There He Goes Again

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 1, 2006 10:54 AM

Will John Kerry do for the 2006 campaign what he did for the 2004 edition?

Why couldn't the Massachusetts senator have climbed out of the hole he fell into by just apologizing for saying something stupid, rather than getting out a shovel and digging?

There isn't anybody, including in the Bush administration, who believes that Kerry meant to insult the soldiers in Iraq with his clumsy joke that has given the Republicans a big fat target after months on the defensive. But the words he uttered, in his clumsy fashion, were insulting, and he should have moved quickly to limit the damage.

Instead, with the look of a man who will never get over having been unfairly Swift-boated, he refused to apologize and ripped the White House and the GOP, thereby escalating the story and ensuring that he would lead all the network newscasts last night. Bush v. Kerry, the Sequel, is an irresistible headline for news organizations.

This is a joke? "Education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

That's worse than voting for the $87 billion before you voted against it.

Even his former spokesman, Mike McCurry, said on CBS that Kerry should apologize, and that he more or less had. But he hasn't, and that's the problem.

Even his Republican pal John McCain, whom Kerry courted as his running mate last time around, felt compelled to slam his fellow veteran for insensitivity.

If you think Democrats aren't steamed, guess again.

Kerry's brave Vietnam service was unfairly denigrated in the last campaign. But this is a totally self-inflicted wound.

"For at least a few hours on Tuesday," says the New York Times , "President Bush had a chance to relive his victorious campaign of 2004, taking a break from a bleak Republican campaign season as he attacked Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts over the war in Iraq.

"Mr. Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who was Mr. Bush's opponent in 2004, is not running for any office this year. But the president seized on what he said were Mr. Kerry's disparaging remarks about the troops at a rally in California -- and what Mr. Kerry insisted was little more than a botched joke -- as he sought to make Mr. Kerry the face of the Democratic Party this fall . . .

"In attacking Mr. Kerry and defending the war, the White House clearly made the calculation that achieving what has been its main strategic goal this year -- riling up a dispirited conservative base -- would outweigh any risk that might come in spotlighting a war that Republican Party officials said had become a huge burden for its candidates."

LAT : "Responding directly to Bush in a statement, Kerry said: 'This pathetic attempt to distort a botched joke about President Bush is a shameful effort to distract from a botched war.'

"The pointed criticism of Kerry made clear that the GOP believed he had provided an opening to press its case that Democrats could not be trusted to safeguard America's national security -- an argument Republicans hoped would turn voters to their side in a number of Tuesday's House and Senate races."

The Chicago Tribune political blog: "Did John Kerry (D-Mass.) help himself in his Seattle news conference this afternoon to explain his astonishing remarks yesterday which sounded like an elitist shot at the intelligence of members of the U.S. military serving in Iraq? Short answer: no . . .

"In his moment of high dudgeon, he may have made matters worse. It probably wasn't a good idea to accuse everyone who saw the video of his campaign appearance and thought he was disparaging the IQ of U.S. troops of being 'crazy' . . .

"You don't have to be a right-wing radio talk show host to look at the video from Kerry's campaign appearance yesterday and believe that he was indeed implying that those serving in Iraq are academic losers, there because they had no other choices."

The Boston Herald is, shall we say, skeptical, with a headline wondering: "Was Kerry's Mind AWOL?"

"Sen. John F. Kerry is scrambling to recover from a 'botched joke' that Republicans charge belittled U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq, in a gaffe that threatens to sink Democrats in Tuesday's election and dash his own presidential hopes."

Arianna defends Kerry as best she can:

"This Kerry thing couldn't be more of a non-issue. Everyone -- especially a veteran like John Kerry -- supports the troops. That's not the debate; the debate is whether we are leaving our troops in the crossfire of a sectarian civil war with no clear mission and a job they are ill-equipped for (since when is our military trained to resolve thousand-year old religious hatreds?).

"The White House had a full day to prepare for its attack on Kerry. Tony Snow was ready, talking points on the podium. Could he have been any more self-righteous, demanding an apology? As Kerry said, it's Bush who should apologize to the troops for sending them off to die with no clear strategy for winning . . .

"And John McCain should be ashamed of himself. He knows Kerry wasn't slamming the troops, but couldn't help currying favor with the White House by piling on. Wasn't caving in on the torture bill enough of a suck-up?"

