August 25, 2004

12 observations about John Kerry on "The Daily Show."

Assorted observations made while watching John Stewart's Daily Show interview of John Kerry. (Full transcript at Wonkette.)

1. John Kerry has a sheepish look on his face as he lumbers out, which I interpret to mean that he thinks it's a bit odd for him to be on the show. As he's walking he spreads his arms open a bit, as if to say, here I am. He claps once, which I interpret to mean: I am here to have fun.

2. Rather than wait for Stewart's first question, he says, "I didn't understand it. Turf, trees and boxes," which refers to a pretty funny segment earlier on the show and reinforces my belief that he really wants to show he's having a great time. It sounds a bit forced, but so what? He prolongs it with: "That's why I'm running for President. We're stamping them out. Turf, trees and boxes. ... And agencies I--" Stewart cuts him off--mercifully?--so we don't get to find out where he was going with that "I." Actually, it might be fun to hear where a liberal Senator would go with the idea of "stamping out agencies" ... but probably not that much fun. Better to let Stewart steer us into the fun.

3. Stewart opens with "I watch a lot of the cable news shows. So I understand that apparently you were never in Vietnam." Kerry leans his head back and laughs heartily, because he's having fun, you know? Even though there's no way this matter can be fun for him. He says his line--"That's what I understand, too. But I-- I'm trying to find out what happened ... That part of my life. I don't know."--with a smile, but not such a broad smile. It's a bit of a wince. When he says the last part he puts his hand out, palm down, and gives the little back and forth rotation gesture that normally signifies: I'm not quite getting this right. He then clasps his hands in his lap, and his forced smile falls away, as Stewart launches into the next question. Kerry rubs his nose with his knuckle.

4. The "overtalk" in the transcript after Stewart asks "Is it-- do you-- do you-- is it hard not to take it personally?" is in fact easy to understand. Kerry says: "They said that too." That means that the interchange that follows--Stewart's "Oh, with you as well?" and Kerry's "Yeah"--refers to Stewart's previous joke, that the Swift Boat problem is like having your friends say that 35 years ago you "had cooties."

5. Stewart tries to get Kerry to talk about how this attack makes him feel, which is a little like the old what-if-your-wife-was-raped question asked of Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential debates. And Kerry, like Dukakis, ignores the opportunity to show passionate feeling. (By the way: I liked when Dukakis did that. I don't want a hothead President, and it was an opportunity to display rationality and deep-rooted oppostion to the death penalty. No one else seems to think so, however.) Kerry simply plugs in the argument that Bush is relying on these attacks because he doesn't want to talk about his record. This plugged-in argument bugs me because: 1. Bush does not control the speech of the Swift Boat Vets and 2. Kerry just used the whole Democratic Convention, which he did control, to talk about his Vietnam record and not anything more recent.

6. The transcript at this point says:
You know what it is, Jon? It-- it-- it's disappointing because I think most Americans would like to have a much more intelligent conversation about where the country's going. And-- (APPLAUSE) yeah, I think that-- you know, and-- and, yeah, it's a little bit disappointing.
There's a pause after "going," and there is no reaction from the audience. Kerry starts to slowly say "and," at which point there's a sudden cheer from the audience. I'd like to see the long view of the set at that point, because surely, an applause sign or human cheerleader was required for that response.

7. Stewart asks him if he was "surprised" by the attack. As I've written a couple times in the last few days, Kerry should have seen the attack coming. He says:
Sure I'm surprised. But surprised in a sense. But now that I begin to see the web and the network, I'm not surprised. I think-- you know, it's politics. And for whatever reasons, the-- the-- and I think Americans will discover it as we go forward in the next four or five weeks, George Bush doesn't wanna talk about the real issues. I mean, what's he gonna do? Come out and say we lost 1.8 million jobs? ...
The web and the network. It's a veritable skein of connections, isn't it? And only now can he see it. And then he fumbles back to his big talking point: Bush doesn't want to talk about the issues.

8. As he goes into shopping list mode--jobs, health care, the environment, everyone in the world being angry at us--Stewart interrupts with what is for some a serious question but what Stewart surely sees--as his finger-wagging and tone of voice reveal--as another example of a distracting non-issue:
Sir, I'm sorry. Were you or were you not in Cambodia on Christmas Eve? (LAUGHTER) They said-- you said five miles. They said three. (LAUGHTER)
Kerry throws his head back and laughs. At "they said three," he scratches his left thigh quite vigorously. [CORRECTION: right thigh!] Stewart leans way forward, resting on his crossed arms, in comic imitation of a stern interrogator, and stares straight at Kerry. Kerry gets the idea and does a mirror-image pose, with their faces five inches apart, which is either cute or scary, depending on who you're planning to vote for in November.

9. Stewart asks "Are you the number one most liberal senator in the Senate?" and I realize that this is the exact point where I fell asleep last night when I was watching the show live in the room without a TiVo.

10. Kerry keeps plugging in his stump speech and it isn't very lively or fun or personal, which seemed like the idea of going on "The Daily Show." Stewart leans forward to make a quip, and Kerry reaches out with both hands and grabs him and mutters something unintelligible. I think Kerry could see that he needed to give Stewart a chance to make the situation fun. Stewart's question was, "Can-- can you get me on a network?" which I find really funny, in part because it's typical of the jokes we make around the house when listening to one of Kerry's lists of promises: Will you come over and pay my bills? Can you help me with my homework?

11. Wonkette got a big kick out of this line:
Well, you should hear some of-- I'm telling you. The-- the-- no, I-- I shouldn't go into that out here. But I've been in some-- some-- you'd be amazed the number of people who wanna introduce themselves to you in the men's room.
In case you're wondering where the hell that came from or was going (he didn't get to finish), I'm certain it was a reference to the GQ article, "A Beer With John Kerry," which begins with an anecdote about the author being treated coldly by Kerry when he tried to talk with him as he was coming out of a men's room. (Who wants to shake hands with a guy that just came out of the men's room?) I'd guess that Kerry sees "The Daily Show" in a way similar to the "A Beer" article: a chance to get personal and to show he's a regular guy. But Stewart has to stop him, because he's running out of time and he really does have a lovely ketchup joke. Kerry takes the joke gracefully.

12. After Stewart ends the interview and the audience applauds, Kerry turns to the audience and SALUTES! He doesn't wave, he salutes. The kids love that.

1 comment:

William said...
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