There was a Kerrey profile in Bloomberg, in which the former senator sipped a latte at an Omaha Starbucks and mused aloud, “I’m not running because I need to be a senator. In fact, I barely want to be.” There was a write-up in The New York Times magazine (featuring the Kerrey quote “Am I going to be miserable if I win?”) in which Kerrey cast aspersions on his own Vietnam War record like a hard-bitten protagonist from a Tim O’Brien novel. There was a Washington Post feature that chided the “Kerrey subplot” of the 2012 election cycle even as it advanced the narrative, calling the Kerrey of yesteryear “dazzling” and a “heartland heartthrob.” According to the Post, “his past glories [in Nebraska] are as faded as those old campaign T-shirts.”
Even Kerrey’s own New Yorker wife, former “Saturday Night Live” writer Sarah Paley, wrote a supposedly humorous essay for Vogue complaining about her husband’s renewed political ambitions. At least one Omaha woman wrote in to a local paper to criticize the way Nebraskans were characterized in Paley’s piece, writing, “[Paley] apparently believes we all wear pantsuits, spout anti-abortion slogans and carry guns.”
Some people, it seems, just don’t appreciate good literature.
Whether an Obama surrogate, a dark-horse political comeback kid, or a tragic literary device unto himself, the Bob Kerrey of 2012 is at least relevant on some level, mostly by virtue of what he represents. His current candidacy, compared against his past political career, shows just how far the once-moderate Democratic Party has proudly, unabashedly moved left.
“Is this a middle-class tax increase?” a Nebraska Watchdog reporter asked Kerrey in July, referring to Kerrey’s plan to raise Social Security taxes.
“Yeah, in some respects it is,” Kerrey replied.
His statement was a far cry from the DLC’s longtime support for middle-class tax cuts, or, for that matter, from the middle-class tax cut in Arkansas that swept DLC veteran Bill Clinton to his party’s presidential nomination over Kerrey in 1992. (Clinton, for his part, said in May that he doesn’t think middle-class Americans “would object” to their taxes being raised in the near future).
After voting to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 on the grounds that its safeguards against financial collapse actually damaged American business, Kerrey now supports the more extreme Dodd-Frank financial reform law, which has placed crippling regulatory burdens on small banks since its passage in December 2009.
Now a dedicated supporter of Obamacare, Kerrey in 1994 actually encouraged the Democratic Party to run ads attacking President Clinton’s proposal to force employers to pay for workers’ health care.
Out-of-control entitlement spending, said the Kerrey of 1994, is a “terrifying problem.”
The silver-haired New Yorker playing in this year’s Nebraska Old Timers Game doesn’t seem too terrified. Just as Clinton swallows his pride and offers a half-hearted endorsement of President Obama’s far-left economic ideals, so too does Kerrey tag along with the new party line.
Does he actually believe most of what he’s saying? Probably not. But for the sake of a president’s re-election and a good feature profile, he’s willing to drive around Nebraska for a few months saying it.
Kerrey’s informal campaign slogan seems to be “It’s good to be back.” But his former supporters are still wondering when he’s going to show up.
Patrick Howley is a staff writer for The Washington Free Beacon.