The Dying Mother Card
After managing to appear a more or less human being throughout three 90-minute debates, John Kerry played the dying mother card.
Asked to name the most important thing hed learned from the strong women in his life, he didnt mention the one hes married to. Instead, he spoke of visiting his mother in the hospital a couple years ago. He told her he was thinking of running for president. Then came the most important thing hed learned, mind you, from any of the strong women in his life:
And she looked at me from her hospital bed and she just looked at me and said: Remember: integrity, integrity, integrity. Those are the three words that she left me with. I count four, but let that pass.
There are several things wrong with this story, the first being that its stunningly goofy. No dying mother ever spoke to her son like that; no, not even in Massachusetts. Presumably she would take for granted that by his middle fifties it was unnecessary, or far too late, to teach him about integrity. After all, as he reminded us yet again, he was an altar boy.
A harmless fib, to be sure, compared with President Bushs whoppers. But it showed Kerrys stupefying eccentricity. Even if this preposterous story were true, could he expect anyone to believe it? Why on earth would he tell it? To tell us he realized the importance of integrity only a couple of years ago?
I wept till my sides hurt. It brought back memories of other false memories, such as Al Gores rollicking reminiscence of his dying sister. These Democrats cant go for your tear ducts without insulting your brain and tickling your ribs at the same time. One also recalls Amy Carters wisdom on nuclear proliferation, and Bill Clintons early struggle for racial justice as a nine-year-old in Arkansas.
Come to think of it, the most mystifying dereliction of Clintons presidency was his failure to come up with a good yarn about his mothers passing. But even the greatest artists dont always rise to the occasion: a contemporary chided Shakespeare in print for not producing a suitable tribute when Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603.
Like his running mate, Kerry did manage to bring a certain relative of the vice president into the debate. Very sympathetically, of course. These guys perfume their spitballs. I believe were all Gods children, Kerry said in essence, and that very much includes Vice President Cheneys lesbian daughter. Bush, for his part, made no allusion to the first Mrs. Kerry; but Kerry himself came perilously close to doing so when he made a weak joke about having married up, unintentionally reminding us that he is now united in wedlock with his second heiress.
Kerry mentioned God a lot in the final debate, quoting Scripture and showing respect. A great deal of respect. Asked about some Catholic bishops declaration that voting for pro-abortion candidates is sinful, Kerry said, I respect their views. I completely respect their views. I am a Catholic. And I grew up learning how to respect their views. Replying to Bushs remarks on his own faith, Kerry said, I respect everything that the president has said and certainly respect his faith. As for homosexuals feeling that God made them what they are, I think we have to respect that. Rodney Dangerfield should have met this man.
Lets be honest. Like auto races, presidential debates are dramatic because theyre dangerous. One bad moment can kill a candidate. We rarely remember the details; what we do remember are the gaffes, putdowns, stumbles, pained silences, and unintended self-revelations; and, beyond these, general impressions. Forensic skill matters less for imparting truth than for avoiding disaster.
It was Bush who came closest to disaster, in the first debate, but there was no single fatal moment. He held his own in the other two battles, though I thought the smooth-talking Kerry slightly outperformed him most of the time.
Still, it was Kerry who had the two worst moments: first when he dodged a question about abortion, showing he didnt even grasp the basic Catholic distinction between reason and revelation; and again when he invented what he thought was an edifying story about his dying mothers counsel.
Some altar boy.
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