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A Deafening Silence of Meaning

by JOHN CHUCKMAN

Recently, John Kerry and his wife held a barbecue at the Pennsylvania White House. Never heard of the Pennsylvania White House? It’s actually the homestead of Kerry’s wife, a white-columned mansion on a tailored estate outside Pittsburgh built from the proceeds of a billion cans of spaghetti and bottles of ketchup. Kerry wants everyone to know he’s an ordinary guy so he’s holding barbecues these days instead of crystal-and-candlelight dinners. People who normally never would get past the front gate have now been allowed on the rolled greens to chomp hot dogs.

Those attending a down-home get-together recently were greeted with hay bales designed by a team of Neiman-Marcus window dressers; a custom-made silk flag, gigantic enough to use for hang-gliding, flapped over the mansion in breezes generated by rented Hollywood wind machines; a band subtly suggested the Marines Corps Band playing “Hail to the Chief”; and, as if in homage to Ronald Reagan, a rented soldier home from occupation-duty in Iraq led the crowd through a heart-rending Pledge of Allegiance. They may well have served jelly beans along with the tapioca pudding, but reports don’t tell us.

The new class of visitors to the estate was not allowed to enjoy the hot dogs without receiving a dose of inspiration from the campaign trail, almost the way poor men at a Salvation Army shelter get scripture between bites of doughnut. Kerry enjoined guests to leave the hallowed grounds “with the spirit in an uplifting sense that we’re going to change this country.” Yes, those were his very words, much as we might have received from that other source of constant inspiration, the President himself, down in Crawford, Texas, over some smoldering cows and cold root beer.

Guests apparently left with puzzled faces over what they were being asked, but they merely joined the swelling ranks of puzzled Americans who have attended Kerry’s rallies and speeches.

Kerry likes to say, “This is the most important election of our lifetime,” and his guests heard it again over dollops of tapioca in Dixie Cups. It’s his best line when he doesn’t muff it, although he never explains why the claim should be true. Its threadbare, re-tread quality begins to suggest Richard Nixon’s “It’s time for a change!” a line that got him elected in 1968 so he could vastly expand the pointless killing and destruction in Vietnam.

Everyone understands, though, that Kerry’s slogan is about “anyone but Bush,” exactly the kind of substitute for thinking that gave the world Bush in the first place. Anybody-but-Bush is about the only positive adjective you can apply to the candidacy of John Kerry.

If you want to read some indigestible stuff, finish whatever it is you’re eating and then go to John Kerry’s Town Hall Meeting Internet site. Other than a few slabs of party boilerplate, there is nothing there, absolutely nothing, to inspire Americans and others in the world about the future. On many of the site’s “on the issues” topics, when you go to subtopics, you find nothing of substance. The headlines themselves are the most encouraging words, and they do not even fairly describe what is contained under them. In several cases, there are statements that are positively depressing.

Here is Kerry’s summary statement on Iraq:

Winning the Peace in Iraq…A Strategy for Success

To establish security and move forward with the transition to Iraqi sovereignty, the President must show true leadership in going to the major powers to secure their support of Lakhdar Brahimi’s mission, the establishment of a high commissioner for governance and reconstruction, and the creation of a NATO mission for Iraq. These steps are critical to creating a stable Iraq with a representative government and secure in its borders. Meeting this objective is in the interests of NATO member states, Iraq’s neighbors and all members of the international community. True leadership means sharing authority and responsibility for Iraq with others who have an interest in Iraq’s success. Sharing responsibility is the only way to gain new military and financial commitments, allowing America to truly share the burden and the risk.

This is Kerry-speak for saying that NATO allies should pay part of the human and material cost for America’s mess in Iraq. Why? In case, Kerry hadn’t noticed, Bush has been trying to accomplish this very thing for some time, applying a good deal of nasty pressure to allies, but Iraq, as Bush was pointedly told recently by Europeans, has nothing whatever to do with NATO’s mandate.

I suspect the phrase “true leadership,” apart from being a totally unwarranted advertising claim about the Senator’s dreary career, means Kerry sees himself playing good cop in the old good cop-bad cop routine used by police to break down suspects, but friends and allies aren’t usually regarded as suspects.

Consider the words, “winning the peace.” At first glance, they suggest heroic purpose like that of World War Two, providing a gloss of worthiness to the utter human and material waste of Iraq. The words were undoubtedly selected also to suggest for some Americans, the Planet-of-the-Apes crowd, slogans like “winning in Vietnam.” The word “peace” was selected with entirely another group of Americans in mind, mostly wishful thinkers and harmless dreamers.

If putting together the words “winning” and “peace” suggests to you George Orwell’s “war is peace,” you are not alone, particularly when you consider that Iraq already had peace and was a genuine threat to no one before the United States smashed it.

Tucked under the topic on Iraq at Kerry’s site is an item “Protecting Our Military Families in Times of War: A Military Family Bill of Rights.” Here’s an advertising pitch for tossing a tiny packet of sugar at each military voter, recalling, at one and the same time, scenes in World War Two films where GIs toss sticks of gum to hungry refugees and microphone reminders to shoppers for today’s special at Wal-Mart – all with a suitably sentimental nod to all the Jimmy Stewarts serving at spots like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo’s human dog cages. Well, a packet of sugar is better than nothing, because God knows Kerry’s view of foreign policy promises a future with plenty of the same duty.

We could analyze the rest of the stuff on Kerry’s site – all of it trying to make it appear he has something new to say and all of it about as helpful and clear as the fine print on a prescription-drug brochure – but it just isn’t worth the effort. I’ll only note further that Kerry had a featured item there about China, accusing Bush of letting Americans down about China. Please, Senator, say that we are not being promised another years-long chorus of American hectoring and carping about a proud but poor people working hard to earn their place in sun. Good God, what hypocrisy that was under Clinton.

It is important to remember that George Bush, while a top contender for title of Biggest Flop in American History, is largely a spent force. It is difficult to see what else he could possibly do to damage the planet. Once, not very long ago, his presidential Brain Trust, the neo-con Nazis, advocated mopping up Syria, Iran, and other places whose names they couldn’t even pronounce as soon as they finished up in Iraq. Well, things are not going to finish up any time soon in Iraq. America has spent herself silly trying to stabilize Iraq after de-stabilizing it.

There is a distasteful quality about Bush that people all over the world instinctively feel, and Bush’s efforts, we may all be thankful, will continue being hindered by that perception. Kerry has the advantage of being utterly boring instead of distasteful, but his ideas about the world are remarkably similar to Bush’s. If Americans elect Kerry, they will get a fresh, new Bush who may actually be able to leverage some of the world’s recent weariness and desperate desire for change to carry right on with more destructive stupidity.

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John Chuckman lives in Canada.

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