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“THESE COLORS DON’T RUN”

John Chuckman

Given its strutting brownshirt quality, here is a slogan that might well have been coined by America’s most articulate political thug, Pat Buchanan.

But the slogan, with little waving-flag pictures, is being used for bumper stickers selling John Kerry. Good marketers know that you want an offering for every niche, so here’s Kerry for the belly-over-the-belt, beer-belching, walrus-mustache set.

Niche marketing also explains goofy pieces about Kerry’s military service versus that of Republican chicken hawks (for those unfamiliar, “chicken hawks” is an informal American political term for men who never fought yet advocate sending others off to war, a group largely, but not exclusively, consisting of Republicans). Never mind the moral obtuseness of opposing an armchair-psychopath like Bush with arguments in favor of a man who did his own killing, there’s a weird market niche out there to be reached.

They sell everything in America. I recall the many patriotic displays of flags, buttons, and sweats in parking lots, supermarkets, and doughnut shops – all for sale, day and night, right after 9/11. Many claimed to be at reduced prices or even offered at two-for-one in especially touching displays of national feeling.

I recognize that Kerry needs all the advertising and marketing he can get. Every niche counts for one of the most uninspiring candidates in memory, although competition for the distinction of “most uninspiring” is tight in America. The nation’s political system seems capable only of advancing con men, bumblers, and paste-board cutouts anymore, although, occasionally, as in the case of the late Great Communicator, a single man combines all three identities. A network of powerful interests much like rivers and tributaries running together to form one roaring cataract sweeps away any candidate in a major party who might actually stand for something other than the imperial ethos.

God knows Kerry never has never represented much of substance. Efforts to sell him are likely wasted. Ask any professional marketer whether he or she thinks Bud Lite, even with the best marketing effort, can outsell Bud. If there’s a better description of John Kerry than “Bush Lite,” it eludes me.

Kerry, the boring, monotone moose of American politics, has hung up his set of Senate-fundraising cummerbunds – or at least restricted photographers access to the galas when he still hitches them up – in favor of casual plaid shirts. Well, he isn’t completely consistent about the plaid shirts: it’s a matter of which group he’s addressing whether he wants to suggest being a regular guy or society swell. When he does wear the plaid – always immaculately pressed to make sure no one mistakes him for someone who actually works for a living – there is more than a passing nod to millionaire, perpetual candidate, Lamar Alexander, who made a hobby of running for the Republican nomination sporting custom-made red lumberjack shirts.

People in struggling or oppressed lands who dream of being able to vote freely will be distressed to learn that America squanders her national elections on such costumed silliness, but it really cannot be otherwise when candidates have almost nothing to say.

Kerry’s casual shirts are probably custom-made, too, with enough of them in each of his wardrobes to provide a fresh change three times a day. After all, Kerry is a very wealthy man, coming from a privileged background and having married the fabulously-rich heiress to the Heinz Pickle and Canned Spaghetti fortune (no, she has no connection to the company, now part of a monstrous agglomerate, she just sits on mountains of cash it generated). You can see where Kerry’s sympathy and understanding for the little guy might come from.

There are precedents. George Washington inherited wealth and also married a very wealthy lady, Martha Custis, probably the richest widow in the colonies. Washington was famous for his warm qualities, too. The icy, piercing stare given to anyone for so much as touching his sleeve unbidden was legendary. His private characterization of early militiamen in Massachusetts, the men who genuinely had risked everything to start the revolt against Britain that he and other aristocrats then took over, was along the lines of filthy rabble.

Kerry is not built of quite the same stern stuff as the Father of His Country. Washington would never have worn a plaid shirt, but a lot has changed since his day when maybe the wealthiest one-percent of Americans could vote. Now, most Americans can vote, so you can’t be standoffish and you must expose yourself to the mob if you want to become President. The wealthiest one-percent now are limited strictly to determining with their campaign contributions which candidates the rabble sees on its ballots.

But Washington did sometimes coyly draw his silk frock coat over his cummerbund for touching moments when he spoke to people who weren’t fellow aristocrats: he was skilled at acts like removing his glasses as his eyes went misty addressing the men, whose poor promises for pay he would in some cases later buy up at severe discount. You wouldn’t recognize his capacity for empathy with ordinary men, though, from the monstrous bill he submitted to Congress after the Revolution for everything you can imagine including the wagon trains of wine he consumed at table while the rabble often did without a decent meal.

