Monday, October 25, 2004


Reason #3 “Lambert Field”

This “reason” is obviously of a more light-hearted nature than the previous two (for an on-line exploration of some of these issues that clearly doesn't take itself too seriously, see Football Fans for Truth), but for me it nonetheless conveys an important message: John Kerry is a sportsman, but he is not in any way, shape, or form a “sports guy.” His efforts to pretend to be the latter are annoying, condescending and a bit insulting.

Background: On a campaign trip to Wisconsin, Kerry referred to Lambeau field, the home of the Green Bay Packers, as “Lambert Field.” A slip of the tongue? Perhaps. But for Packers Fans, a possibly unforgivable one.
That's akin to calling the Yankees the Yankers or the Chicago Bulls the Bells. This is a place where Packers jackets often outnumber sports coats in church and thousands of fans wear a big chunk of yellow foam cheese atop their head with the pride of a new parent.
Who cares? Why should being able to name the home field of a Midwestern NFL team be a prerequisite for serving in the Oval Office. The short answer is, of course, “it shouldn’t.” But it does, I believe, speak to a deeper issue that may be of some significance. One of the challenges that any candidate for president has is need to connect with the American people. This doesn’t necessary mean that a candidate must project the image that he or she is an average Joe or Jane, no different from anyone else. Indeed, most of us hope that our President is not like us, but rather is smarter, stronger, and more capable. But we still hope that the President understands us. This is one important reason why the contrast between George H.W. Bush, who was said to expressed amazement at a supermarket scanner (an allegation that probably wasn’t true, by the way), and Bill Clinton who could “feel your pain” was so great.

For a good chunk of the American populace—especially the male half—watching competitive sports is a fairly significant part of everyday life. Millions of people trek out to games in all kinds of weather; millions more spend much of the weekend watching games (and then relive the highlights on SportsCenter); heck, some people are even buried in the colors of the favorite team.

So it only makes sense for an aspiring politician to try to connect to this crowd on some level or another. My problem with Kerry is that he does such a transparent and bad job of it. In addition to the “Lambert Field” gaffe mentioned above, consider the following:

John Kerry also praised the Ohio State Buckeyes football team--during a visit to Michigan.

When asked who his favorite player on his “beloved” Boston Red Sox was, Kerry has given a few different replies over the years:

--He recently named "Manny Ortez" which followers of the BoSox conclude must have been the combination of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz into a frighteningly devastating player at least at the plate (though both have trouble fielding).
--Some years earlier, he named Eddie Yost, a player who never played for the Red Sox in his entire career.
--Kerry claims he in Shea Stadium was “30 yards away” from Bill Buckner’s famous blunder that many argue cost the RedSox the World Series in 1986. Yet, he was also attending a meeting in Massachusetts at the time.

--Kerry claims to have run in the Boston Marathon when there is no official record of him having ever done so. At best he ran as an unofficial registrant, something of a big no-no, especially in the big name marathons.

Again, so what? Well, a couple of things strike me as interesting. First, it is important to note that while Kerry might not be the most genuine “sports guy,” he certainly is a sportsman. He has clearly demonstrated the ability to bike, snowboard, windsurf, play ice hockey, and hunt that is rather impressive for someone of his age. But there is a difference between being a sportsman, particularly an aficionado of more expensive pastimes, and a sports guy who enjoys the relatively low budget pleasures of watching the Packers on Sunday.

Second, there are plenty of honest and complimentary ways Kerry could have answered the questions thrown at him. Take the Red Sox favorite player for example. I am not a baseball fan. For me, baseball is what happens in that long, dead period between the last game of the NBA playoffs and the first football game in the fall. But I did find something of a soft spot for the Red Sox after living in Massachusetts and enjoying a Fenway dog at a game or two. As such, I usually take a glance at the box scores and standings during the regular season and watch a playoff game or two. But I am not a big fan; and I am admittedly a rather fair-weather fan. If asked, I could name a few Red Sox players past and present: Ted Williams, Carlton Fisk, Wade Boggs, the infamous Bill Buckner, Roger Clemens, Mo Vaughn, Jose Canseco (in the twilight of his career), Nomar Garciapara, and a few of the present crop—Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez, and Trot Nixon. Which of this bunch would be my favorite? I don’t really know. I suppose if forced to choose I might pick Garciapara simply because he was (still is for the Cubs?) a complete player: fields in the most difficult position and bats well.

