Two Losers

I wasn’t able to follow the lame duck session closely, because the weeks prior to the holidays in this office are ordinarily filled with crisis and drama and last-minute filings, plus, I had to decorate two Christmas trees and talk a lot about possibly baking cookies.

I was catching up, and read this on START:

Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who led the floor fight for the treaty, said the vote will move the world away from the risk of nuclear disaster. “The winners are not defined by party or ideology,” he said. “The winners are the American people, who are safer with fewer Russian missiles aimed at them.”

Which got me thinking about John McCain and John Kerry, and how the two men were and are portrayed, and how things have turned out, in real life.

McCain and Kerry have quite a bit in common. Both long-term Senators, both lifetime “government employees”, both veterans, hell, they both married wealthy women (the second time around), so there’s some similarity even in their personal lives.

They’re also members of a very exclusive club. They both lost Presidential elections.

And that’s where the similarities end.

After John Kerry lost to George W. Bush, he returned to the Senate and simply did his job there, and he’s continued to do his job there.

Kerry lost, big, on climate change this year and he still rallied and led on START, rather than booking time on cable shows to bitch.

Kerry didn’t subject the country to two years of bitter griping, temper tantrums and petulant demands. Kerry didn’t pursue purely personal vendettas against whole groups of voters who (allegedly) “betrayed” him. Kerry didn’t flip-flop on each and every policy position he has ever held. He voted and votes the same way he always did. John McCain, remarkably, considering what we were told about him, has done all those awful things since his loss in 2008.

In the 2004 Presidential election, political media and pundits portrayed John Kerry as an elitist, foppish, slightly silly “flip-flopper” who lacked character and core convictions. The same political media and pundits lovingly and carefully nurtured the fairy tale that John McCain is a rock-ribbed, Country First, straight-shooter. Events since tell a radically different story.

How can this be? Wasn’t this script supposed to run the other way? Could they have been more wrong?

53 replies
  1. 1
    Shadow's Mom says:

    Nicely done, Kay. I have gained significant respect for both Kerry and Gore for their post-electoral focus on taking actions that can serve the public interest in productive and beneficial ways.

    I hope that, after his recent tantrums and hostility, we will not be subjected to McCain as a favored guest of the beltway pundits and their programs.

  2. 2

    When kooks attacked John McCain over his service record in 2000, John Kerry denounced them.

    When kooks attacked John Kerry over his service record in 2004, John McCain didn’t.

  3. 3
    gogol's wife says:

    Nice post, Kay. I thought and still think Kerry would have been a fine president. (Certainly finer than what we got, and what we already knew we were getting.)

  4. 4
    Cat Lady says:

    Wrong has nothing to do with anything when it comes to the narrative. There is the narrative, there is only the narrative, forever and ever, amen. McCain can’t count all of his houses, and it’s great news for John McCain. This recent story about Kerry that got all the local wingnuts buzzing only reinforces the narrative, because, you know, IOKIYAR and Scott Brown drives a truck.

  5. 5
    Kay says:

    @Shadow’s Mom:

    I have gained significant respect for both Kerry and Gore

    Me too. One of the (many) things I hate about being a Democrat is how we treat losers. I know Gore is now revered, but he wasn’t after the loss. It was all blame and finger-pointing, and it went on and on. Gore himself turned it around.

    In the county where I live, the GOP (majority) painted a sign on the wall at the county fair building to commemorate (candidate) Bob Dole’s visit to the fair when he ran.

    I can’t imagine local Democrats 1. taking the risk of painting it pre-election, or 2. leaving it up once he lost.

  6. 6
    JITC says:

    How can this be? Wasn’t this script supposed to run the other way? Could they have been more wrong?

    This is because EVERYTHING the right/Republicans/conservatives/teabaggers say is projection. All false accusations thrown at opponents are, in truth, admissions of their own faults and misdeeds.

    The tactic is to paint the opponent with your own fatal flaws. And it works every time because of the complicity of media (see Krugman’s article from yesterday).

    Great read, Kay.

  7. 7
    satby says:

    @joe from Lowell:
    And that fact, as much as anything else he ever did, tell you all you ever needed to know about McCain.
    A man devoid of integrity.

