Doesn't He Remind You Of . . .
Finding John Kerry's archetype on television and in books.
11:00 PM, Mar 31, 2004 • By HUGH HEWITT
JOHN KERRY reminds you of someone, but you can't put your finger on it, right?
Allow me to help.
Bookish people and television people generally carry different archetypes around in their heads, but neither group seems to able to quite put their finger on Kerry. They have seen this face, this style before. But where?
First, the small box people. John Kerry is M*A*S*H's Major Frank Burns, returned to bluster and badger and arrogantly attempt to command his betters. To those below him, Burns was a constant pain. To those above, he was obsequious in the extreme. Towards his tentmates--whom he could not believe were his equals--he was always condescending, the perfect combination of insecurity and inflated self-esteem.
Some might argue that Major Charles Emerson Winchester III is really a better match for Kerry, especially given Winchester's ponderous accent and attention to breeding.
But it's really Burns who captures the essence of the Kerry style, so recently displayed when, following his collision with a Secret Service agent charged with protecting his life, Kerry came up cursing the agent. We lack the information to make any comparisons between Theresa and Major Margaret "Hotlips" Houlihan, but both at least share a tendency toward outspokenness.
FOR THE LITERARY MINDED, the match is more obscure, but just as compelling. It requires a reach all the way back to the papers of Diedrich Knickerbocker, as arranged by Washington Irving, specifically to the character Ichabod Crane, who was "tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served as shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together." Ichabod's voice--"the authoritative voice of the master, in the tone of menace or of command; or peradventure, by the appalling sound of the birch, as he urged some tardy loiterer along the flowery path of knowledge." Ichabod was quick to deal out punishment to his school charges, always accompanied by a lecture.
Ichabod was "a huge feeder," possessed of the "dilating powers of an anaconda." We don't know about John Kerry's appetite, but this makes for a good guess. And there is the vanity parallel: "It was a matter of no little vanity to [Ichabod], on Sundays, to take his station in front of the church gallery, with a band of chosen singers; where, in his own mind, he completely carried away the psalm from the parson. Certain it is, his voice resounded far above all the rest of the congregation. . . ." Recall that Kerry's been in front of both Catholics and a largely African-American congregation these past three weeks, cameras in tow.
"[Ichabod] was in fact," Irving tells us, "an odd mixture of small shrewdness and simple credulity." Which brings to mind Kerry's approach to many subjects, from the September 11 Commission hearings to gas prices to the $87 billion for Iraq, which he famously voted both for and against.
Ichabod and Kerry can both own being skittish, enamored of an heiress, and bedeviled by a rival. Ichabod's was Brom Bones, "famed for great knowledge and skill in horsemanship, being as dexterous on horseback as a Tartar. He was foremost at all races and cock-fights; and, with the ascendancy which bodily strength acquires in rustic life, was the umpire in all disputes, setting his hat on one side, and giving his decisions with an air and tome admitting of no gainsay or appeal. He was always willing for a fight or a frolic; but had more mischief than ill-will in his composition; and with all his over-bearing roughness, there was a strong dash of waggish good humor at bottom." Who does that remind you of?
Frank Burns and Ichabod Crane both vanished suddenly from their respective stories, gone and quickly replaced by others. Both live on, remembered as the objects of jokes and occasions for knowing smiles.
We can only hope the parallels continue.
Hugh Hewitt is the host of The Hugh Hewitt Show, a nationally syndicated radio talkshow, and a contributing writer to The Daily Standard. His new book, In, But Not Of, has just been published by Thomas Nelson.