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"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Marie Cocco - John Kerry has read the book

John Kerry has read the book

Marie Cocco

Published in the Joplin Globe 10/5/04

WASHINGTON - It sure would be nice to have that sort of president again. The type who knows the things presidents are supposed to know, before they become president. A president with the ability to say, for example, that there are "some 600-plus tons of unsecured material" from the nuclear stockpiles of the former Soviet Union - and who thinks, by the way, that getting them under lock and key sooner rather than later is wise.

A president who remembers, and who can recount in detail, the terms that used to be in place for monitoring North Korea's emerging nuclear program - down to the cameras that were spying on it.

Can you remember a time when we had a president who answered a question about the Korean situation with an answer like this? "I want bilateral talks on all of the issues, from the Armistice of 1952 - the economic issues, the human-rights issues, the artillery-disposal issues, the DMZ issues, and the nuclear issues on the table."

We have come to expect our presidential candidates to talk to us in political CliffsNotes. Just the broad themes. Just enough to pass the most rudimentary test.

John Kerry has read the whole book. And he isn't afraid to say so. There is a reason the instant analysis of the first presidential debate between President George W. Bush and his Democratic challenger has scored the match for Kerry. The TV talkers are saying Kerry looked at ease, that Bush at times stammered and seemed to shrink at the podium. That the president looked peeved. All true.

But isn't it also true that Kerry reminded us what presidents used to be like?
Schooled in history. Conversant with the facts. Capable of understanding that time did not begin on Sept. 11, 2001, but that the day is an enormous marker that should neither obliterate all that came before nor blind us to all other realities.

We used to have presidents who wrote thoughtful books on serious subjects before they wrote presidential memoirs. Kerry, treading carefully where Al Gore would have stumbled, pointed out that he had done so, that it concerned the dangers of loose nukes and that even a few years ago when he wrote it, the stuff was selling on the black market for $250 million a suitcase.
This is the type of thing that smart senators know. And so it might be said that Kerry's years in the cloakroom, a millstone in the campaign so far, finally became an asset. In the debate, he managed to summon the facts and promote his views without acquiring the air of intellectual condescension that undid Gore four years ago.

Kerry does not have a sure way of getting the nation's erstwhile allies to expose their own flesh and blood to the carnage of Iraq. But he does have a sure way of conveying a sense that he knows what he's talking about - even if, by his own admission, he doesn't always talk so well. He showed that glibness is not the only qualification for the Oval Office.

The Bush campaign - probably still ahead, but at least a bit off balance after the president's less-than-champion performance - is likely now to slash harder and deeper at Kerry's character. It will be interesting to see if it works as well from now on.

It is one thing to depict your opponent as an incoherent babbler before many Americans have seen and heard him. It is quite another now that Kerry has shown himself to be capable of making a straightforward argument and sticking to his rhetorical guns.

Americans may, in the end, reject Kerry's argument that Bush has botched the nation's foreign policy not only in Iraq, but around the world. We have, after all, been told for more than two years that Iraq is somehow related to 9/11, though it is not. We have been told it is a "central front in the war on terror" - a claim the president still repeats - though all evidence is that our own botched occupation is what opened this front.

We have been given so many CliffsNotes that distort and misrepresent the whole book that many of us would indeed be shocked to read the real thing. Kerry has, at last, demonstrated that knowledge is good. Especially in presidents.

Address correspondence to Marie Cocco, Washington Post Writers Group, Box 500, Washington, D.C. 20071.

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