I could omit mention of the review by Christopher Hitchens in tomorrow’s New York Times Sunday Book Review of three John Kerry campaign biogrphies, but, as Richard Nixon famously said on another occasion, it wouldn’t be right: “Taking the measure of John Kerry.”
The review is, as might be expected, highly entertaining. Its closing charity to Kerry is anomalous with the gimlet eye through which Hitchens otherwise views Kerry. Here, for example, is Hitchens on the internal contradiction at the center of the Kerry campaign:
If Kerry is dogged and haunted by the accusation of wanting everything twice over, he has come by the charge honestly. In Vietnam, he was either a member of a ”band of brothers” or of a gang of war criminals, and has testified with great emotion to both convictions. In the Senate, he has either voted for armament and vigilance or he has not, and either regrets his antiwar vote on the Kuwait war, or his initial pro-war stance on the Iraq war, or his negative vote on the financing of the latter, or has not. The Boston Globe writers capture a moment of sheer, abject incoherence, at a Democratic candidates’ debate in Baltimore last September:
”If we hadn’t voted the way we voted, we would not have been able to have a chance of going to the United Nations and stopping the president, in effect, who already had the votes and who was obviously asking serious questions about whether or not the Congress was going to be there to enforce the effort to create a threat.”
And all smart people know how to laugh at President Bush for having problems with articulation.
Actually, when Kerry sneered at ”the coalition of the willing” as ”a coalition of the coerced and the bribed,” at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, no less, he was much more direct and intelligible. Yet I somehow doubt that he would repeat those clear, unmistakable words if confronted by the prime ministers of Britain, Poland or Australia. And how such an expression is likely to help restore America’s standing is beyond this reviewer.
Hitchens also mentions the fate of Kerry’s first marriage in meditating on Kerry’s political character:
I had not known until I read these books that Kerry had had his first marriage annulled, signifying in effect that he was never wed to Julia Thorne, the mother of his children, in the first place. How odd that he would invoke one of the Roman Catholic Church’s most pitiless dogmas while treating so many of its other teachings as essentially optional. The general effect he has striven to create is the opposite: that of a man who dislikes ruthlessness. After all, Kerry is against the death penalty, except in cases where the perpetrator has done something really heinous or unpopular. And he stopped saying ”Bring it on” when he realized it made him sound ridiculous. But here may be the inescapable contradiction. When he voted against the MX missile and the Star Wars program, he was opposing the arms race and the implied ”first strike” doctrine. But when he voted against the precision-guided weapons — like the Apache helicopter and the Patriot missile — that have helped make possible the relatively bloodless removal of aggressive despotisms, he was failing to see that the Pentagon, too, had assimilated some of the important lessons of Vietnam.
Hitchens on Kerry isn’t the final word, but you wouldn’t want to miss this piece.