Skip to comments.Mark Steyn: So which would America rather have: Pretty Boy or Long Face?
Posted on 02/21/2004 3:51:32 PM PST by Pokey78
Last weekend, George W Bush went to Florida for Nascar's Daytona 500 race. His likely Democratic rival, John F Kerry, did not approve. "We don't need," he declared, in the portentous drone he has been perfecting for three decades, "a President who says, 'Gentlemen, start your engines.' We need a President who says, 'America, let's start our economy.' "
Hmm. If this is the best material Senator Kerry's high-price consultants can provide, it is going to be a long, long while from here to November. It's unlikely that any but the most partisan Democrats can stomach nine months of a candidate who is Al Gore without the personal charm and affable public-speaking style. The Massachusetts Senator with the patrician manner and a face as long as his one-liners is the Default Democrat. He is the guy the party's voters fell back on after concluding that Howard Dean, the surging Vermonter, was, in the pithy summation of the union boss Gerald McEntee, "nuts". And McEntee was a Dean supporter.
So Democrats decided that Kerry was more "electable". Which he is, next to Dean - in the same way that, if Saddam Hussein and Robert Mugabe entered the Iowa caucuses, Farmer Bob would be Mister Electable. But, once Saddam had thrown in the towel, you'd start wondering whether Bob Mugabe was really the best you could do.
So, having anointed Kerry as the unDean, a significant chunk of Democrats are now looking around for the unKerry. The only guy available is John Edwards, the pretty-boy trial lawyer from North Carolina. He is 50 but looks about 13, which is kind of refreshing after that strange feeling you get a third of a way into Kerry's stump speech that your body's atrophying and crumbling to dust. In Tuesday's Wisconsin primary, Senator Edwards ran Kerry a strong second and came bouncing out on stage, his fabulous bangs (that's "fringe" in British) dancing in the air like a Charlie's Angels title sequence.
He said that the voters of Wisconsin had sent a message: "Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear." These words are printed on the wing mirrors of every American automobile, and Edwards meant them as a jocular warning to Kerry: you may be in the driver's seat but I'm closing in fast. He was upbeat and breezy and his line, if only by comparison with the President-who'll-start-the-economy gag, was cute.
At that point, over at Kerry HQ, the frontrunner decided it was time to get Pretty Boy off the air, so he walked out and started his victory speech, knowing the networks would cut away from Edwards to him. Not such a smart move. For the television audience, Edwards's solitary minute was entertaining, Kerry's 20 minutes of hollow stump banalities was a sonorous snoozeroo: "The motto of the state of Wisconsin is 'Forward' and I want to thank the state of Wisconsin for moving this cause and this campaign forward tonight here in this great state. Tonight I say to all of America, get ready. A new day is on the way."
It may be a new day, but already a lot of us are finding it hard to stay awake. As The New York Times put it, when Senator Kerry "bumped Mr Edwards's own ebullient speech off the air, it was as if a pep rally had morphed into math class". When you are too dull a Democrat even for The New York Times, you've got a problem.
On the other hand, if Edwards is the unKerry, he is developing a distressing habit of never doing quite well enough. If Edwards were to come a narrow first instead of a close second, the Kerry bubble would burst: he wins because he's seen as likely to win. Alas, coming a close second is pretty much all Edwards does. He was a close second in Iowa, a close second in Oklahoma, a close second in Wisconsin.
The only difference is that coming a close second in an eight-man race in late January is more impressive than coming a close second in a four-man race in late February. Given that on Super Tuesday, March 2, it will be impossible for Senator Edwards to come worse than second, he really has to win something, and he doesn't seem to have the wit or energy to pull those extra few thousands votes that would put him over the top.
So the race has come down to a weak default candidate v a glamorous insurgent who is not quite glamorous to insurge sufficiently. Other than that, there is not much to choose between them. Both men are enormously wealthy. Kerry was a blueblood of relatively minor means who married a woman worth $300 million and then traded up to a woman worth $500 million. If I were Teresa Heinz Kerry I'd be worried, now Massachusetts is introducing gay marriage, that hubby may start giving the come-hither look to some of the state's elderly bachelor billionaires.
By contrast, John Edwards had a dirt-poor hard-scrabble childhood but managed to sue his way out of poverty. He has made 25 million bucks just from suing tobacco companies. His is an inspirational message: If I can do it, the rest of you haven't a hope in hell. But fortunately I've got a thousand new government programmes and micro-initiatives that will partially ameliorate your hopeless mediocrity. (I paraphrase.)
My favourite line in the Edwards spiel comes about two-thirds in, when, after outlining the regulatory hell in which he is going to ensnare banks, the pharmaceutical industry, etc, he confides: "But I'll be honest with you. I don't think I can change this country by myself." It's good to know the other 280 million Americans aren't entirely redundant. His basic pitch is that the entire electorate are victims, and his candidacy is the all-time biggest class-action suit on your behalf.
Edwards is condescending. Kerry is far too grand to condescend. But both are agreed that America is a vast wasteland of unemployed, shivering, diseased losers. For single-issue guys like me, Edwards barely says a word on Iraq and the war, though I am inclined to think he'd be better than Kerry. The latter seems eager to do whatever Chirac and Kofi want, whereas with Edwards there's always the possibility he will wind up suing the UN Security Council for emotional distress. More importantly, even as he's painting his heart-wrenching portraits of starving children, Edwards is sunny, albeit in a grotesque and mawkish way. And, as a general rule, the sunnier disposition wins (see Bush/Gore, Clinton/Dole, Reagan/Mondale).
It is true that in his five years in Washington Edwards hasn't accomplished anything, but then neither has Kerry, and he has been there four times as long. If Pretty Boy wins somewhere, anywhere, on Super Tuesday, the mantle of inevitability falls away from Kerry. If he doesn't, Dems are stuck with the default guy, and by April they're going to be awful sick of him.
Gasping for air!
It doesn't matter, so long as it's ANYONE BUT BUSH!
Heard that from a paleo-FReeper...
That's not true! I've got a job!
BTW: sonorous snoozeroo
Isn't that an Australian wine?
Man, it could WELL be a long campaign!
Edwards combines all the worst of Carter and Clinton and takes it to the plaintiff's lawyer extreme.
Hillary takeover at the convention ala Lautenberg
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