The Ketchup Kid

Mark Steyn:

"The American media are all excited about a new poll showing that, come the election, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry would beat George W Bush by 49 per cent to 46 per cent. Back in September, they were all excited about a poll showing Gen Wesley Clark would beat Bush by – guess what? – 49 per cent to 46 per cent. Even the lively Vermont governor Howard Dean had a poll putting him within the margin of error against Bush. Yet here we are just a few months later: the Vermonster self-detonated on Iowa caucus night, and Gen Clark will be lucky to hold on to fourth place in today's New Hampshire primary.

"I know a lot of folks on both sides of the Atlantic are salivating at the arrogant Texas cowboy's impending demise, but these polls are meaningless for several reasons, the most important of which is that they're measuring a 'known' – Bush – against an 'unknown' – some hitherto obscure figure suddenly proclaimed as the Democratic frontrunner. When the unknown becomes known, his numbers slide and the media and the Dems go off in search of a new white knight. Last week, things were so desperate that the only fellow left for the white-knight role was John Kerry, Vietnam veteran and spouse of ketchup heiress Theresa Heinz. Hitherto, the somnolent Kerry had been written off as remote and detached, but these are small sins next to angry (Dean) and kooky (Clark). The Ketchup Kid is a default choice, the least unwhite knight. In the weeks ahead, he too will become known.


"...After spending the best part of a year listening to the Democrats' strolling minstrels strumming their way round the White Mountains, I'm staggered by how little any of them have to say. If you go to a Kerry rally – something of an oxymoron, but let that pass – the senator's stump speech is a karaoke tape of floppo populist boilerplate. If he'd downloaded it for free from the internet, that'd be one thing. Instead, he paid a small fortune to hotshot consultant Bob Shrum, who promptly faxed over the same old generic guff he keeps in the freezer: 'I (insert name here) will never stop fighting for ordinary people against the powerful interests that stand in your way.'

"This shtick worked so well for Shrum's previous clients - President Dick Gephardt (1988), President Bob Kerrey (1992), President Al Gore (2000) and President Insert Namehere (2008) that he evidently sees no reason why it shouldn't elect a fifth president this time round. Throw in a few mandatory sneering references to Enron, Halliburton and Attorney-General John Ashcroft plus a handful of local hard-luck stories of doubtful general application – '47-year-old Arlene Claxton of Hooksett worked 20 years to build up her hairdressing business only to contract a rare skin disease from a conditioner manufactured overseas by corporations George W Bush has given tax breaks to in order to export American jobs abroad to jurisdictions lacking environmental safeguards thanks to a sweetheart deal negotiated by a lobbyist for Halliburton and then learnt that her health insurer wouldn't cover the cost of treatment because etc etc.'


"...(John Edwards) stump speech often sounds less like a political platform and more like a laundry list of class-action suits he'd like to get a piece of – we need to act against credit card companies that charge excessive interest etc – and he has nothing of interest to say about the war. But his qualified support – or qualified lack of support – seems to suit a Democratic electorate that recoils from Joe Lieberman's full-throated backing of the Iraq liberation and isn't quite suicidal enough to nail its colours to the mast of the fruitcake anti-war Left."


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