Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Taranto strikes again

James Taranto (of Best of the Web fame) has an excellent analysis of, as he says:

Kerry's Quagmire
How the liberal media helped re-elect George W. Bush.

Overall, the article makes very good points, though it seems to ramble a bit. But there are a number of excellent ideas and quotes that I would like to discuss. Dan Rather, a long-time journalist who never made secret his left-leaning ideology, asked one of the softest questions I've ever seen from a reporter.
In a July 22 interview on the "CBS Evening News," Dan Rather asked Mr. Kerry: "Speaking of angry, have you ever had any anger about President Bush--who spent his time during the Vietnam War in the National Guard--running, in effect, a campaign that does its best to diminish your service in Vietnam? You have to be at least irritated by that, or have you been?"
As strange as this was, Taranto points out the even stranger answer from Senator Kerry - not because of its content, but its style:
"Yup, I have been," replied Mr. Kerry. Mr. Rather, it seemed, had stumbled on a way to get a straight answer out of the notoriously nuanced nominee.
If you have ever seen Kerry in a speech, a debate, or an interview, you will notice he has a tendency [as do many other politicians] to avoid "Yes" or "No" answers and give long-winded, "nuanced" answers that more often than not fail to answer even remotely the question that was asked them. George W. Bush is notorious for not doing so, and is therefore often looked upon as being somehow 'less intelligent' than his counterparts. In reality, however, it is those who are able to simplify the difficult and make straight decisions who are far better leaders than those who are constantly second-guessing themselves and never acting - but that is for another post.
The main idea Taranto focuses on is what is it about Kerry's decorated war service record that turned off Americans. There are three parts to this answer: 1) It was an unpopular war which we pulled out of after essentially losing; 2) Kerry himself came back from Vietnam and accused every soldier of war crimes [found to be untrue], in addition to other anti-war activities of his; and 3) Nobody likes hearing someone brag constantly - especially when they have no right to do so.
The first part is summed up nicely by Taranto:
By constantly reminding Americans of the one war we lost, Mr. Kerry fed suspicions that his attitude toward the war on terror was a defeatist one. "The Democrats' problem isn't that Americans think they're wimps who lack personal courage," Peter Beinart, editor of the liberal New Republic, noted in December 2002. "Their problem is that Americans think, rightly, that they lack an agenda for protecting the country. Bush understands that in this terrifying new era, what Americans want from their leaders isn't heroism; it's clarity and direction."
The second part is obvious, but it was this incredible media focus on Kerry's war veteran status that finally encouraged his compatriots to come out strongly against him, pushing the focus away from his 'hero' status. Again, Taranto finds someone with the perfect analysis:
One veteran quoted in "Unfit for Command" summed things up pointedly: "In 1971-72, for almost 18 months, [Mr. Kerry] stood before the television audiences and claimed that the 500,000 men and women in Vietnam, and in combat, were all villains--there were no heroes. In 2004, one hero from the Vietnam War has appeared, running for president of the United States and commander in chief. It just galls one to think about it."
But the most potent point Taranto makes - the third point - is not in this article, but in a Best of the Web from late August of last year:
Ralph Peters, a retired Army officer and reluctant Bush backer, puts his finger on what's wrong with Kerry's Vietnam braggadocio--a point, he notes, that "pundits have trouble grasping, given the self-promoting nature of today's culture" (emphasis in original):

Real heroes don't call themselves heroes. Honorable soldiers or sailors don't brag. They let their deeds speak for themselves. Some of the most off-putting words any veteran can utter are "I'm a war hero."

Real heroes (and I've been honored to know some) never portray their service in grandiose terms, telling TV cameras that they're reporting for duty. Real heroes may be proud of the sacrifices they offered, but they don't shout for attention.

This is so profoundly a part of the military code of behavior that it cannot be over-emphasized. The rule is that those who brag about being heroes usually aren't heroes at all. Bragging is for drunks at the end of the bar, not for real vets. And certainly not for anyone who wishes to trade on his service to become our commander-in-chief.
Kerry - led by the media attention - missed this completely. While it may strike most people as common sense (didn't you hate the guy who always talked about what he'd done, what he'd accomplished, and how he was instrumental in the successes of everything he ever was a part of), Kerry was to an extent deceived by the constant media portrayal of him as a hero. He felt that the country must love hearing about his service, if the media is constantly talking about it - after all, why would they be saying it unless people were listening? This, along with the anti-war record that came out of it, were Kerry's downfall. Taranto makes another excellent point:
The Kerry camp evidently hoped the media would gloss over the candidate's antiwar activities, and for the most part, for many months, they did. One exception was ABC's Charlie Gibson, who in April 2004 confronted Mr. Kerry about the 1971 medal incident. Mr. Kerry answered evasively, then muttered into a live microphone that Mr. Gibson was "doing the work of the Republican National Committee." This was a telling comment. Mr. Gibson was, in truth, doing the work of a journalist: asking a politician tough questions. But Democrats expect the mainstream media to treat them sympathetically--an expectation that has ample basis in experience.
This expectation of the Kerry camp would lead to their downfall. When it became clear that Kerry could not answer the tough questions, the Swift Boat Veterans became a force. They would ask Kerry questions through ads or press releases, demanding his records and other answers. Kerry's avoidance of directly confronting them, after months of talking about his war record, were hypocritical to much of the public; as were his stances on most issues. This was most clear in his stance on terrorism and Iraq - how could someone who was an anti-war leader by Vietnam, now glossing that over in favor of his 'war-hero' status, be trusted to properly take care of the situation in Iraq and other areas? Taranto sums this all up nicely:
After the Swift Boat Veterans and Rathergate, it must have been clear even to Mr. Kerry that campaigning on Vietnam had led him into a quagmire. If the media had treated his war-hero narrative with more skepticism in the first place, he might have reached this realization--and developed a better campaign strategy--much earlier. Conservatives love to complain about liberal media bias, and for the most part they're right. But they should count their blessings, too. Were it not for the media reinforcing the Democrats' spin, John Kerry might be president today.

No comments:

Post a Comment