The Buzzwords of John Kerry
How he spins the issues.
Slate is running several series of short features explaining who the 2004 presidential candidates are, what they're saying, and where they propose to take the country. The first series summarized their personal and professional backgrounds. This series analyzes their pet phrases, candidate by candidate. Today's subject is John Kerry.
When I came back from Vietnam
Example: "I have been a leader in the environment since I first came back from Vietnam and became a part of Earth Day 1970" (EMILY's List forum, May 20, 2003).
What it means: On the environment, I'm a war hero. On campaign reform, I'm a war hero. On affirmative action, I'm a war hero.
What it hides: What does Vietnam have to do with any of these issues?
Subtext: Did I mention I'm a war hero?
Example: "Why not have an economy where equal opportunity is a fact? Where people who work hard and do the right thing can not only make ends meet but can actually reach higher and hope for more? … Why not have public schools where children set out on a lifetime of learning and possibility? … Why not preserve our environment so our great-grandchildren can breathe clean air, drink clean water, and know that they too live in a land that can be called 'America the beautiful'?" (speech to the California Democratic State Convention, March 14, 2003).
What it means: I'm a visionary.
What it hides: Nobody's against these things. The debate is about how to achieve them.
Subtext: Did you notice my initials are JFK?
A politics that/the politics of
Examples: "I want us to get back to a politics that dares to ask, 'Why not?' again" (answering questions after a speech at the Kennedy Library, Feb. 9, 2003).
What it means: Nothing.
What it hides: I'm saying nothing.
Subtext: Although I appear not to have a coherent set of principles, in fact, I do.
Example: "GOTV doesn't stand for 'go on TV' " (standard stump speech).
What it means: Get out the vote.
What it hides: I became the Democratic presidential front-runner by leaping at every opportunity to go on TV.
Subtext: I'm from Massachusetts. Go find me some Iowans.
Go to the moon right here on Earth
Example: "We need to now go to the moon here on Earth by setting America on the course to energy independence" (speech to the City Club of Cleveland, Dec. 3, 2002).
What it means: Do something really big.
What it hides: Not only is it logically impossible to go to the moon on Earth, but what I'm about to say has nothing to do with either.
Previous buzzword reviews: Carol Moseley Braun, Howard Dean, John Edwards, Dick Gephardt, Bob Graham. Next: Dennis Kucinich.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of John Kerry by Jim Bourg/Reuters.