So when John Kerry, a Massachusetts Senator for the past 20 years is confronted with the same question and comes up with either “Manny Ortez” or Eddie Yost, this is clearly as sign that he simply is not a fan in any meaningful sense of the word. So what might have he answered instead? How about: “I’ve always been a team player and felt that the overall team was more important than any individual player.” Or how about: “You know, I always have and always will cheer for the Red Sox. But as a United States Senator, I have, sadly, been too busy to devote too much time to watching baseball games. I’ll leave picking favorite players to the experts.” (Of course the “too busy” excuse raises the question of “too busy doing what?” because it certainly wasn’t passing legislation).

Either of those replies would have been acceptable (and honest) except for the fact that they convey the actual but unfortunate truth that Kerry isn’t a sports guy.

Again, not being a sports guy is hardly a fatal failing. Not being one but pretending, badly, to be one is a bit worse. But I would argue that there are some underlying socio-cultural cues that do not necessarily bode well for a would-be President Kerry feeling the pain of the average American. Remember, this is a guy who has several homes across the world. This is a guy who couldn’t seem to understand what the big deal was to pay $250 a ticket to fly to Oregon to go windsurfing. Kerry may care for the rest of us out of a sense of noblesse oblige, but he isn’t one of us.

His recent hunting expedition illustrates this in several ways. First, in order to be able to hunt in Ohio, Kerry needed a license. Surrounded by aides who could easily obtain and fill out the paperwork before having Kerry quickly sign it, Kerry decided to do all the heavy lifting himself, including altering his diction so as to be comprehensible to the slack-jawed yokels whose votes he so desperately craves: the senator, campaign entourage in tow, went into a grocery store and asked the owner: "Can I get me a hunting license here?"

He then proceeded to buy a brand-new camouflage jacket and wander through some fields with three (or four) companions. The shotguns roared out of sight of any pesky reporters, and the triumphant hunters returned, three dead geese in hand. Did Kerry get one?

“We all got one,'' Kerry said.”

But Kerry wasn’t carrying his prize. Why? Two spoken reasons: "I'm too lazy," "I'm still giddy over the Red Sox. It was hard to focus."

Of course there is a third, unspoken, possible explanation for Kerry not carrying his own bird: he went on the hunting trip to appeal to pro-gun hunters in Ohio and nearby Pennsylvania, but not at the expense of the anti-hunting, anti-gun, pro-animal rights groups that populate Kerry’s own base. So it was permissible to shoot the bird off camera, claim victory, but no photos of Kerry with his kill. And what will happen to the goose? Kerry "later told reporters he’ll have the goose shipped to his farm near Pittsburgh."

I contrast this whole fiasco with a couple of conversations I’ve had just last week with friends and neighbors about hunting. One is an avid hunter though he confesses that he more enjoys “just messing around” out in the countryside than the actual kill. His freezer is still half full from last year’s deer hunt so he probably won’t pursue the deer too vigorously this year, just enjoy the time outdoors. Another noted that in general he likes the “being out in nature” aspect of hunting more than the actual hunting and killing, Still, as an airline mechanic for going-down-the-tubes USAir who has suffered a hefty pay-cut in recent years, perhaps bagging a deer might be more welcome than usual. This seems consistent with many hunters I know. Of course some are stereotypical bloodthirsty Bambi killers. But many more like the hunt because it represents a break from the everyday routine, a chance to get out with the guys, a chance to see nature at its finest. Hunting becomes much more a social ritual than a food-obtaining necessity.

Kerry’s goose hunt had none of those elements. No yearly gathering of the guys. Probably not even any close friends along for the trip. No quiet contemplation in the blind. It was simply four guys tromping into a field, blasting away at some geese, and a carefully managed photo-op return. Why?
Kerry adviser Mike McCurry said it's important in the final days of the campaign that voters "get a better sense of John Kerry, the guy." That means the Democratic senator is spending some of the dwindling time before Election Day hunting, talking about his faith and watching his beloved Boston Red Sox.

That about sums it all up: a fake photo-op by a fake sports fan as a means to "get a better sense of John Kerry, the guy".

