The New Republican: Columbia Flashback

Are you a fan of the print media? I know I am. I love the internet, but it will never replace the ease, reliability, authority, and permanence of traditional publishing. Just yesterday I lovingly unpacked my 1973 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica; it's now sitting on the shelf right above my OED. I expect to use both on a daily basis.

And magazines! If you're a magazine lover, you know what I mean: the only thing harder than schlepping around a lot of old magazines, is throwing them out.

So it was quite a pleasure, last week, to unearth some old copies of The New Republic, some going back ten years. ("CNN Wrecked Television News"? Who knew?) And sitting before me now is the June 3, 2002 print issue, open to Michael Crowley's illuminating article "The Makeover". Back in the summer of 2002, in the heat of primary season, two rivals for the Democratic nomination crossed paths in Columbia, South Carolina - and, for one magic moment, shared the spotlight:

"... As they stand side by side beneath a dreary exit sign, Kerry looms over Edwards by several inches. He also overwhelms his adversary rhetorically. After Edwards delivers some brief and subdued words to the crowd, Kerry whips them up with a furiously ideological stem-winder that makes Edwards grimace as if he were suffering a sudden migraine. Afterward there is much speculation that Edwards was irked at having to share the stage with Kerry, not least because of their striking height difference - a difference Kerry's backers love to dwell on.

It's a small, perhaps petty, triumph. But these days the Kerry camp will take whatever it can get. For, in a sense, Kerry is the anti-Edwards. Where Edwards has become the darling of the national media, Kerry can't seem to catch a break. His press clippings record 18 years of journalistic wisecracks about his ego, his looks, and his self-promotion."

Crowley explains that the goal of Kerry's makeover is to dispel his image as an aloof, narcissistic aristocrat. The candidate himself allows that "I haven't really reached out to or met a lot of people in the press until the last couple of years." But his very aggressiveness highlights "a degree of personal manifest destiny and self-love rare even among politicians. Indeed, his biography suggests an almost liofelong grooming for power."

Crowley notes that Kerry is aware of his image problem - but, as with everything else about himself, a little too aware of it, and we get the impression he's trying just a little too hard to prove he's a regular guy. As an unnamed Democratic activist says, "It's the rebranding of John Kerry ... that arrogant jerk you've heard so much about is really just a regular guy."

Ah, but John Forbes Kerry has a secret weapon. And what, you ask, might that be? I'll give you a hint: It starts with a V and ends with "nam."
When I asked Kerry whether he worries that Republicans might find a way to use that old footage of Michael Dukakis riding absurdly in a tank against him, he grew defiant. "If they want to put up an image of Mike Dukakis in a tank," Kerry replied, his eyes narrowing, "I'll put up an image of me on a boat in Vietnam."

And Vietnam isn't only an answer to Kerry's ideological vulnerabilities; it's an answer to his characterological ones as well: Out-of-touch, selfish rich kids didn't risk their lives in the jungles of Vietnam. ...