Saturday, August 13, 2005

Not As Bad As We Think, Or As Good As We Want

“Kennedy-esque” used to mean young, vigorous, handsome, principled and accomplished, inspiring national leader. In hindsight, JFK had mostly young and inspiring going for him.

Vigorous? We know now the beach touch football games were bogus pageants like the Bush aircraft carrier landing — symbolic rituals to cover up JFK’s poor health and likely drug dependence.

Handsome? Kennedy certainly had it over his contemporary Nixon and the other double-chinned politicos of the time, but he’s better looking in retrospect. Some of the hooded-eye, puffy-faced portraits taken during his presidency are harrowing to behold now that memory is fading. He looked best outdoors, with a breeze in his face, squinting into the sun.

In politics, handsome is one-third power and one-third arrogance, with an oversized, horse-faced skull, full hair and long choppers, plus lack of a beer gut, taking care of the final third. There are bonus points for an appliqué of money and a glamorous wife. See Rep. Jim Ramstad, Sen. Norm Coleman or Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appended an actual Kennedy, for contemporary examples of handsome.

(Sign of the apocalypse: I just discovered Spell Check has Schwarzenegger in its dictionary.)

Principled and accomplished? It appears Bobby was the more principled of the Kennedys, and if Clinton hadn’t come along, JFK could claim clear title to the office of Philanderer in Chief. The Kennedy record of accomplishment is sketchy. Peace Corps, Space Program. Bay of Pigs, Vietnam.

I started out to write about Rep. Mark Kennedy (R, MN), who plans to run for the Senate seat Mark Dayton is vacating, as an example of the new “Kennedy-esque” — a lite version of what maybe wasn’t all that substantial to begin with. (Now you see why I write for a blog instead of a newspaper.)

Kennedy’s campaign website appeared to reprint an Associated Press article that noted he had voted with Democrats on 10 key issues this year, with a fulsome headline — “A Common-Sense Get Things Done Guy.” But the piece was actually excerpted, leaving out 13 sentences that criticized Kennedy for attempting to mask his conservative extremism and bolster his statewide standing by recently joining the other side for a few visible votes. Even more important, the post didn’t indicate the ellipses, or link to the original article, reinforcing the idea that Mr. Kennedy was Mr. Moderate-reach-across-the-aisle-if-that’s-what-it-takes-to-get-things-done Guy.

I’m all ready to tear into Kennedy when I read about the latest anti-John Roberts ad from NARAL, a pro-choice organization to which I’ve sent a check from time to time. deconstructs the ad’s deceptive claims about Roberts’ record as an attorney, coupled with footage of a victim and clinic bombed by the recently convicted terrorist Eric Rudolph — a much later event unrelated to the case in which Roberts filed a brief of behalf of the government. In other words, NARAL distorted Roberts’ record just as much as Kennedy disguised his.

At the same time, I’m reading Kathleen Hall Jamieson’s Everything You Think You Know About Politics… And Why You’re Wrong. Her research says that the media help create an inaccurate picture of how often politicians lie or fail to keep their campaign promises, in part, by overreporting attacks and underreporting supported positions. As I've noted before, only tyrants bat 1.000, and distortion is a bi-partisan tactic.

But cheeez. Can’t we do better than this?

[Sorry for the lack of links, but I’m in a cottage working from a dial-up.]


Blogger Charlie Quimby said...

And while I was writing this — beyond the range of newspapers, TV signals and cell phone transmission towers — NARAL withdrew its ad.

Here are the links if you care about the purported strategy of launching a flawed ad or about NARAL's defense of its work.

7:29 AM  

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