Nautical Nonsense

It’s no surprise, as Democrats gather in Boston, that John Kerry is the man of the hour in this week’s crop of newsweeklies. And, almost as predictably, Newsweek’s addition to the “Who is John Kerry?” sweepstakes has little that’s new (beyond the trippy cover [look right]). The magazine tries, though, with nautical metaphors intended to shed light on Kerry’s character: “There is a certain kind of New England sailor who likes wind, rocks and tide, and not only because the martinis taste better at the end of the voyage.” Kerry, it seems, is that type of New England sailor.

The Economist’s contribution to the field takes a stab at connecting the questions about the senator’s character to substantive issues: “[T]he fuss about personality ties into the big question about Mr Kerry: where exactly does he want to take America, both in foreign policy and at home?” But one suspects that what the magazine actually finds troubling about Kerry is less that “he is programmed to say what he thinks most people want to hear,” and more that he sometimes takes positions — for instance, he has “ranted … about the need to review NAFTA” — of which The Economist doesn’t approve.

The New Republic considers another Kerry-related issue that’s been only slightly less scrutinized: the role of top campaign strategist Bob Shrum. Franklin Foer argues that Shrum has risen to the top of the heap of Democratic consultants not because he’s the best — his record in presidential races is 0 for 7 — but because he’s a master at office politics, and at ingratiating himself with the candidate: One of Shrum’s pet phrases, we learn, is “when John and I were sailing, he said …” No word on how the martinis tasted afterward.

Meanwhile, The Weekly Standard makes the case that Democratic inroads into Florida’s Cuban community have been overstated (by The New Republic, for instance). But there’s not much here to reassure Sunshine State Republicans: The lede, in which the Standard lays out the conventional wisdom that it intends to subsequently knock down — that more Cubans than ever could vote Democratic this year — is in fact more convincing than anything that follows. We do get one “specialist in Cuban-American politics” who tells us that many of the Cuban voters alienated by the Bush administration’s tough new travel restrictions “were not going to vote for the president in the first place.” Plus we get some GOP elected officials telling us, against all available evidence, that younger Cubans in fact love the new travel policy. That bit of news undoubtedly has Karl Rove sleeping well.

And finally, the New York Times Magazine cover story is the talk of the blogosphere this week. Matt Bai sheds light on a group of (vaguely) liberal activists looking to build a political machine outside the current Democratic establishment. It’s not clear what their ideological convictions are, but their strategy of developing an inter-connected network of think tanks, media outlets, and funding sources consciously apes the methods conservatives used so successfully to build their movement in the 1970s.

Zachary Roth

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Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.