newer republic
I’m two days late on this, but that’s all right-- I’ve had other things to do. But now I’ve gotten a chance to look at the overwhelmingly underwhelming endorsements of Kerry at Slate, and I just want to point out two things about the phenomenon.
First, let’s look at the contributions of senior writer Timothy Noah and editor Jacob Weisberg, who are generally sane, honest, and sensible folk. Noah:
Sen. John Kerry is the least appealing candidate the Democrats have nominated for president in my lifetime. I’m 46, so that covers Kennedy, Johnson, Humphrey, McGovern, Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, and Gore. McGovern, Mondale, and Dukakis get the worst press in this bunch, but I liked all three of them and still do. I can’t pretend to like John Kerry. He’s pompous, he’s an opportunist, and he’s indecisive. Although I’m impressed by Kerry’s combat record in Vietnam, I can’t suppress the uncharitable suspicion that what drew him there wasn’t patriotism so much as a preppy passion for physical challenge and the urge to buff his future political resume.
He can’t suppress that uncharitable suspicion, huh? Even though he was about eight years old when Kerry signed up for Vietnam, and-- like me-- has never faced the question of whether to serve in the armed forces during wartime, he thinks he has the cojones to cast aspersions on the guy’s motivations, and he thinks he has the right to speak about Kerry’s enlistment today as if it were some kind of cross between trying out for the lacrosse team and working as a summer clerk at a Brahmin law firm? Mother of Jesus, talk about pompous.
I remain totally unimpressed by John Kerry. Outside of his opposition to the death penalty, I’ve never seen him demonstrate any real political courage. His baby steps in the direction of reform liberalism during the 1990s were all followed by hasty retreats. . . . At a personal level, he strikes me as the kind of windbag that can only emerge when a naturally pompous and self-regarding person marinates for two decades inside the U.S. Senate.
You can already see the contours of Slate forums two years from now: is Kerry pompous, or is he naturally pompous? Our editors debate! Here again, the sneering remarks on the “personal” level; here again, the impugning of Kerry’s “courage"-- as if Kerry never testified against the Vietnam War and earned the eternal hatred of the ghoulish Nixon and his ghoulish minions; as if Kerry did not go after Iran-contra at the height of the Reagan junta’s morning in America; as if Kerry didn’t dig into BCCI and earn the eternal hatred of the ghoulish Bushes and their ghoulish minions. What does “real political courage” mean here, you wonder? The giveaway is that reference to “baby steps in the direction of reform liberalism,” which really means, “Kerry didn’t go far enough in abandoning liberalism.” You know, he’s still too beholden to those old liberal constituencies and special-interest groups-- we won’t name them here, but you know who they are.
OK, so here are the two things I want to point out. First, as many of you already know very well, these are precisely the terms under which the major “liberal” media work. I haven’t reproduced here Noah’s and Weisberg’s denunciations of Bush, but they’re significant and severe. Still, the governing premise is: I may despise Bush, but rest assured I look upon Kerry with disdain! Really--he’s not my cup of tea at all! And despite what Noah says about Democratic nominees since 1960 (and personally, I think Kerry is on the upper end of that bunch), this is very much the attitude the liberal media took toward Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, and Gore in turn. It’s the same damn note every time: I consider myself a liberal, but of course I don’t think much of the Democratic candidate. He lacks charisma, he is opportunistic, he has profound character flaws, he is a weak leader, he does not inspire confidence, but . . . sigh . . . I suppose I can make do for now.
Second, and more important, this is what President Kerry’s press pool will sound like. Think of Slate as The New Republic West, or as The Slightly Newer Republic. It can be quite good, just as The New Republic publishes some terrific stuff every now and then. But make no mistake. There will be no real enthuasiasm for Kerry’s successes, and plenty of carping-- even opportunistic carping-- every time he has trouble mopping up one of Bush’s hideous messes or every time the DeLay/Frist Congress screws him or every time he goes too “soft” on one of those traditional liberal constituencies. There might even be a story or two about his haircuts or his wife or his odious pomposity. You never know.
So I wouldn’t worry too much about what will happen to liberal and progressive bloggers after November 2-- or after the last legal challenge has been beaten back sometime in December and Kerry has finally been declared the winner over the feral howls of the wingnuts. I assure you that we’ll have plenty of fodder for snarky and outraged commentary well into the Kerry Administration. And that’s why this once-humble but now pompous-and-opportunistic blog proudly endorses the Rude Pundit’s endorsement of John Kerry for President, and hopes that the Rude Pundit will keep raging rudely on.