Meeting John Kerry in person is sort of like meeting a tree made out of human skin and wrinkles. On TV he looks a lot like Frankenstein or Herman Munster, up close he more closely resembles Droopy Dog stretched out on a torture rack. My first encounter with the man was a brief run-in at a café in New Hampshire during the Democratic primary. I pretended to be from the legitimate press and he shook my hand and asked me what I was going to write about him. I told him that I was going to write that I shook John Kerry's hand and then he asked me what I was going to write about him and I told him that I would write about shaking his hand. Then I just sort of trailed off. I don't think he got the recursive joke - I don't blame him much, it was a shitty joke - and he had plenty of people trying to shake his hand.
Back then Kerry was near the bottom of a pretty thick pile, two days ago when I met him for the second time he was fighting desperately to stay on top of a much smaller heap. I wasn't looking to meet John Kerry, I was working on a story about his operatives. Most strikingly, when I shook hands with him again he looked like a faded piece of cloth. The pace of non-stop This is the Fucking End campaigning had taken its toll on him. His grip was firm, but he barely even glanced at me. I and the rest of the crowd were just meaty appendages on a good will conveyor for him. If it had been possible I think he would have continued talking to one of his aides while kissing the baby being extended to him.
I asked one of the campaign chumps if he was alright and they just nodded. That sort of nod is all over the place. Swarms of these guys follow around both candidates with a bobbling head and a fake knowing smile like some sort of partisan dashboard toy. There's no passion to these politics, it's business. They want "their guy" in so they can reap the rewards. Their guy wants in so he can too.
Kerry has put a lot of effort into pushing away the sort of folks that Dean attracted by the thousands. Deaniacs. Deanaholics. Embarrassments. The people who got Dean on the cover of Newsweek and then ensured he'd never get the Democratic nomination. Not that Dean helped his own cause much, but his chaff is definitely not something Kerry wants sticking to his honey in any substantive sense. He'll take their filthy votes and hold his nose while he does it.
I think Kerry's campaign ads are shit. I watched one on his garish regional tour bus and I wanted to throw the DVD player out the window. Kerry has about 10,000 different angles of attack, hundreds of hours of great professional retardate Bush footage, and a massive spin staff and all he puts out are these number-heavy shitfests that would put a meth head to sleep. When he finally got around to putting out that unnecessarily vague eagle ad it was going up against Bush's wolf pack ad. Way to go Kerry. He was the same droningly dull chowder head in the debates, but of course that was all it took to walk away with those.
Bush, I've got to admit, I was predisposed to dislike. I hate the cowboy image (and make no mistake that is all it is, the guy practically holds out his pinky finger when drinking something), I hate the whole war in Iraq bullshit, and I hate his sleazy frat boy demeanor. Kerry might be dull, but on TV Bush ejects feces from every pore. He's like the world's best political cartoon that somehow turned into a somewhat real human being.
Meet him in person, and you're likely to change your tune. Bush is fully charged at all times. He campaigns exactly as much as Kerry, but he comes across like he got a good night's sleep and woke up looking forward to shaking people's hands. Campaigning isn't something he has to do; it's something he wants to do. There has been a lot of hemming-and-hawing and mockery in the media about loyalty oaths being required at Bush rallies. I thought they were a self-defeating contrivance, and I still think they are pretty fucking sinister, but when you get a vetted crowd in front of Bush the affect is amazing. He is conducting the orchestra up there. He plays the crowd like a bootleg Chinese 1001-in-1 NES cartridge.
The down side to this is that Bush's crowds are by default ideologically in lock step and passionate about the President. When he talks they roar with enthusiasm. When he attacks Kerry they boo and jeer feverishly. When some college girl walks into the Legion Hall with a "STOP AIDS" sign they drag her out by her hair, kick her, and want to do even more. That's not to say that Kerry doesn't have his share of that sort of asshole - he may have even more - but he doesn't filter to get only that sort of asshole. Besides, when Kerry speaks, by the tenth run-on sentence the crowd is practically begging him to wrap it up. "Alright guy, we agree with you, global test, whatever."
The one area where Bush definitely has Kerry beaten is in the advertising and spin game. Sitting Presidents pretty much have a lock on winning the spin game these days, because the point where policy speech ends and press release begins has become completely blurred. But, Bush has much shrewder ad wizards casting enchantments for his campaign. Through the use of political action committee buffers that are only half-heartedly decried by Bush's campaign Bush has gotten away with basically lying in a number of ads about Kerry. The media doesn't call his people on it, for a variety of reasons, and Kerry's own cabal of PACs are so pussy that they recoil in horror at the mere angry mention of them by a Republican representative in the media. Oh no, they said our ad is mean, we'd better pull it!
I'm not going to insult your intelligence by telling you who to vote for. There are other choices out there if Bush and Kerry are not up your alley. Badnarik, Cobb, Nader, and dozens of other fringe candidates that are about as likely to get elected as I am are all anxiously awaiting your vote. I will, however, tell you to vote. Read a little more about the candidates that interest you. Go searching for some conflicting viewpoints. If all you read and watch comes from Fox News then go check out the BBC or the laughably anti-Bush UK paper The Guardian. If all you read and watch comes from BBC or The Guardian then check out Fox News or the laughably anti-Kerry site Free Republic. Be willing to make yourself mad.
As an aside, I apologize for the relatively serious tone of this update. I had a poker themed one cooking and, believe it or not, it was even less funny.
The Something Awful front page news tackles anything both off and on the Internet. Mostly "on" though, as we're all incredible nerds.