  8. 8
    cat48 says:

    Hi Mary, I agree with you on this. Kerry has helped Obama several times. He honestly wants to help get things done. I love that in a Senator b/c it is so rare. Most of them think they’re really, really special! McCain has turned into a disgrace and I’ve had a lot of time to read & watch TV lately; his press fans are really repulsed by it. Joe Klein had to write about it 3x in the last 10 days. heh They’re talking about his behavior on Cable & shaking their heads.

    Kerry went to Afghanistan more than once for Obama b/c Holbrooke & Karzai had difficulty getting along w/each other. He’s done a few trips to other countries too at the admin. request. He’s been a real asset when it comes to difficult votes like START. Between him & Joe, I was really proud b/c they basically rolled Kyl & McConnell. I didn’t realize it until yesterday but Kyl killed Clinton’s Nuke treaty and Carter’s was also killed in the Senate, so we’re fortunate to have Kerry & Joe maneuvering things, per ForeignPolicyMag.

    I still haven’t gotten over Strickland losing….maybe he can work in the Admin or something.

  9. 9
    Mike in NC says:

    Perhaps Kerry came to regret not spending the years 2000-2003 inviting dozens of reporters to weekend clambakes at his place on Nantucket, the way McCain held court with the fawning media during his numerous Arizona BBQs. Bunch of twits.

  10. 10
    Dollared says:

    I think this a frequently overlooked part of the Village Narrative – they hate earnestness, selflessness and hard work.

    Kerry, for all his “rebelliousness,” is ultimately a goody-two-shoes who opposed Vietnam for all the right reasons, and who works in earnest on Making a Better World. (even I’m too cynical to believe that START will really make a huge difference, especially as we are about to spend billions making more nukes just to please President-elect Kyl).

    Journalists are journalists – they don’t “do” anything, just observe and report, with as little effort as possible. Hardworking people with the faith to try to do hard things for the greater good give journalists a Secret Guilt for being useless. So they cover it up with that Special Scorn they reserve for Wonks. What Kerry has gotten for being serious is nothing compared to what Gore got.

    So why do Republican wonks get such breathless praise? Because in that inner Village place, they know that Paul Ryan is lying through his teeth and doing it as a shill for Rich People. So they appreciate well done play-acting when it’s done in a way that satisfies their inner cynic. Paul’s one of them – he just plays a wonk on TV, and that motivation of doing it to please the rich and powerful makes perfect sense to, say, Dana Milbank.

    shorter me – IOKIYAR

  11. 11
    mclaren says:

    Obama was portrayed in the media as a transformative candidate who would bring genuine change to America. Ronald Reagan was portrayed in the media as a wise and brilliant politician with deep core convictions. Richard Nixon was portrayed in the media as a master of geopolitics and a brilliant political strategist.

    And so it goes.

  12. 12
    kay says:

    @Dollared:

    they hate earnestness, selflessness and hard work.

    Great point, on cynics.

    Your theory works for Gore, too (maybe better for Gore, who is the ultimate in Earnest Southern Gentleman), and Jimmy Carter and even Dukakis.

    I think you’re on to something.

  13. 13
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    John Kerry is still a credit to the uniform he once wore.

    John McCain is an utter disgrace to it.

  14. 14
    Adam Collyer says:

    Your theory works for Gore, too (maybe better for Gore, who is the ultimate in Earnest Southern Gentleman), and Jimmy Carter and even Dukakis.

    Had to come out of months of lurking to comment. The problem is that the national media (and, yes, even the Democratic Party) treats these men as if they are the ultimate losers because (aside from Jimmy Carter) these men failed to become President of the United States. This is so short sighted as to be completely untenable. Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry are all incredibly accomplished figures in state and federal history. They’re vastly more accomplished than basically anyone covering them and anyone watching them. Hell, Gore was the second most powerful man in the most powerful country in the world for 8 years.

    It’s not that they hate selflessness, hard work and earnestness. It’s that they love taking people down, and that almost never happens to these guys. The difference between them and McCain is that they never “played the game,” so to speak, so there was no reservoir of good will for them to fall into.

