There are so many things to say about the John Kerry gaffe, it’s hard to know where to start.
Just the idea of President Bush’s scolding Kerry and telling him that “words are important” is beyond belief. This, after all, is the guy who for five years has been warning Americans about various “nookular” threats facing us. A guy who has his every utterance scripted for him and yet still manages to screw up his lines with regularity. A guy who had to have a cueing device hidden in his ear canal during his debates with that selfsame Kerry, so he’d avoid just standing at the lectern and saying “duh” in response to questions.
But let’s not stop there. Kerry himself was right in character. He clearly didn’t write his own joke, and was too slow-witted to get the joke he was supposed to deliver, which reportedly was that if students didn’t work and study hard might end up someday being ignorant incurious leaders like President Bush, and getting the country into another mess like Iraq. It wasn’t much of a joke, but by bunging it up, Kerry revealed his Boston Brahman snobbishness, saying instead that if students didn’t study hard, they’d end up in Iraq–the clear implication being that he thinks that the US troops fighting and dying in Iraq are there because they’re uneducated.
Kerry, the candidate who voted for the war but opposes the war, who voted for funding for the war and voted against it, is now trying to say that the joke he told is not the joke that was written for him, but that’s not going to work. He certainly should have understood instantly what he was saying when he said it, and realized how smarmy it was. What we’re left with is the unavoidable conclusion that Kerry doesn’t know anything about what he’s saying when he says it. Like Bush, he’s just reading a script, and like Bush, he’s bungling it badly.
That said, Republicans should be taking no pleasure in this. While it’s always fun to see a stuffed-shirt like Kerry get exposed and humiliated, the president is in no position to mock.
Besides, there is the reality that most of the men and women fighting and dying for the US in the deserts and urban jungles of Iraq and Afghanistan are there, not because they are stupid or intellectually lazy, as Kerry said, but because they were too poor to pay for their college or to have their parents pay for their college the way Bush’s and Kerry’s parents did for them. They’re there because Bush and his Republican Congress have for six years slashed federal aid for higher education, driving students into ROTC programs, where they became easy pickings for Bush’s wars upon graduation. They’re also there because people like Bush and Kerry have conspired to encourage American firms to ship well-paying jobs overseas, leaving students with little but retail clerical work and waitering to help them pay their bills.
As for the active duty troops fighting alongside them, while some may just be patriotic kids from military families who wanted a little excitement, and some may be sadists with a passion for killing, torture and fancy weaponry, most are there because there were no other jobs available. They’re not stupid, John. But neither are they happy to be there, George. They’re there because both of you have betrayed them in the name of “globalization.”
In the end, the joke’s really on us, because ever since the presidency of Ronald Reagan, we Americans have accepted uncritically the idea that our political leaders will be simply animated noisemakers for transmitting the carefully scripted “talking points,” sound bites, polemics and yes, even jokes written for them by a backroom group of political strategists–all presented as though they were coming from the brains of the people doing the talking.
We get the government, and the politicians, we deserve.
Let’s at least be thankful for the laughs they give us, inadvertently.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s new book is “The Case for Impeachment“,
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org