It’s true that wealthy people sometimes make inspired leaders – F.D.R. comes to mind as does the greatest prince in Europe’s history, Elizabeth I – but such people give strong signs of their remarkable talents long before they’ve reached Kerry’s age. You don’t hide your light until the near approach of senility. More often than not, you get Bushes or Rockefellers from the likes of Kerry, people with no more motivation for serving than capping their family’s list of achievements with the nation’s highest office.

Kerry rarely speaks of working people or the poor, rather he speaks of “the middle class,” feel-good language adopted by contemporary politicians to cover just about everyone in the country down to McDonald’s employees with more than one-month’s service. You are not supposed to speak of class differences in America. Everyone there is middle-class, unless extremely wealthy like Mr. Kerry or Mr. Bush or Mr. Cheney or Mr. Rumsfeld, something not to be mentioned, or so poor as not to be worth mentioning. Economically-marginal Americans like to be called “middle class,” just as they like to brag about their kids “going to college,” even when the kids are working towards a degree in playground supervision or fast-food management in one of America’s countless sleazy, for-profit diploma mills.

Mr. Kerry, of course, didn’t attend a diploma mill. Only the best for him, the Yale of George and Daddy Bush. Incidentally, Bush’s graduating Yale is often advanced as an argument for his actual intelligence being higher than the public’s perception. But those old schools just love accepting the sons and daughters of rich patrons, and they manage to graduate them virtually always. You don’t build fat institutional endowments by flunking guys like Georgie Bush. Even Oxford and Cambridge in England follow the practice, accepting and graduating some of the most mediocre members of the Royal Family.

America’s love affair with everyone’s being middle class nicely serves the establishment’s belligerent foreign policy. It just doesn’t count for much when you kill peasants somewhere on the periphery of the empire, it’s a bit like stepping on ants while doing your gardening, and Kerry knows, firsthand, about killing peasants. He and his merry band of men buzzed up and down the rivers of Vietnam in a boat shooting people too poor and ignorant to understand the great blessings of liberty being offered them.

That experience may equip Kerry to handle the revolt of Iraqi peasants against American occupation. After all, in Vietnam they didn’t bother with stripping prisoners naked and smearing excrement on them. That was a war for real men. They took prisoners up in helicopters and threw them out from several thousand feet if they didn’t give the right response, and frequently even when they did give the right response. It just made for one less gook (the affectionate nickname American troops bestowed on the locals). When America’s good old boys tired of such vicious games, they just napalmed whole villages instead of bothering to find out what should or should not be attacked. That’s how you build a “body count” of about three million.

Kerry’s statements on foreign policy indicate, as they are intended to do, that he is ready and willing to kill and maim for whatever are America’s interests of the moment abroad. Of course, he doesn’t say just those words, but what he does say carries those implications. Never mind any emphasis on diplomacy, international institutions, or cooperation – that’s all sissy stuff. On the issue of Israel’s bloody occupation of the Palestinians, a dreary, deadening reality at the heart of much of America’s current trouble in the world, Kerry sounds even more fanatical than Bush.

Of course, the one comforting thought about an idiotic slogan like “These colors don’t run,” is that it is so plainly false. The colors ran like a cheap dye in Vietnam and Cambodia, leaving a trail of death, disillusionment, and broken promises. And the colors ran again in Somolia where an arrogant people busied themselves more with trying to shoot-up the bad guys than they did with feeding desperate people.

A stark summary of what actually has occurred over the last few years highlights the slogan’s goonish nature. The only attack on America was by nineteen fanatics with virtually no weapons who all died. It is positively inspiring that Old Glory, imperial symbol of the world’s mightiest country, didn’t run on such a challenging field of battle. Old Glory also withstood the heroic assault and occupation of two pathetically-poor countries whose combined capacity for defense was roughly comparable to the state of Missouri.

How could you lose with cruise missiles, stealth bombers, high-tech fragmentation bombs, the poison of depleted uranium, plus all the money and means imaginable to bribe officials and reward disloyalty? It was indeed a shining achievement, and if you recall John Kerry’s voice standing against any of it, you heard something the world missed.

The examples are countless of headstrong people like Americans learning hard lessons only by banging their heads into walls. A second dose of Bush’s truly destructive leadership will likely do more for America’s ailments than taking a placebo like John Kerry.

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