  15. 15
    mclaren says:

    @Adam Collyer:

    They’re vastly more accomplished than basically anyone covering them and anyone watching them.

    And every Olympic athlete who loses is vastly more accomplished than any of the reporters who file stories showing that they lost.

    Does this mean that reporters should not be allowed to file stories about the Olympics unless the reporters have won Olympic gold medals?

    This kind of garbled logic and scrambling reasoning suggests you need to go back to lurking.

  16. 16
    Cermet says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Sorry, he was a disgrace while he wore it (before capture) – he was almost a black ace with all the jets he destoried – a total bozzo and now a bad clown.

  17. 17
    Andrew says:

    Does this mean that reporters should not be allowed to file stories about the Olympics unless the reporters have won Olympic gold medals?

    What was said was not that coverage shouldn’t exist, but that the coverage shouldn’t be presumptively derisive. There’s no grounds on which Al Gore or John Kerry are “losers” aside from the strictly literal sense of having lost a Presidential election; however, coverage of either projects this loss as being a part of their very being, that they are losers in every sense of the word.

    If reporters regularly painted athletes coming in second place to Phelps as weak-willed, effeminate, ineffective, hypocritical, flip-flopping, lying, unmanly fops, you might have a point.

  18. 18
    Dollared says:

    @mclaren: Wow, McClaren, that was remarkably hostile. You disagree. You explained why. Now, why exactly did you just suggest s/he never post again?

    (Merry Christmas to you too!)

  19. 19
    Adam Collyer says:

    @mclaren:

    Clearly, I didn’t say that, but I wouldn’t expect you to honestly interpret it as such.

    What I suggested was that the fact that the above-mentioned are considered the ultimate losers by the national media in spite of their overwhelming accomplishments. That, in and of itself, is completely ridiculous.

    It’s equally ridiculous for sports media to consider a silver medalist a catastrophic failure.

  20. 20
    catclub says:

    @cat48: “They’re talking about his behavior on Cable & shaking their heads.”

    Got some awful slow learners in the press. Joe Klein only takes 25 years to realize McCain is an asshole – but then writes three columns in ten days about it.

  21. 21
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Kay:

    Great post. But,

    plus, I had to [. . .]talk a lot about possibly baking cookies

    .

    I’m trying to figure out how to say “Sucks to be you” without it sounding as snarky as it sounds. ;-)

  22. 22
    DougJ says:

    Good post. Good points.

  23. 23
    debbie says:

    A couple of weeks ago on PBS Newshour, David Brooks said every man he’d known who had lost a presidential election was bitter to some extent, but McCain was significantly the most bitter. Coming from Brooks, I thought that was some admission just how horrible McCain’s become.

  24. 24
    Menzies says:

    @mclaren:

    I think the point isn’t that so much as that someone like McCain, who “plays the game,” is protected from their derision when he’s defeated. But Kerry, Gore and Dukakis, because they were incredibly accomplished men who were either unwilling or very uncomfortable meeting the media’s “demands” as candidates, did and do get made fun of.

  25. 25
    Jay C says:

    @ #4:

    CatLady strikes the right note here, I think: the difference in the media treatment of the two “loser” Senators can be summed in just the two shorthand notations (simplistic as they might be): “reinforces the [all-important] narrative” and “IOKIYAR”. Whether Sen. Kerry has become a valued Statesman or not, or whether Sen. McCain has become just Bitter Old Cranky McCrankypants, our disgraceful political media has shown itself either unwilling or unable to move much beyond their simplistic, conservative-friendly stereotyping unless forced to by unavoidable facts (like McCain’s DADT meltdown): and even then, are more likely to make excuses than to ever admit they may have been mistaken in their shallow and facile judgments – especially where prominent Republicans are concerned…

    @ #13:

    And again, it’s All About Vietnam. While VDE is a bit over-simplistic here IMO, it’s true that the exact reverse meme he/she posits has been the operative “narrative” for the media treatment of the two mens’ service since forever: McCain, as a brutalized POW, has been painted as the Noble Suffering Hero-Martyr for the Noble and Glorious War: Kerry, whatever else he did IN Vietnam, would be forever tarred with his anti-war activism as the DFH Turncoat. It still makes my blood boil to recall the pasty fat delegates to the 2004 RNC smirking around with their Purple Heart bandaids, and nodding sagely to the vile falsehoods of the Swiftboaters.
    And yet the media gave it all a pass.

