By Dave Andrusko
Editor, NRL News
In Search of a Coherent Thought
Every morning on my way to work I listen to a particular radio talk show. Early in September I double-clutched when the host introduced two guests.
Columnists Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich, both of the New York Times, are two of the most vicious writers you'll ever meet in this lifetime. On the other hand, their foursquare, no-apologies hatred for President Bush at least has the merit of not feigning objectivity.
On this particular occasion, Rich was talking about a time he had heard Senator John Kerry speak. I caught neither the particular time nor the occasion, but the conclusion Rich drew was that Kerry had been almost "painfully inarticulate."
Great orators, of course, are not necessarily great leaders, nor vice versa. More important is what the choice of language tells voters about how a candidate sees a given issue, how carefully he has thought it through, and/or whether he is trying to be honest or hide his true feelings.
Whenever Kerry start-stops in a response, or reverses his field for the umpteenth time on an issue, his supporters attribute this to Kerry's appreciation for "complexity." Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and grant that this might be so in other areas.
But when he speaks about abortion, he borders on incomprehensibility. Since Kerry's voting record on abortion is as plain as day - - he's 100% in favor - - you might ask why he lurches from one ill-conceived sound bite to another.
Part of this is because it's awkward trying to pretend to be something that he is not: a "moderate" on abortion. Part of it is that his intellectual diet is larded with high-fat, low-fiber pro-abortion propaganda. Whatever the cause, it makes for bloated answers that leave the reader with a queasy feeling.
Take the "Selected quotes from John Kerry's first interview as the Democratic presidential nominee," furnished by the Associated Press. On abortion, his response reads thus:
"I believe in choice. The Supreme Court of the United States allows people choice. It's a form of life. But the Bible itself - - I mean, everything talks about different layers of development; that's what Roe vs. Wade does. It talks about viability. It's the law of the land.
"I've said that we should respect deeply the moral issues involved, and we should be urging more people to counsel options, and they should be going through - - you know, abortion should be rare, but it should be safe and legal."
Hmmm. Is "choice" a "form of life"? No, presumably, Kerry is talking about unborn children. Does the Bible "talk about different layers of development"? No, presumably, that was another of those Kerry specialties, the sentence that starts out in one direction and (detoured, no doubt, by complexity) ends up lost.
"Layers of development"? I don't think he's talking about topsoil. Trimesters, perhaps?
Is viability the "law of the land"? Presumably, something clicked in Kerry's synapses and he pulled up some pre-packaged sound bite that pretends abortion is only legal up through viability. (Abortion is, of course, legal throughout pregnancy. In 2000, the Court told us that under Roe v. Wade, it's perfectly okay to plunge scissors into the backs of the heads of nearly delivered babies and suck out their brains.)
When he says, "[W]e should be urging more people to counsel options," is Kerry complaining that abortionists aren't providing their "patients" enough alternative ways to kill unborn babies?
"[A]nd they should be going through - - you know" ... No, actually I don't know.
While, obviously, I wasn't there, you can almost feel a rising sense of panic. Luckily for Kerry, he was able to push it down by conjuring up Bill Clinton's rhetorical formula (which Kerry recites backwards): "abortion should be rare, but it should be safe and legal."
So, what's the master narrative for the-then newly minted presidential nominee on abortion? Beats me. Like a kid who catches his pants leg in bicycle spokes, Kerry appears to trip because he is stuck repeating a couple of catchwords.
My guess is his handlers, sooner rather than later, will sit the senator down. They'll try to find a response he can memorize (no more than three or four sentences long) which he can summon up without thinking, no matter what aspect of the abortion question he is asked about.
Because if they don't, sooner or later everyone will be asking, "What is this man talking about?"
Dave Andrusko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.