Along the Tracks

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Election season has been 'colorful'

A sneak peak at this Saturday's column:

Several astute observers - most, but not all, on the political right - noticed Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry was flush with color entering the Thursday debate.

One might assume this means Kerry has a tan - but “tan” does not properly describe the Democrat’s hue. “Orange” has become the favorite among various shades proposed.

Far be it from me to deny the man an opportunity to seek a healthy glow. My own pale fish-belly complexion is hidden only by graying hairs and growing whiskers. I can spend hours on the sunny slopes of Idaho ski resorts and skimming the waves windsurfing off ritzy Nantucket and still don’t seem to get the desired bronzing. Maybe Kerry is just an average guy like me after all.

Still, turning to the chemicals when natural or artificial sunlight just won’t do is a drastic step. It’s hard to be taken seriously as you present your 17th (and final!) position on Iraq when Charlie Brown and Linus mistake you for the Great Pumpkin.

Some wish to look deeper, so to speak, to find the “primary colors” which resulted in Kerry’s unexpected resemblance to a citrus fruit. I’m not sure this is helpful. Last fall, John Kerry was green with envy over the attention and donations being lavished upon the antiwar contender, Howard Dean. His vote for funding the troops before he voted against it made it difficult for Kerry’s constituents to determine his stripe. Kerry decided to speak day-in, day-out in Iowa until he was blue in the face. The strategy worked, and Kerry suddenly became golden to Democratic primary voters. Though the GOP attempted to cast Kerry as a dyed-in-the-wool liberal all through the spring and summer, the stain never stuck. That was the condition of Kerry’s color right through the party convention.

Things began to change when the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth came along, accusing Kerry of being yellow. The Democratic candidate expected the Big Media to glaze over the charges, but his own inconsistencies on his service, and his refusal to release his military records, demonstrated a lack of transparency which eventually erupted in a number of critical examinations, first initiated by the fiery New Media (cable news, Internet web logs, etc.) then filled in by the bluebloods at the networks and major newspapers.

Having spent his entire campaign without a message, Kerry suddenly found a message thrust upon him. He blanched. The flag with which he had wrapped himself, arguing any criticism of him was somehow a challenge to his “patriotism,” was now pulled away, revealing all his blemishes as a candidate. The verbal pounding pummeled upon Kerry at the Republican convention left him black and blue. Now, the Swift Boat Vets are back on TV, using Kerry’s own actions and words from the early ‘70s - when he accused U.S. troops of widespread war crimes and even met with the enemy in Paris - in a devastating ad which paints the senator as Communist red.

Maybe the mixture of Swifty attacks - yellow, then red - has left the senator orange. Only time will tell how deeply the criticisms have been absorbed.

Now, Republicans should not become too sunny at the misfortunes of Mr. Kerry’s skintone. After all, the man who carries the colors for the GOP has his own presentation problems. Who can forget the skinned up forehead and nose from a couple summers ago, when George W. Bush, leader of the free world, wrecked his mountain bike while pedaling around the dusty-brown Crawford, Texas, ranch? A patchwork of scratches and bruises don’t exactly reflect strength and vision. The last thing Bush supporters want to see in one of the debates is their captain showing up looking like an 11-year-old boy just in from summer camp. I have no doubt Karl Rove has borrowed Al Gore’s lockbox and chained up the First Huffy until after Nov. 2.

Other colorful dangers surround hopes of a second Bush term. Remember how, during the Afghanistan war, Bush nearly achieved the evildoers’ wishes by choking on a pretzel watching football on a Sunday afternoon? By the time the long-suffering Laura came into the room, the president was blue as a Viagra pill. I am uncertain which presidential pet did the Lassie imitation and told Mrs. Bush her husband was trapped in a canyon by cougars, er, writhing on the carpet gagging on Rold Gold, but it probably was not Barney, as the namesake purple dinosaur is unintelligible to adults. It must have been Spot who showed his true colors.

Be that as it may, we enter the final month of a campaign where the challenger’s chameleon-like changes don’t seem to match the background issues we face, and an incumbent who disavows any subtle shadings at all, for good or for bad.

When this election is over, color me glad.

Paul A. Miller is managing editor of the Montpelier Leader Enterprise and the Napoleon Northwest Signal.

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