    IOKIYAR.
    SATSQ.

  26. 26
    WaterGirl says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: It’s always interesting to see how differently different people react to things. I laughed out loud at that line, thinking how much humor and truth there was in that simple statement (for many of us) and loving the that Kay can shake her head and laugh at herself at the same time.

    Kay, I always appreciate your posts. They are always well thought out and I love the fact that they are NOT usually about the topic of the day in the blogosphere.

  27. 27
    Fleas correct the era says:

    And McCain has been interviewed by Our Only National Media roughly every seventeen minutes or so since losing the 2008 Presidential race.

    And Kerry? About twice since 2004.

    Odd, all of this.

  28. 28
    Shadow's Mom says:

    @WaterGirl: Your comment reflects my feelings about McLaren’s response to Adam Collyer. How he could read Adam’s comment and derive that perspective baffles me? Or maybe not.

    As you pointed out different people react differently to the same things. Or as I have been wont to say, “we all interpret stimuli through our own set of filters”

    BTW, Gary Farber asked about you in a thread the other day. He’d posting at ObWi plus Amygdala these days. I think he’s also checking in here occasionally.

  29. 29
    WaterGirl says:

    @Shadow’s Mom: Thanks for the hot tip on Gary Farber, I will have to go back and try to find that.

    I was baffled by McLaren’s response to Adam Collyer, too, and was glad to see others speak up about it. My dad used to say “it takes all kinds…” That’s what keeps the world interesting, I guess.

  30. 30
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    Kay, Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  31. 31
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    @debbie:

    A couple of weeks ago on PBS Newshour, David Brooks said every man he’d known who had lost a presidential election was bitter to some extent, but McCain was significantly the most bitter. Coming from Brooks, I thought that was some admission just how horrible McCain’s become.

    It must be particularly galling in McCain’s case since the Commies promised him the Presidency when they turned him in ‘Nam captivity.

  32. 32
    Adam Collyer says:

    Here’s another thought. If we want to ascribe some less crude reasoning to the media, we could also say that Kerry, Gore and Dukakis at one point were considered the prohibitive favorites in their elections and managed to “self-destruct.” Kerry and Dukakis were up for election in the wake of relatively unpopular administrations of the opposing party. Gore was facing a total dunce and was the Vice President of the most successful and popular Democratic administration of the prior 30 years. Whereas McCain, aside from his personal failings, was never really “expected” to win because he was the nominee of a party that had been widely discredited by the American public.

    I’m not sure that’s really why, but it might explain why the media views Kerry, Gore and Dukakis as colossal failures while McCain maintained his popularity among the DC cocktail set for years.

  33. 33
    Mumphrey says:

    Could they have been more wrong?

    Yes, they could have. I don’t know how, but they could have. I think we should be the least little bit thankful that it hasn’t been any worse than it has. And, as noted above, the zombies in the press are beginning, at long last, to see what a foul, wretched, washed-up little dick McCain in–and has been, all along. I don’t mean that we should be thanking the zeros writing all the crap for not writing worse crap, but maybe just our lucky stars or something.

  34. 34
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @WaterGirl #26: Oh yeah, I laughed out loud at Kay’s line too. Thought it was hilarious. I was afraid that might not come across in my comment, and sure enough it didn’t. Comment FAIL.

  35. 35
    Mumphrey says:

    I also love the argument that so many bozos make–here and elsewhere that goes something like this:

    Me: So and so does a lousy job at such and such.

    Somebody else: Oh, so I guess we should just forbid so and so to ever do such and such again! You’re a fascist. Or a dick. Maybe both.

    This always strikes me as akin to the Sarah Palin school of First Amendment studies, where Palin says something dumb or vile or hateful, then people say she’s an idiot or a hateful bigot or maybe just an everyday asshole, and then she whines that we’re all violating her “First Amendment rights”.