Instapundit : "Kerry's suggestion that the troops in Iraq are dumb failures is not only reprehensible, but false on the facts. In other words, a typical Kerry performance, just in time for the elections. Democrats must be wondering what they were thinking to nominate him in 2004, and why he won't go away now."

Blogger Austin Bay : "Sheesh. Kerry is stuck on Vietnam, almost as stuck on Vietnam as he is stuck on his own self-absorbed, narcissistic bio-mass . . .

"Why didn't Senator Kerry just apologize? 'I'm sorry for what I said. I meant to crack a joke and it came out sounding like an insult to US troops. Forgive me. We owe our defenders so much.' "

Captain Ed takes great umbrage:

"John Kerry has never hidden his contempt for the armed forces very well, not even when he served as an officer in the Navy. Monday the mask slipped a little bit . . . At a political rally for California's Democratic challenger to Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor, Phil Angelides, Kerry told the Pasadena City College crowd to study hard and get an education -- or wind up like the losers in the military:

" 'You know, education, if you make the most of it, if you study hard and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq.'

"Wow. Just wow. It's worth recalling that Kerry at one time aspired to command these same men and women from the White House, and claims to still want to lead them. How would these people react to taking orders from a Commander-in-Chief who believes them to be uneducated, lazy losers?"

Speaking of dumb political moves, check out this video of George Allen's aides tackling a not terribly aggressive heckler.

Meanwhile, the White House is playing the Fox card, big time.

You can't turn on Fox News these days without seeing the president or vice president. Monday was a two-fer, with President Bush and Vice President Cheney appearing in separate interviews. Sean Hannity had the president, Neil Cavuto was with the vice president.

This follows Bill O'Reilly's sit-down last week with Bush, which ran over three nights.

Could the administration possibly, just possibly, be playing to the base in the final days before the midterms?

I don't want to say Hannity's interview with Bush was friendly, but let's just say you could imagine them going out for ice cream sundaes afterwards and making eyes at each other.

Look, Hannity makes no bones about the fact that he's a Republican activist. He goes out and campaigns and raises money for GOP candidates. You know where he stands.

But if you're interviewing the president of the United States in the final week of an election campaign, isn't there some obligation to press him with skeptical questions? (I won't even draw the contrast with Chris Wallace's aggressive conversation with Bill Clinton.)

Here are some of Hannity's questions:

"You think the GOP holds both houses. You're confident. You made the statement that your opponents, Democrats, are picking out the drapes a little bit too early."

"That's what you want voters -- before they go into that voting booth, you want them to compare and contrast?"

"Karl Rove used the term 'pre-9/11 mentality.' You said, 'I question whether they understand how dangerous the world is.' That raises the question about Democrats. If they're elected, do they make the country more vulnerable, more susceptible? Are they weaker?"

Now that's a fastball down the middle !

"Nancy Pelosi, the woman who'd love to be speaker, she's against the NSA surveillance program. She's been against the Patriot Act, voted against the creation of the Homeland Security Department, has cut intelligence, voted against the border fence. Is it then fair to say she is weak on national security issues?"

"When we go and look at the rhetoric that has been used -- specifically, you've been a big target of the Democrats, as you know -- some of the rhetoric has been really harsh. Let me give you some examples and get your reaction to it. Nancy Pelosi [said] you're mentally unstable. Harry Reid called you a loser in front of schoolchildren. Ted Kennedy [said] you're a liar. He's said you concocted the war for political gain. Al Gore screamed at the top of his lungs that you betrayed your country. When you hear that -- these are the leaders, the prominent leaders of the Democrats -- does that offend you? Does that bother you? What does that say to you?"

"But rhetoric like that, though, coming from leaders, do you think it -- our enemies hear it, our allies hear it, our troops hear it?"

"There was a controversy as it relates to the words 'stay the course.' Do you want to explain what you meant?"

"You said, 'I know many Americans are not satisfied with the situation. I'm not satisfied either.' Compare that to maybe Howard Dean, 'The idea that we're going to win this war is just plain wrong.'

"Is this a struggle literally between good and evil?"

Now I was going to suggest that Alan Colmes played no role in any of this, but that's not true. After the first commercial, he said: "We now continue with more of Sean's exclusive interview with the president of the United States."

