Phony Toughness

William Safire thinks John Kerry is making a bad choice:

If his blunderbuss slander of Republicans as “the most crooked, you know, lying group” had been merely the irritated effusion of an exhausted speaker, I reasoned, Kerry would take care of it gracefully. To make lemonade out of his lemon, all he would have to say was something like “I was speaking of the vicious G.O.P. attack machine, not the legions of honest, truthful Republicans whose support I seek — especially those being outsourced by free-traitorous Benedict Arnold companies.”

But then something revealing happened. Kerry chose not to brush it off easily. On the contrary, in full macho mode he declared to a news conference that “I have no intention whatsoever of apologizing for my remarks.”

Obviously, the day after his overheard slander, the decision was made to strike a defiantly nonapologetic pose. Maybe Kerry-Kennedy-Soros masterminds in Boston passed the word to the candidate: Apologies are for wimps. Don’t even think of flip-flopping with an “I meant” — on the contrary, ram “crooked and lying” down Republican throats. Remember the title of Barry Goldwater’s book — “With No Apologies.” Show you’re decisive by refusing to back off anything. John Edwards just proved that nice guys get great press clips but don’t win elections.

Such advice is what the best political columnist of the past century, Stewart Alsop, said causes politicians to become “phony tough.” To counter the demonstrated tough-mindedness of a war president, Kerry’s handlers want their man to strike a pose of toughness in all his rhetoric.


That’s not the real John Kerry, a dignified man long steeped in civility. That’s a phony-tough John Kerry, obeying instructions to imitate a partisan caricature of George W. Bush.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.