Except for the fact that I can’t resist pointing out the class implications of the whole hunting affair. Kerry’s adventure resembles nothing so much as a British nobleman (or a Manchu Emperor) hunting with servants beating the bushes before him and carrying the carcasses back so they can be sent to Kerry’s farm in Pittsburgh (what then? Do the servants get to eat them?).

“But what about Bush?” you might ask. Again, I’m voting against Kerry, not for Bush. But even then, I can point out that Bush is the least wealthy of the four major presidential and vice-presidential candidates. Moreover, of the four, Kerry fits far more comfortably into the cultural and social stereotypes of the top 1% he so criticizes. Furthermore, for all his manifold failings, I cannot imagine Bush pulling the reverse of Kerry’s "Can I get me a hunting license here?” In a formal banquet attended by European heads of state Bush is probably a tad bit more formal and polite but it is impossible for me to imagine Bush launching into soliloquies in French, quoting mediaeval poetry, or commenting on how the 1956 Bordeaux lacks the exquisite bouquet so cherished in the 1955. I can imagine watching game three of the World Series with Bush, giving him a hard time for trading Sammy Sosa, and actually enjoying the experience.


Still here?

If so, there’s another angle of this need to pander as a “regular guy.” Corollary #1: John Kerry may be a musician, but he is not a music fan. As is probably well known by now, John Kerry played bass for a high school band, the Electras.

Now I don’t play bass. And the fruits of a few years of piano lessons have all but disappeared. So I can make no claim to be a musician. But I have been, and still am to some extent, a music fan. And as such, I could do nothing but groan at Kerry’s answers to music-related questions in a hot-off-the-press Rolling Stone interview.

Who are your favorite rock & roll artists?
Oh, gosh. I'm, you know, a huge Rolling Stones fan; Beatles fan. One of the most cherished photographs in my life is a picture of me with John Lennon -- who I met back in 1971 at an anti-war rally. But I love a lot of different performers.
Do you have a favorite Beatles song -- or Stones song?
I love "Satisfaction" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Brown Sugar." I love "Imagine" and "Yesterday."
At this point, I suppose it is appropriate to define what I mean by “fan.” A music fan is someone who actually purchases albums and listens to them. A fan might even read about music (in Rolling Stone or other places), talk about it with friends and acquaintances, and attend concerts. Having said that, and given Kerry’s answers above, we are left with two alternatives:

1) Kerry is a music fan who has purchased many albums over the years (given his income, the number of albums could be truly astounding) which he listens to at least from time to time. And, of all the albums, all the music, his favorite rock and roll bands are the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. And his favorite songs range from “Satisfaction” to “Yesterday.”


2) Kerry isn’t really a music fan and was desperately reaching for the names of the bands and songs that all the cool kids liked when he was in high school, college and ‘Nam.

I find the likelihood of #1 being an accurate description of events to be small for the following reasons. First, most music fans are also music snobs. They can confess actually liking mainstream bands (and the most mainstream songs of those bands) only under extreme duress and even then only as “guilty pleasures.” For Kerry to break this cardinal rule of musical snobbery would be extremely out of his pander to anyone in the room character. Second, there probably is something more than mere snobbery to the tendency of music fans to appreciate more obscure bands and songs. Real music fans actually listen to their music, repeatedly, frequently. And as such, the most popular songs and bands are inevitably heard far more often. Thus, even if someone started out just loving “Yesterday” twenty years ago, the song may not maintain its appeal after the 1000th listening. For Kerry to sing the praises of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Imagine” lo these many years later makes sense only if he doesn’t really listen to them (or any alternatives) all that often.

The Rolling Stone interviewer hits the nail on the head with his follow-up query:

You're a greatest-hits kind of guy.

Being a “greatest hits kind of guy” is a statement that from the perspective of a music fan/snob damns with faint praise. We all may like certain band’s greatest hits (my favorites in this category are probably the collections of Steve Miller and Tom Petty) but we will also be sure to follow that up with the declaration that we also like artists beloved of the rock critic crowd like Elvis Costello or Bjork. But for Kerry, this could give him something of an out, a way to square the circle by noting something like:
“While I did enjoy rock and roll when I was younger, I’m now 60 years old and have been a U.S. Senator for the past 20 years. As such, it has been my sad lot to hear far more opera and symphonies (which I also quite like) than rock music.”