A new WSJ / NBC poll has voters favoring Democrats for Congress, 52-37, despite a recent spate of good economic news: "A week before Election Day, a new poll shows President Bush getting better marks for his handling of the economy -- an issue Republicans are emphasizing in the run-up to Tuesday's vote -- but voters' anxieties about Iraq continue to dominate their concerns."

Salon has a big investigative piece on judges and money:

"At least two dozen federal judges appointed by President Bush since 2001 made political contributions to key Republicans or to the president himself while under consideration for their judgeships, government records show.

"A four-month investigation of Bush-appointed judges by the Center for Investigative Reporting reveals that six appellate court judges and 18 district court judges contributed a total of more than $44,000 to politicians who were influential in their appointments. Some gave money directly to Bush after he officially nominated them. Other judges contributed to Republican campaign committees while they were under consideration for a judgeship.

"Republicans who received money from judges en route to the bench include Sens. Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Sens. George Voinovich and Mike DeWine of Ohio, and Gov. George Pataki of New York.

"There are no laws or regulations prohibiting political contributions by a candidate for a federal judgeship. But political giving by judicial candidates has been a rarely scrutinized activity amid the process that determines who will receive lifelong jobs on the federal bench. Some ethics experts and Bush-appointed judges say that political giving is inappropriate for those seeking judicial office -- it can appear unethical, they say, and could jeopardize the public's confidence in the impartiality of the nation's courts."

Okay, it's prediction time. Chris Bowers of MyDD sees the Dems picking up at least 21 House seats:

"Let me just first of all state that Karl Rove is on crack. For all his talk of a 72 hour program (the basis of advantage which seems to be leafletting super-church parking lots the Sunday previous [to] the election) and having THE polls, he's merely befuddling the reporters of the simple fact that remains the core of this election: The independents are aligned with Democrats."

Rich Lowry gives the GOP view: "In general, Republicans tend to think, as of this moment, the seats that they are going to lose are scandals seats; races where the Republican candidates are running lazy, mistake-prone campaigns; and seats that are just always tough for Republicans. They don't kid themselves about the national environment, but don't think it will be enough to defeat good candidates running good campaigns, limiting the damage and preventing a total wipe-out this year. If they lose, it will only be by a few seats."

Which would come out to about 20 House pickups by the Democrats as well.

I wrote yesterday about the coverage of Karl Rove. Vanity Fair's Todd Purdum has a piece coming out on the Rovemeister, and according to the release, Purdum asks about a couple of books by James Moore and Wayne Slater on the White House strategist.

"During a cocktail party at Purdum's home Rove, unbeknownst to his hosts until later, pulled the first book written about him by Moore and Slater off the bookshelf and inscribed in the flyleaf: 'Don't Believe A Single Word in This Piece of Trash. Karl Rove.'"

Speaking of Rove, National Review's Stephen Spruiell takes aim at what he calls a "preemptive strike on Karl Rove in the Washington Post" that "just seems bizarre to me" (' Midterm Vote May Define Rove's Legacy' ):

" 'I believe Karl Rove,' Bolten said in an interview in his West Wing office Friday. 'Karl Rove, somewhere inside that massive brain of his, has figured out the political landscape more clearly than the entire collection of conventional-wisdom pundits and pollsters in the entire city of Washington.'

"That was true for two elections in a row, in 2002 and 2004, and President Bush's senior adviser has insisted to West Wing colleagues and party faithful alike that it will be again. But Rove is just eight days from having his genius designation revoked -- or upgraded to platinum status.

"Maybe it's true that Karl Rove will get most of the credit if the Republicans manage to maintain their majorities. But if the GOP loses, he won't get the blame. There are just too many factors working against the Republicans that are beyond his control."

Here's Spruiell's analysis of the Post piece: "It's no secret that liberal Democrats hate Rove because he beats them. With this article, it looks suspiciously like the Washington Post is trying to weaken him by making the case that a Democratic takeover should revoke his 'genius designation.' It won't."

It's true that nothing can take away the fact that Rove helped his side win in 2000, 2002 and 2004. But didn't the Post piece say he might have his genius credentials revoked or upgraded to platinum status ?

Finally, a long list of corporate advertisers was boycotting Air America. A liberal media group has the memo .

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