July 26, 2004

Be nice!

The Kerry campaign has ordered Democrats to be nice this week – but not too nice, and not after this week.

The Democratic nominee’s campaign faces a series of interesting challenges: It needs to (1) turn Kerry from the Great Stone Face into somebody huggable, human, and deeply lovable – not to mention profoundly inspiring and commanding; (2) appeal to moderate voters likely to find Michael Moore, Whoopi Goldberg and even Teresa Heinz Kerry off-putting; (3) dispel widespread fears that Kerry is a cipher who will flip or flop depending on what you want to hear and (4) create a shimmering, hopeful, populist vision that expresses his faith in the miraculous capacities of the American people, rather than demanding that people worship him as the Massachusetts miracle-worker.

The “be nice” edict aims at addressing the first two challenges – likeability and putting distance between Kerry and the rabid Bush haters. If Kerry wants to make a real splash, he’ll try to do with left-wing crazies what Bill Clinton did to African-American race-baiters in his “Sister Souljah” speech: He’ll whack them upside the head, demand that they cease and desist and declare piously that neither he nor his party will in any way accept or support Michael Moorism. (Don’t hold your breath.)

The Clinton Show

Hillary Rodham Clinton will introduce her husband this evening at the Democratic convention. She says she’ll speak only for five minutes; nobody can ever say for sure how long he’ll hold forth. In giving Sen. Clinton a late-night bit part, the Kerry Campaign has made a statement about who is boss in the Democratic Party, and by placing Bill Clinton on the trailing edge of prime time, Democrats have challenged their most beloved living president to shut up on time – or get cut off so stations can cut to the late news.

The Tour de Force

And finally, a celebration of the obvious. Lance Armstrong conquered cancer and became the best biker ever. His record-setting sixth consecutive victory in the Tour de France, every bit as dominating as the best of his earlier performances, ought to teach every ambitious kid in America that you have to work at greatness and you need to celebrate each and every breath you are privileged to take.

I don’t much care about Armstrong’s occasionally knotty personal life. In fact, he got a permanent free pass from me when, some years ago, he took time out to comfort and inspire a close friend of mine who then was fighting cancer, and later died of it. To the end, my friend talked fondly and fervently of Armstrong, who took time from a busy career to sign a book, send a poster, make a visit – and just talk.

The last part is the most important. Armstrong understood that the dying aren’t interested in having to endure the theatrical pity of acquaintances – the long faces and heavy sighs, the “you poor thing” exclamations. They know they’re sick. But they also know they’re human. Most terminally ill people are far less interested in absorbing vast, gooey globs of pity than in having someone drop by and chat – about big stuff and little stuff. Armstrong, having faced death, got it – and therefore gave a gift most of us value too little and pass on too seldom – the gift of simple, no-strings-attached companionship.

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