    Once again: Sarah Palin has every right to be the horrid excuse for a human that she is. She does not have the right to make the rest of us lover for being so. Lazy, brain-dead zombie reporters have every right to drool out useless and even downright untrue pieces, but they do not have the right to forbid the rest of us for calling them on it. How can this be so hard to understand?

  36. 36
    WaterGirl says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: Happy to see your comment.

  37. 37
    cthulhu says:

    @Dollared:

    Journalists are journalists – they don’t “do” anything, just observe and report, with as little effort as possible. Hardworking people with the faith to try to do hard things for the greater good give journalists a Secret Guilt for being useless. So they cover it up with that Special Scorn they reserve for Wonks. What Kerry has gotten for being serious is nothing compared to what Gore got.

    I would just add to this excellent comment, that we are talking about the highly paid, Village-bred “journalists” here. In real journalism, getting a fact wrong in a single article can be honestly corrected without too much fuss; everyone makes mistakes. As the Villagers, on the other hand, really build narratives more than they simply report, they have great difficulty undermining said narratives at a later point because it makes them look like the fantasy-crafting hacks that they are.

  38. 38
    Evolved Deep Southerner says:

    @mclaren: Good God, what an asshole response.

    Adam, I appreciate your post. Mclaren … God, man, dial that shit back, dude.

  39. 39
    Dollared says:

    @cthulhu: Thanks – the Narrative is a good add – the fear of being found out to be wrong in their Narrative adds to that fear of being found out to be worthless.

    Next up – how the Republicans are great at exploiting the obverse (not the opposite) of the Narrative: The Mindlessly Contrarian Story. Hey – maybe lower taxes really do increase revenue! Hey – maybe affirmative action really does handicap all black people! Hey – maybe once a man really did bite a dog!

  40. 40
    mclaren says:

    @Evolved Deep Southerner:

    Whenever someone projectile-vomits out this kind of mindless reaction, I know I’ve made a cogent and convincing point.

  41. 41
    Evolved Deep Southerner says:

    @mclaren: You’re a fucking dick.

    How’s that for another mindless reaction, you fucking dick?

  42. 42

    @Adam Collyer:

    It’s equally ridiculous for sports media to consider a silver medalist a catastrophic failure.

    I hate the networks’ coverage of the Olympics for exactly that reason; they tell a story where athlete X might win 6 gold medals, and if he wins 2 gold and 4 silver, they talk about his “defeat.”

    So annoying.

  43. 43

    @Just Some Fuckhead:

    It must be particularly galling in McCain’s case since the Commies promised him the Presidency when they turned him in ‘Nam captivity.

    See, John Kerry would be all over that shit.

  44. 44
    amk says:

    Good question, Kay. Answer ?

    Two bit hacks populate the third rate fourth estate who are truly the fifth columnists.

  45. 45
    WaterGirl says:

    @amk: Nicely done!

  46. 46
    Mjaum says:

    Republicans and their water-bearers wrong.

    Also: sky still blue.

  47. 47
    General Stuck says:

    Merry Christmas Kay :-)

  48. 48
    drkrick says:

    … we could also say that Kerry, Gore and Dukakis at one point were considered the prohibitive favorites

    I think the best you could say was that each was given a chance, but none of those races were ever considered Tyson-Douglas or Johnson-Goldwater foregone conclusions.

  49. 49
    Binky the bear says:

    Kerry had to be punished for his efforts to investigate the Iran Contra treason by the Reagan and Bush administrations.

  50. 50
    amk says:

    @amk: Thanks. I’m kinda proud I coined it myself. :)

  51. 51
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    Kerry is a class act, and always was.

  52. 52
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    @Jay C:

    McCain, as a brutalized POW, has been painted as the Noble Suffering Hero-Martyr for the Noble and Glorious War: Kerry, whatever else he did IN Vietnam, would be forever tarred with his anti-war activism as the DFH

    I was always impressed by the fact that Kerry managed to win not only McCain’s respect, but his friendship, despite their disparate backgrounds. Says a lot for him.

  53. 53

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