Tuesday, February 11, 2003

The true story of John Kerry’s ancestry came to light not long ago. Kerry hasn’t talked much about his Jewish grandparents during his political career; you and I might think that that’s his right as an American, but Joan Vennochi, in a bizarre, contemptuous editorial in The Boston Globe last week, chided Kerry for being insufficiently ethnic ("None of this is part of Kerry's local political persona," she tut-tutted).

The Daily Howler’s Friday and Monday columns on the subject are superb; I particularly agree with the Wendy Kaminer letter he quotes in the Monday column ("The notion that we are who our ancestors were is the justification for aristocracy, and other social snobberies, not to mention racism in its most virulent forms. Indeed, Vennochi also displays some attachment to ethnic stereotypes when she expresses surprise that the patrician, wind-surfing senator had Jewish grandparents").

But I think it might be a mistake to read Vennochi’s editorial too literally. I don’t think Vennochi really gives a damn whether Kerry attends klezmer concerts on the campaign trail -- I think she just wants a peg on which to hang her conventional-wisdom contempt for Kerry.

If you find the term "conventional-wisdom contempt" puzzling, read the rundown of nasty, bitchy articles about Kerry in that Monday Howler column, and read the astonishing "Kerry Mystery Challenge" in Kausfiles (aka "kf"), the Slate blog of alleged liberal Mickey Kaus: "What is it that makes so many people, myself included, intensely dislike Sen. John Kerry? ... I say we harness the power of the Web to solve the mystery! A copy of Kerry's undoubtedly riveting book, The New War, to the kf reader (or non-kf reader) who most precisely describes the root of Kerry's loathsomeness."

OK, so far too many journalists adjust their coverage of politicians based on their assessment of the character of those politicians, and do so in a sniggering way. This might be tolerable if the journalists didn’t do such a piss-poor job of assessing character. Remember, these are the folks who told you that George W. Bush was a swell guy. They told you he worked well with people. They told you he struggled manfully to work out compromises. They told you he was emotionally stable -- and not, say, a pinched, short-tempered man obsessed with vengeance. They told you he would surely be humbled by his popular-vote loss and would acknowledge the need to govern from the center. What they told you about Bush was a lot of crap. Why should you believe what they say about anyone else?

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