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Sam Smith: A News Round Up On The Iowa Caucuses

A News Round Up On The Iowa Caucuses

By Sam Smith -

HUNCH: John Kerry got a significant boost from his carefully orchestrated presentation of himself as war hero:

WASHINGTON POST - Six days before the first delegates of the 2004 presidential campaign are chosen, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) made an emotional visit Tuesday to a veterans' memorial hall here, framing his bid for the White House as the logical continuation of a lifetime of service. "I'm asking the veterans of Iowa and this country to come here and join in this effort, because this is our continuing mission here at home -- our mission, our responsibility to our brothers in arms, to our sisters in arms and to the future" said Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran who is in the political fight of his life. . .

Before he arrived at the Black Hawk County Soldiers Memorial Hall here, the audience watched "Brothers in Arms," a documentary that recounts the story of Lt. Kerry's gunboat crew as it navigated the treacherous waters of the Mekong Delta, and which ends with a clip of his announcement speech in South Carolina. As the screen went dark, a voice called out "Attention on deck!" and the crowd of 60 rose.

On stage Kerry was surrounded by veterans, including Gene Thorson, from Ames, Iowa, who operated the machine gun on Kerry's 50-foot aluminum gunboat 35 years ago. Aides chose this city in northeastern Iowa because of its ties to the five Sullivan brothers -- all killed in World War II. He was introduced by Richard Bolanos, one of four brothers who served in Vietnam and came to Iowa to stump for him. When asked why they would travel from their homes in El Paso to join the political fray in chilly Iowa, he said the answer involved both Bush and Democratic front-runner, Howard Dean. "We don't think as the president you should just put on the military garb, land on an aircraft carrier and play the part, if, when your country called, you weren't willing to be a part of it," Bolanos said. "We don't feel you should seek a deferment from military service" at a time of war "and use your back as an issue and end up in Colorado skiing . . . while your fellow brothers and sisters and your fellow patriots are dying in a war outside of our country," Bolanos said, mentioning Dean by name. "We don't feel we can back up a person like that." . . .

Iowa has 292,000 veterans, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Kerry campaign has twice contacted by mail the 90,000 registered as Democrats or independents, said national veterans outreach director John Hurley.

LOSING A FEW STARS - Wesley Clark may not be as interesting now that there's a better war hero and a better southerner near the head of the pack.

DEAN'S PROBLEMS - Dean is in trouble, no doubt of it. Primary cause is the most excessive and gratuitous media assault on a presidential candidate in recent times. . . Dean failed to accept the fact that before you can get elected by the people you have to be selected by the crowd in charge. You don't just run for president in the Democratic Party (unless you're a Sharpton or Kucincich doomed from the start); you ask permission nicely just like Clinton did. Show the elite that you want to come to Washington to serve them, not lead others. . . . It's bad enough when a Georgia peanut farmer like Carter tries it, but Dean came out of the establishment himself so his crime was worse: betrayal rather than naiveté. And he paid the price.

It's not political. Washington is a place where more things are done illegally or under the table than just about anywhere in the world. Where your laws are made - and broken - as Mark Russell used to say. And it's the world's most powerful private club. If you want to get ahead here the first thing you've got to do is shut your mouth. And show you respect the people who really run the place. Dean didn't do that.

Dean had some other problems, though. The exit polls suggest that he had far narrower appeal than it originally appeared. He had the young and the very liberal but these were the only groups squarely in his camp. They were out there and being counted early. What wasn't being counted were the undecideds and the initially apathetic. Part of the really bad news for Dean is that he was unable to expand his core constituency.

Finally, not since Muskie cried in New Hampshire and Dukakis was photographed with his ears sticking out under a tank helmet has a candidate so facilely hurt himself as Dean did with his election night hysterics. One got the feeling that the doctor might have tried to dope himself up on tranquilizers but somehow picked the wrong bottle.

THE WAR AT HOME - The good news is that the exit polls show the economy and jobs as top issue (29%), followed by health care (28%), and only then trailed by the war (14%) and national security (3%). It is likely one reason that Edwards picked up steam was his ability to put the economic issues in plain language.

WHY DIDN'T YOU LOVE ME IN NOVEMBER LIKE YOU DO TODAY? Dick Gephardt had all the candidates slobbering over him as they attempted to pick off his supporters. If he had really been as great as they said he would, why did they bother to run?

WHAT'S LEFT - Dean has probably done himself in, Clark hopefully will follow suit, aided by HIS constant braggadocio such as the claim, "I won a war," which not only ignores the others involved, but overlooks the minuscule strength of the opponent. . . This pretty much leaves us with an arrogant preppie who thinks he knows everything or a affable southern trial lawyer who doesn't know what he doesn't know.

That Kerry presents a political danger to the Democrats is suggested by the uncomfortably telling phrase that conservative columnist James Tarranto always uses in mentioning the senator: "the haughty, French-looking Massachusetts Democrat, who by the way served in Vietnam."

Besides, if Kerry runs, that means our choice will be limited to two members of Skull & Bones and if either one were to actually tell us the true meaning of that, they would have to immediately kill us.


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