In his actual reply, Kerry goes half-way down this road, in his “try to appeal to everyone while offending no one” style:
My favorite album is Abbey Road. I love "Hey Jude." I also like folk music. I like some classical.
So there, snobbish Rolling Stone interviewer! Kerry’s favorite album isn’t a greatest hits compilation. Of course “Hey Jude” isn’t actually on Abbey Road, but Kerry could have been referring to the album (a hodge-podge of Beatles tunes released in the States), not the song. But he also likes folk and classical. Nothing wrong with that and his eclectic tastes might go far to explain why he has yet to mention an album or song released since 1970. But then he has to follow it up with this:
I love guitar. Oh, God. I mean, you know -- Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Buffett . . .
Not “I like guitar.” Not even “as someone who enjoys strumming a six-string myself, I like guitar,” but “I love guitar.” And who occupies the pantheon of guitar gods for this guitar lover? Jimi Hendrix is a perfectly acceptable guitar god. But Jimmy Buffett? Sure he “Strums his six-string/on [his] front porch string” as well as anyone. There are plenty of reasons why one might like Jimmy Buffett but I have seldom if ever heard of his guitar playing mentioned as one of them. So, again, we’re left with the alternatives of either Kerry is an eclectic music aficionado who regards Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Buffett with equal regard, or Kerry is a wannabe poseur who couldn’t even come up with Jimmy Page as the next guitar-playing Jimmy in his frantic stream-of-consciousness attempt to appear hip. Or, if he were aiming for the valuable acoustic guitar-strumming Jimmy fan vote, he might have mentioned Massachusetts’ own James Taylor as one whose acoustic guitar playing is rather more central to his sound than Buffett’s is.
Even the very friendly Rolling Stone interviewer knew when to cut his losses with a

OK -- enough.

Yes, this is enough. None of this is terribly significant. Kerry’s lackluster Senate record and his uncertain foreign policy stances are far more significant determinants of why I am forced to vote for the badly flawed Bush. But I do find Kerry’s unwillingness to simply be who he really is a bit troubling. And it occurs to me that one reason why Kerry’s Vietnam experience has so clearly resonated with him is because it is the one time that he was closer to being “just one of the guys” than any other time in his life. But even four months in Nam don’t make him “one of the guys.” And NOT being one of the guys might actually increase one’s suitability for the presidency. But not if you keep trying to have it both ways.

UPDATE: Kerry continues to demonstrate how closely he watches his "beloved" RedSox (via Ace of Spades):
Twice on Sunday, the Democrat said he was basking in Boston's 10-9 win in Game 1 the night before.

Problem is, the Red Sox won 11-9.

"Ten-9, the Sox did fabulous," Kerry said with a big smile as he ducked into church Sunday morning in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Inside, the minister had asked worshippers to clap "if the Lord has done anything wonderful in your life this week," and Kerry applauded.

"Coming from Boston, I had a special reason to clap," Kerry explained to the congregation when he took the pulpit. "The Red Sox won 10-9."

Kirk--As always, I am amzed at how articulate you are and how much you know about so many things. Is it the politics that make one a phoney or does one just come that way? Where are the statesmen? Is it possible to rise above our political traditions?
Yes, John Kerry is a douche. I'm afraid that's not quite so eloquently put, but nobody can argue that it's inaccurate, not even Terry McAuliffe. Manny Ortiz? I must have missed that one. I suppose all them Dominicans are the same to him. But flubbing the score? That's not nearly as bad. I've done that before, too.
But yeah, its just further proof that he's trying to be like that kid in high school who hung out with the drug addicts and threw around drug slang he recently learned on NYPD Blue and then meandered over the skater kids and talked about Tony Hawk before finally making some obvious generic sports comment with the jocks. Every politician tries to be a chameleon, that's understandable.
But faking a hearty love for a team that's infamous for spreading heartbreak and crushing resolve for 86 years? That's foul.
Not that I'm biased at all. (Go Sox)
By the way, rather impressive list of Sox players for somebody who doesn't like baseball. Kudos. I don't think I could name a single NBA player, at least one that hasn't been accused of rape, murder, drug usage, or possession of a firearm.
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