Bloggers left and right have seen this New York Times article comparing misstatements from both candidates over the weekend. Those on the left are laughing at Bush’s suggestion that “Too many good OB/GYN’s aren’t able to practice their–their love, with women all across this country”: Those on the right are scratching their heads at Kerry’s reference to “confused people like me who can’t make up our minds”. Relatively few mention both quotes.

The president, as all who are not blinded by partisan passion can admit, is a poor extemporaneous speaker. In his defense (again, as all who are not blinded by partisan passion can admit), he has the ability to connect well to individuals, to make eye contact and convince them instantly that he does care what they have to say. Everyone who’s met him remarks on it. And he has a straightforward speaking style that can be quite effective when those who write his words bear it in mind. But he wings it at his peril when speaking to a group. He occasionally veers into Quayle’s disease, where his words are so tortured that it’s difficult to tell what he meant to say.

Senator Kerry, on the other hand, struggles with the informal “how ya doin'” at which Bush excels. His intellectual grasp of the issues he wishes to address can’t be questioned: He knows what he wants to say about them (which is, like most politicians, as little as possible, and I don’t fault him for that), and he generally says what he wishes to say, clearly.

At the beginning of the campaign, his tendency to find his four months’ Vietnam experience relevant to every question asked was a quirk that helped define him, but as time passes it becomes more and more conspicuous that he has done nothing to brag about since. (We can only assume he thinks so, since he never raises the subject of his years of experience as Massachusetts’ lieutenant governor and US Senator.) So, rather than run on the things that make him clearly different from Bush, he appears to be going for the “anything you can do, I can do better” approach.

But if so, why would he characterize himself as a “confused person…who can’t make up [my mind]”? This is, as noted, exactly what the Republicans are saying about him. Was he kidding? Was it a wry jab at his critics, to portray himself as something he clearly isn’t, a man so befuddled that he’d just as soon eat at a restaurant that doesn’t offer choices rather than make a decision what to eat for lunch? Or was he caught up in a failed attempt at folksiness that got away from him (as the Times writer seems to think)?

The alternative, that he accidentally told the truth, is too outrageous to contemplate.

It could be that Kerry is simply humor-impaired. Or I am. I’m trying to think of another way to read this:

Kerry was presented with the semiautomatic shotgun during a Labor Day stop in Racine, West Virginia.

“I thank you for the gift, but I can’t take it to the debate with me,” Kerry told a cheering crowd as he held up the device.

I’m not entirely humorless. I know he was joking. Was he supposed to be saying he wished he could? Or that they wished he would? How angry are the Democrats? If Bush made a remark about taking Saddam Hussein’s sidearm to the debate with him, how would that have been received?

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