I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

John Kerry - The Gift that Keeps on Giving

There has not been a prominent elected official in our lifetime who possessed fewer political skills than John Kerry. It continues to amaze how politically inept he is. Joe Lieberman is the Republicans' favorite pet Democrat, but it ought to be John Kerry.

Here is his latest present to the Republican Party, delivered beautifully gift-wrapped during his appearance last weekend on CBS’ Face the Nation:

Sen. KERRY: . . . . But I think what we need to do is recognize what we all agree on, which is you've got to begin to set benchmarks for accomplishment. You've got to begin to transfer authority to the Iraqis. And there is no reason, Bob, that young American soldiers need to be going into the homes of Iraqis in the dead of night, terrorizing kids and children, you know, women, breaking sort of the customs of the--of--the historical customs, religious customs. Whether you like it or not...


Sen. KERRY: ...Iraqis should be doing that. And after all of these two and a half years, with all of the talk of 210,000 people trained, there just is no excuse for not transferring more of that authority.

There is nothing even arguably wrong with the substance of this statement. Like all Kerry statements, the ideas it expresses are actually quite pedestrian and unnotable. Kerry here is saying nothing more than what even pro-war proponents are saying – that the work being done by American soldiers in Iraq is work that ought to be done by Iraqi soldiers instead.

And Kerry’s rationale for this view – that part of what American soldiers have to do is highly aggressive police work which alienates the mostly Sunni population which is subjected to it and therefore would be better performed by Iraqi soldiers -- is really quite uncontroversial.

But nobody has John Kerry’s aptitude for taking a totally innocuous and mundane idea and expressing it so ineptly that it comes off looking sinister and/or stupid. And so now his statement -- where he carelessly used the always-volatile word "terrorizing" to describe what American soldiers are doing in Iraq -- is the centerpiece of an undeniably potent (and undeniably manipulative) Republican television ad, accompanied by the standard GOP attack machine. And, of course, Kerry's controversial history of accusing U.S. soldiers of committing atrocities in Vietnam only makes this poorly crafted statement all the more ill-advised.

It is still unbelievable that the Democrats nominated such a stilted and lifeless figure to be their standard-bearer. But at least the virtue of a stilted political candidate is usually that, almost by definition, they are excessively careful and therefore make very few mistakes. In that regard, such figures are analogous to a football team which relies on a good defense and an up-the-middle ground attack -- tedious, boring, unimaginative, but at least unlikely to make costly errors.

But somehow, Kerry is one of those very rare breeds who is at once overwhelmingly risk-averse and yet still manages to make one hideous error after the next. As a politician, he is completely hapless.

But he is also very impressed with himself, and for that reason, still obviously harbors dreams of Presidential glory. As a result, he keeps sticking his face in front of any camera he can find, envisioning himself to be the leading statesman of the Democratic Party. But if he really wants to help the Democrats, the best thing he could do is keep his mouth shut. Nothing constructive or helpful ever comes out when he opens it.

At the very least, losing presidential candidates ought to wait a decent amount of time after their defeat before trying to be their party's spokesman again. Kerry has the aura of a rejected loser. Americans heard him over and over throughout 2004, especially on Iraq, and rejected him as a Presidential candidate. He really is the last person whom the Democrats ought to be using to be their public face.

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