Political Pundits on How to Win the White House

Eleven months after the New York Times got the Gallic ball rolling, a new round of the Jacques-i?cation of Kerry started up. In a March 15, 2004, story with a Paris dateline, the conservative-leaning New York Sun wrote that "the French are going wild for John Kerry." The line Drudge picked up was from the director of the French Center on the United States, Guillaume Parmentier, who described Kerry as having "a certain elegance." A few days later, an Associated Press story quoted Kerry's French cousin, Brice Lalonde, the mayor of St.-Briac-sur-Mer, the town where Kerry spent his boyhood summers, saying helpful things such as "John Kerry is incredibly American. He has absolutely nothing French about him."

Right around the same time, Kerry played into his opponents' hands by boasting of support he claimed to have from unnamed foreign leaders with whom he had met in New York (presumably some French among them). The Republican Party produced a video entitled John Kerry: International Man of Mystery. It was put on the Internet with the goal of earning free television news coverage, which it did, with its irresistible homage to the popular Austin Powers movies. By now, some Americans may have been convinced, Monsieur Lalonde's assessment notwithstanding, that there actually did seem something French about John Kerry.

Republicans also were quick to take advantage of Kerry's more blatant errors, most signi?cantly when he declared at a West Virginia town meeting that he "was for" funding of the Iraq war "before he was against it," and when he decided to go windsur?ng within camera view while vacationing on Nantucket, the graceful Massachusetts island where he and his wife owned a sumptuous multimillion-dollar oceanfront cottage. These two episodes, one about a serious matter and the other trivial, were cited by Bush aides as turning points in the election.

Kerry's opponents also leapt on his embrace of some Hollywood liberals who performed distinctly blue sets at a Radio City Music Hall fund-raiser he attended. President Bush and his campaign made Kerry pay over and over again for praising coarse-tongued entertainers as the "heart and soul of America" (a phrase highlighted on Drudge before it hit the newspapers and network TV). The line encroached on coverage of the selection of John Edwards as his running mate, which had occurred three days before.

The big controversies coupled with the petty images (John Kerry ordering a Philly cheesesteak with -- take a deep breath -- Swiss cheese; Teresa Heinz's barking at a conservative reporter to "shove it" on the eve of the Democratic convention; Kerry mispronouncing the name of the Green Bay Packers' fabled Lambeau Field) added up.

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