Politics is often a matter of perspective. When Massachusetts senator John Kerry was the Democratic candidate for president four years ago, running against incumbent George W. Bush, the Republicans portrayed him as a left-wing liberal. These days, Kerry’s opponent in the Democratic primary, Gloucester lawyer Ed O’Reilly, is charging that Kerry is not progressive enough. Only in Massachusetts could John Kerry be attacked for being a dangerous centrist.
The O’Reilly campaign has three principal prongs of attack: Kerry is too aloof (it is not exactly news that the state’s junior senator is not a regular at the Eire Pub); Kerry was wrong to vote in favor of the Iraq War (this is something that Kerry has clearly acknowledged, as have other progressives, such as Senators Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Joe Biden of Delaware, the latter of whom — if you haven’t noticed — holds the number-two spot on Senator Barack Obama’s anti-war ticket); and Kerry is wrong about same-sex marriage (bingo, a direct hit on that issue).
O’Reilly also contends that Kerry has not done enough to promote universal health care, which is a tremendously complex issue. There is no doubt that more Americans need to be insured. Our current state of affairs is a national disgrace. But at a time when the country’s finances are in crisis, thanks to the punishing cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the irresponsible regulatory and budgeting policies of the Bush administration, and the craven and short-sighted behavior of the banking and finance industries, candidates like O’Reilly dodge an important question: how are we going to pay for it? O’Reilly is not the only figure in public life to have a less-than-adequate answer. More experienced public figures, including Senators Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy, not to mention Obama, have failed to develop truly convincing plans to fund national health care.
Truth be told, O’Reilly’s is a soreheaded candidacy. He is backed by a coalition of principled progressives who truly are to the left of Kerry. But that core is supplemented by a band of Clinton supporters still angry that Kerry chose to support Obama over their woman, pro-Palestinian environmentalists whose grip on reality is at best tenuous, and people who for one reason or another just don’t like Kerry. Well, good for them. Viva democracy. If the O’Reilly campaign serves no other purpose than to hold Kerry’s feet to the fire for his unfortunate stance against full marriage rights for same-sex couples, then it has performed a public service.
John Kerry, once again, deserves the Democratic Party’s nomination. Kerry’s experience is just too strong to be discounted. His experience in national and international affairs is unmatched in Massachusetts by anyone other than his senior Senate colleague, Ted Kennedy.
As Democrats and Independents go to the polls next Tuesday to participate in the statewide primary, the Boston Phoenix strongly recommends a vote for Kerry.
Politics as show business
Television, which is to say politics, loves a new face. The medium that nurtured Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus, is today obsessed with Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, the onetime small-town mayor and current governor of Alaska.
Lest trailer-park feminists get their knickers in a knot over the show-biz comparisons with these young celebrities, let us make another one. Think for a moment of New York senator Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, and North Carolina senator Elizabeth Dole, a Republican not much in the news these days. These accomplished women occupy opposing positions on the ideological divide.
Now think of Hollywood legend Katharine Hepburn, who — being dead — is also not much in the news.
In terms of cinematic sex appeal, Hepburn may have Clinton and Dole beat. But when it comes to grit, to substance, to spirit (which was the essence of Hepburn’s allure), Clinton and Dole are in her class.
But in an age when flash trumps content, a spunky Hannah Montana is a bigger draw than a sophisticated Hepburn. In political terms, Palin is about as pubescent as the Disney Channel star.
In choosing Palin as his would-be vice-president, McCain played the gender card the way Massachusetts Republicans Paul Cellucci and Mitt Romney did when they named Jane Swift and then Kerry Healy, respectively, as gubernatorial running mates. The public ate it up.
Swift and Healy were jokes as lieutenant governors (no great harm), but very unfunny when they ascended — or tried to, as it was with Healey — to the top job.
McCain is said to have a rather dark sense of humor. His selection of Palin certainly put one over on Republican insiders and media pundits. But is America ready to share in the laughter? Polls suggest the nation is enjoying the show. The scary thought is that America will still be laughing in November, not realizing that a joke is a joke is a joke.