Boston Herald columnist Margery Eagan today laments John Kerry’s loss four years ago, observing that Kerry’s brain is “about 100 times bigger than that of our foggy, confused, pushed around by his Machiavellian advisers, can- I- ever- get- a- sentence- out- straight embarrassment of a president.”
So why does Eagan think Kerry lost? Among other things, she writes, “Lots of us didn’t like Kerry: the faux Kennedy thing. The Brahmin-esque cadence. ‘Who among us,’ he bellowed as often as McCain says ‘my friends.’ “
Actually, he didn’t. Bear with me. I’m about to write way too much about a small matter, but it galls me. Eagan should know better. We all should know better. To the extent that the haughty “who among us” construction was used to demonstrate that Kerry was not a man of the people, it’s important to point out that it was all based on a falsehood.
First, let’s deal with the origin of “who among us” — a Maureen Dowd column in the New York Times in which Kerry was quoted as saying, “Who among us doesn’t like NASCAR?” She got it wrong. She wasn’t even there when he said (or rather didn’t say) it. The Daily Howler’s Bob Somerby has demonstrated conclusively that Kerry actually said, “There isn’t one of us here who doesn’t like NASCAR and who isn’t a fan.” Case closed.
Except that it wasn’t. Because the NASCAR quote was used over and over during the 2004 campaign to show that Kerry was a pompous fake who undermined his own attempt to appeal to NASCAR fans with his phony Brahmin language. As Somerby shows, Times people themselves did it over and over, but they were not alone. I dove into LexisNexis and found numerous examples. Here are just a few instances of writers either mocking Kerry’s diction or falsely quoting him:
I’m sick of Kerry pretending to be a normal guy. Killing a goose to get the gun vote. Saying, “Who among us doesn’t like NASCAR?” to get the racing vote. (Michael Goodwin, New York Daily News, Oct. 27, 2004.)
Unless you’re a teetotaling philistine, few things go better together than a good read and a good stiff drink. As John Kerry might say, who among us does not like to curl up with a Tom Clancy novel and can of Bud? (Jerry Salamon, Austin American-Statesman, Oct. 24, 2004)
As John Kerry himself has asked: “Who among us does not like NASCAR?” (Bruce Feirstein, New York Observer, May 17, 2004)
Believe me, this is just a tiny sample, and I’m leaving out what Dowd’s colleagues at the Times did, since you can read Somerby for yourself. Which brings me to the next question. The NASCAR falsehood aside, does Kerry favor the “who among us” construction? Not particularly. I did a search from Jan. 1 through Nov. 15, 2004, and came up with just a few examples, all from formal speeches or prepared remarks. Here they are:
In the wake of Sept. 11, who among us can say, with any certainty, to anybody, that those weapons might not be used against our troops or against allies in the region? Who can say that this master of miscalculation will not develop a weapon of mass destruction even greater — a nuclear weapon — then invade Kuwait, push the Kurds out, attack Israel, any number of scenarios to try to further his ambition to be the pan-Arab leader? (Kerry spoke these words in 2002, and they were quoted on numerous occasions during the 2004 campaign to demonstrate that Kerry had believed Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.)
Who among us is more vulnerable today than the 8 million Americans who are out of work? Who is more vulnerable than the 45 million Americans without health insurance? Who is more vulnerable than the parents who have to choose between food and medicine for their children? (From a speech Kerry delivered in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Oct. 24, 2004.)
Who among us thinks it’s right to say so quickly, on short notice, before you even know where your next paycheck’s going to come from; before you know, if you haven’t been working, what skill you can apply to be able to earn a paycheck; before you’ve been able to adjust to the loss and begin to be able to get back into life? (From a Kerry speech cited by John Harris of the Washington Post as evidence that Kerry was something of a fumblemouth. According to the text of the speech, Kerry was supposed to say, “Who among us could move on short notice when you don’t even know where your paycheck will come from?”)
And that’s all I could find. That’s not to say there aren’t other examples out there. But it’s ridiculous to think Kerry is wedded to “who among us” as any sort of rhetorical crutch, at least based on the available evidence.
By the way, at the Republican National Convention in 2004, John McCain said:
All of us, despite the differences that enliven our politics, are united in the one big idea that freedom is our birthright and its defense is always our first responsibility.
All other responsibilities come second.
We must not lose sight of that as we debate who among us should bear the greatest responsibility for keeping us safe and free.
Not to pick on Margery Eagan. The journalist who bears the responsibility for this is Maureen Dowd. But can we finally put this urban legend to rest?