Wednesday, February 05, 2003

John Kerry -- the Gore of 2004? I took a pass on criticizing Joan Vennochi's column in yesterday's Globe, in which she suggested that recent revelations about John Kerry's Jewish roots -- which, by her own accounting, he discussed publicly as far back as 1993 -- as well as longstanding confusion over whether or not he's part-Irish (he isn't) -- show that, in "a most literal sense, John Kerry doesn't know who he is."

Well, Joe Conason didn't let it go. He lets her have it in his Salon weblog, calling her piece "an unusually silly column" that may be "a harbinger of shallow journalism ahead."

Now, one half-baked column from a generally reliable pundit isn't going to sink Kerry, but there have been signs that some elements of the media will attempt to turn him into the Al Gore of 2004 -- that is, a craven opportunist who shifts with the breeze and will do anything to get elected. Bob Somerby, whose Daily Howler website has documented in exhaustive detail how the media helped sink Gore with false stories such as his nonexistent claim that he'd "invented" the Internet, first wrote about the Kerry-Gore parallels last December 4.

There's an additional danger, too, that when Kerry really does act cravenly -- such as by attempting to have it both ways on Iraq (free registration to the New Republic's website required) -- it will fit into the pre-existing template of his supposed character flaws and be amplified beyond all reason. I mean, I wish he hadn't voted for the Iraq war resolution, but his subsequent critique of President Bush's Middle East policy has been typical Kerry: smart, sophisticated, and nuanced.

Many years ago, the great political impersonator David Frye made an album in which Hubert Humphrey is heard pandering, "I was Jewish once myself!" That's not Kerry. Kerry is a solid senator whose reserved, formal manner is an awkward fit with today's dumbed-down, user-friendly brand of politics. Character is important, but there is no evidence that lack of it is one of Kerry's problems.

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