How did he do it?
That's the question folks find themselves asking now. John Kerry was running
eight-tenths of a mile behind Howard Dean for months. He couldn't make headway
no matter the methods he tried. Indeed, he seemed to try everything:
-- He got foulmouthed for Rolling Stone.
-- He drove a Harley onto Jay Leno's set.
-- He puffed an imaginary dragon for Pete Yarrow.
-- He even had the forethought to fight in Vietnam.
And yet, in spite of it all, nothing stuck. John Kerry was thought to be
dead on arrival. In fact, I said so myself in September, when I said Democrats
needed to "get over Kerry already." When he took out a mortgage to keep the
dream afloat in late December, his fate seemed clear: It was time to stick
a fork in his $75 coif. For all intents and purposes, this turkey was done.
But then a funny thing happened on the way to the Hawkeye State. John Kerry
caught up with his potential, and caught his second wind, ending up with
darn near 40 percent of the vote by the time Iowans went to bed. Conversely,
Dean failed to crack 20.
Which brings me back to the question up top: How did Kerry do it?
How did this man -- knocked off message for so many months that one rightly
noticed he didn't initially have one -- manage to get himself back in the
Some might say Kerry's return to glory has to do with Dr. Dean's apparent
lack of electability. Pundits have said for months the former Vermont governor
wouldn't fare well against George W. Bush in a general election, and for
those folks his flop in Iowa represents the culmination of that fear. But
this premise is even more annoying than the phrase "former Vermont governor."
Why? Because it's folklore. Maybe that's how it works in Honah Lee, but this
is middle America, and Dean's neither Jackie Paper nor a paper tiger. His
"$100 Revolution" is real. His appeal is real (was real?). If you like a
candidate, you're going to vote for him -- and you're going to prove him
electable in so doing.
Another theory is that Dean doomed himself in Iowa with something he said
on Canadian TV four years ago. His remarks, conveniently unearthed mere days
before the big dance: "If you look at the caucuses system, they are dominated
by special interests, on both sides and both parties... I can't stand there,
listening to everybody else's opinion for eight hours about how to fix the
It's hard to say whether this had any real effect on Dean's showing, but
it's certainly possible given the conversational nature of the caucuses he
inferred he didn't have time for. But that's surface stuff anyway. Look at
it in context. He "can't stand there, listening." He tells an Iowan voter
at an open forum to "sit down, you've had your say." He even jokes -- in
a serious discussion on media regulation -- that he'd break up Fox "on ideological
grounds." No wonder voters got the jitters once they hopped in their cars
on a cold caucus night. For a man whose reputation is built on being an outsider,
he sure seemed willing to squash dissent in the closing days of the Iowa
This, more than anyone might care to admit, helped Kerry win.
But, then, the man of the evening was haunted late in the game by ancient remarks of his own.
As revealed by online scribe Matt Drudge, the Massachusetts senator went
on record in '96 proposing -- get this -- smaller government. Gasp! "I think
we can reduce the size of Washington," Kerry had said. Geez, you think? "Get
rid of the Energy Department. Get rid of the Agriculture Department, or at
least render it three-quarters the size it is today; there are more agriculture
bureaucrats than there are farmers in this country. We can probably meld
the Labor and Education departments because the job of both is so symbiotic
Now, here's what gets me: The very cynicism, the very disdain for everyday
people, with which these particular quotes were selected. I mean, we all
know why this hit the press just days before the caucuses. The L.A. Times
didn't talk up Arnold's exploits on the eve of election for the sake of lonely
ladies living in or around Sacramento. Nor did Kerry's remarks surface to
help him win favor with farmhands. All's fair in love and war. Again, though,
the last minute trickery isn't what's troubling -- it's the bad buzz the
release of these remarks was meant to engineer.
Dean spokeswoman Tricia Enright said, "Teachers and farmers in Iowa will
be disappointed to hear that Senator Kerry wanted to dismantle the Department
of Agriculture and gut the Department of Education." She added, "That's not
the kind of change that Iowans are looking for."
The keyword is "disappointed." Iowans will be disappointed, she says. Well,
if they're expecting something, sure, of course they'll pout when they don't
get their way. That's the principle by which politicians rule. Scoring with
voters is easy. Just promise them something. Anything. It doesn't matter
what. They won't be disappointed, and neither will you.
"Iowa's a rural state," caucusgoers were expected to say. "Rural states have
farms, and farms have agriculture, and John Kerry... well, John Kerry doesn't
even like agriculture. Wait a minute. I live in Iowa. John Kerry doesn't
Yes, by having so much as suggested smaller government, Kerry was painted
to be an uncaring, insensitive man. I suppose, by this standard, George Bush
will be called the same thing unless he moves forward with his occupation
of Mars. He wouldn't want to slight Martian-Americans, after all. Not in
an election year.
I can't be the only one who's offended by the fact that small government's supposed to offend voters, can I?
Maybe I can. Kerry's own campaign, after all, was quick to reply to the '96
remarks that he "takes a back seat to no one" -- in the words of spokeswoman
Stephanie Cutter -- when it comes to "protecting America's farmers." This
time, the keyword is "protecting." The people need protection, we're told,
and candidates will do anything -- from riding a bike on late night TV to
dropping f-bombs in the pages of pop culture rags -- to prove they can be
trusted with the job.
John Kerry says on his Web site that he's "prepared to fight with all my
energy" on our behalf. Howard Dean writes on his that he has "a proven track
record of... fighting the good fight." Wesley Clark, likewise, has an "ability
to fight for his people." And as for Joe Lieberman, "he's continued to lead...
and to fight for what's right for America" "in the Senate over the last 14
years" -- this after "fight[ing] for African-Americans' right to vote," and
"fighting for the people of his state as Attorney General." I don't know
about you, but that sure seems to me like a whole lot of fighting.
That's the name of the game, though. "I'm going to fight for you," they say.
Well, here's a crazy idea: Don't. Let us fight for ourselves. It costs us
money when you do it.
Ah, but who am I fooling? John Kerry's win proves he's a fighter. It's a shame, really. He might've had my vote.
Jonathan David Morris is a political satirist based in New Jersey. His website is Read JDM.