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The 'Botched Joke' Excuse

By James Taranto
November 1, 2006

Pardon our morbid fascination with this story, but in a way it makes us feel vindicated. We first noted that something wasn't quite right with John Kerry way back in December 2002, but even we didn't realize how not quite right he was until this week. At a news conference yesterday, Kerry offered the latest "explanation" for his statement suggesting that the troops in Iraq are stupid and uneducated:

My statement [Monday]--and the White House knows this full well--was a botched joke about the president and the president's people, not about the troops. The White House's attempt to distort my true statement is a remarkable testament to their abject failure in making America safe.

Well, here is what Kerry actually said:

You know, education--if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq.

"The White House's attempt to distort my true statement" consists in taking what Kerry actually said at face value.

Even if the statement was a "botched joke," what on earth would possess Kerry to think that this excuses what he said? George Allen and Trent Lott didn't get passes for "botched jokes"; indeed, here is what Kerry himself said about Lott, according to Salon:

Sen. John Kerry, a [haughty, French-looking] Massachusetts Democrat [who by the way served in Vietnam] and 2004 presidential contender, became the first member of the Senate to suggest Lott was now unfit to lead the upper chamber. "It saddens me greatly to suggest this, but in the interests of the Senate, his party, and the nation, I believe Trent Lott should step aside as majority leader," Kerry said. "I simply do not believe the country can today afford to have someone who has made these statements again and again be the leader of the United States Senate."

And let's not forget Kerry's outrage at President Bush's successful joke about missing weapons of mass destruction back in March 2004.

Anyway, what joke did Kerry intend to make? A Kerry aide tells CNN:

Kerry was supposed to say, "I can't overstress the importance of a great education. Do you know where you end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq."

Ain't that a riot? Go ahead, wipe the coffee off your keyboard. We'll wait.

If we believe the Kerry aide's claim, Kerry apparently meant to disparage the president's intelligence and studiousness, to suggest that somehow the liberation of Iraq is the product of Bush's lack of education. But this makes no sense. Bush has both bachelor's and master's degrees from Ivy League universities. How can that be if he is both stupid and lazy?

In any case, Kerry's refusal to apologize for what he actually said is quite astonishing. (The closest he's come, according to Reuters: "Of course, I'm sorry about a botched joke.") As blogger Edward Morrissey notes:

He's left with the argument that he misquoted himself while trying to show off his supposed intellectual superiority over George Bush, and that it's all Bush's fault despite being Kerry's intellectual inferior. Really, no one could have scripted a more hilarious scenario, and the longer Kerry continues this line of defense/offense, the more ridiculous a figure he becomes.

It must also be said that there's good reason to question the "botched joke" explanation. It's certainly plausible that Kerry would misspeak, as he's done many times before. But when erstwhile Kerry aide Rand Beers tells Time that "no one who has ever been in combat would intentionally impugn our brave troops," he is speaking a falsehood, and Exhibit A is John Kerry, 1971:

They had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the country side of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.

Anyway, how is it that Kerry is so un-self-aware that he portrays himself as the indignant victim for a problem of his own making? In this attitude he has a lot of enablers, in both the mainstream media and the Angry Left. Here's how the Washington Post reported the story today:

President Bush last night accused Sen. John F. Kerry of disparaging U.S. troops in Iraq, echoing the 2004 strategy of ridiculing the Massachusetts senator to raise anew questions about Democratic leaders and their commitment to the troops. The highly coordinated White House effort came as Republicans sought to shift the focus away from an unpopular war and GOP scandals that are putting their congressional majorities at risk.

So Republicans "sought to shift the focus away from an unpopular war" by calling attention to Kerry's comments on that same war? Whatever, dude. Here's the New York Times:

For at least a few hours on Tuesday, President Bush had a chance to relive his victorious campaign of 2004, taking a break from a bleak Republican campaign season as he attacked Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts over the war in Iraq.

Mr. Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who was Mr. Bush's opponent in 2004, is not running for any office this year. But the president seized on what he said were Mr. Kerry's disparaging remarks about the troops at a rally in California--and what Mr. Kerry insisted was little more than a botched joke--as he sought to make Mr. Kerry the face of the Democratic Party this fall.

The New York Sun quotes the boy wonder of the Angry Left:

The angry counterattack from Mr. Kerry, who was the Democratic nominee in 2004 and is considering another presidential run in 2008, seemed likely to endear him to the liberal bloggers who could be influential in selecting the next Democratic nominee.

"Kerry responded perfectly," a leading Democratic blogger, Markos Moulitsas, wrote yesterday.

When we disparage the Angry Left, we invariably get a few emails from people saying that the Angry Left has every reason to be angry, because the Bush administration has been so evil, incompetent or both. For the sake of argument, let's stipulate that that's true. The Angry Left is still guilty of unseriousness. A serious political opposition would respond to an administration's misrule by advancing arguments and alternatives, not by indulging in incoherent rage.

Kerry Cuts and Runs
"The flap over what Sen. John Kerry calls his "botched joke" has prompted the Democrat to cancel campaign appearances over the next two days," MSNBC.com reports:

The Massachusetts senator--and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate--was scheduled to visit Minnesota State University in Mankato to campaign for 1st Congressional District candidate Tim Walz on Wednesday. But the event was cancelled at Kerry's request, according to Meredith Salsbery, a spokeswoman for Walz. . . .

Kerry also canceled a planned appearance Wednesday at a Philadelphia rally with Democratic Senate candidate Bob Casey.

A Kerry spokesman says the campaign "made a decision not to allow the Republican hate machine to use Democratic candidates as proxies is [sic] the distorted spin war."

Meantime, in Iowa's 1st Congressional District, candidate Bruce Braley canceled a campaign event scheduled Thursday, saying that the senator's recent comments about the Iraq war were inappropriate.

Kerry's campaign Web site now lists only "past events," though a screen shot of previously upcoming events is here. The cancellation of Kerry's campaign appearances belies the idea that he is doing himself a service by "fighting back." If this sort of thing really appealed to voters, candidates would be rushing to have him appear. Instead, ABC News quotes an anonymous Democratic congressman as saying, "I guess Kerry wasn't content blowing 2004, now he wants to blow 2006, too." The Dems may be wishing they'd nominated Howard Dean after all.

Centipede Mouth
How many feet can John Kerry fit in that mouth of his? Here he is on "Imus in the Morning" today:

Kerry: These guys have failed America. The people who owe an apology are people like Donald Rumsfeld, who didn't send enough troops, who didn't listen to the generals, who has made every mistake in the book. . . .

Imus: . . . Senator John McCain, he seems to think--he seems to agree with the Bush administration about your comments. And you know him, obviously, better than I do, but I know him pretty well. And he probably knows what you meant, too.

Kerry: I'm sorry that John McCain has said what he said. John McCain's been a friend for a long time. But I have to tell you, I think John McCain is wrong about this.

John McCain has been a cheerleader for a policy that is incorrect. John McCain says we ought to send another 100,000 troops over there. First of all, we don't have another 100,000 troops. Secondly, if you send them over there, it's going to do exactly what's already happened, which is attract more terrorists and more jihadists. Our own generals are telling us that it's the numbers of troops that are the problem.

So the administration didn't send enough troops and it sent too many troops? If only we had such a decisive, principled leader as president!

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