I thought it was a conspiracy…


Kate Zernike, a New York Times political reporter, apparently thinks John Kerry is getting a raw deal, as the public perception of him as a wealthy elitist comfortably settles into our collective consciousness. She decries the image of windsurfing as a sport of the rich:

...stereotypes of the sport are unfair — there are lots of plumbers and construction workers windsurfing off Cape Cod and in the lakes of Iowa. (Better put: Who among us doesn't like windsurfing?)

I guess that Kate must be drinking from a separate water cooler than the folks writing and editing the op—ed pages. Times columnists Frank Rich and Paul Krugman are convinced that there's a vast conspiracy afoot, and Rich blames Rove and Fox News Channel for the girlie—man image. But Kate doesn't go anywhere near the c—word.

But she does think Kerry isn't getting a fair shake:

...there was the sense that no one would have mocked Mr. Bush photographed in the same position, even though the two men could have a Zell Miller duel over who has the deeper pedigree. But despite his legacy at Yale and the weekends in Kennebunkport, Me., Mr. Bush manages to pull off the common—man routine without question. Earlier this year when both he and Mr. Kerry were pictured riding top of the line bicycles, and both fell off, Mr. Kerry was the one ridiculed for the expensive bike.

But why would this be the case? Could it be that Kerry rides an expensive bike and Bush doesn't? Could it be that Kerry make a point of being photographed riding his ultra—expensive bike around Boston, complete with bicycling outfit, while Bush rides his bike on his private acreage in unfashionable (to put it mildly) Crawford? That Bush doesn't seem to have to prove anything to anyone, because he comes across as genuine, and Kerry does not? Such questions don't seem to occur to Zernike.

She does see fit to quote author Thomas Frank to the effect that Republicans have (non—conspiratorially, apparently) cultivated a set of images:

'If a liberal drives an S.U.V., it's the car of the elite, if a Republican drives one it's instantly the car of the common man. They have a whole stereotype that they've spent years building."

So, it is still unfair. And it has nothing at all to do with a whole universe of other Kerry characteristics and public actions which seem to fit into a picture of a snob who is out of touch with ordinary folks, riding on his wife's Gulfstream V, living in 5 mansions (down from 6, now that they sold the Italian villa), and pretending to know about the Red Sox and 'Lambert Field' in Green Bay. Nevermind the kind of cheese he wanted on his Philly cheesesteak, nevermind the way he throws a baseball, and especially nevermind the way he married two heiresses.

In the end, Zernike pulls quite a rabbit out of the journalistic hat. I have to hand it to her. And she adds a bit of humor at the end.

Professor Thompson confesses that he does not think it has anything to do with windsurfing, or skiing, or even the mansions. After all, no one made fun of John F. Kennedy for all those yachting photos.

"The thing about windsurfing is, there's wind," he explains. "It blows through your hair. John Kerry looks like a guy who could ride in a convertible with the wind rushing through all that hair, but the truth is, his hair just looks goofy when he's out there on that windsurfer. I can't believe I'm saying this, but it just boils down to the hair." Quick, somebody warn Hillary.

Posted by Thomas  9 6 04