Read my lips
The thing about John Kerry's speech in Los Angeles, which argues that being in the military is a job for losers and being in Iraq a fate for chumps, is that he and many others from his background may really believe it. He's almost certain to backtrack and make pious noises about the nobility of Service to the Nation (he already has), but there will be something about his hair gel that suggests he may not be entirely sincere. Only suggests. I'm no mind reader and can't claim to know, as other people somehow seem to know, a politician's real thoughts. But hypothetically now, what should prevent him from holding the view that it's so much better to be a lawyer, movie star or senator than it is to be a grunt talking to a sheik in mixed Arabic and sign-language somewhere back of the beyond? A lot of people, especially lawyers, movie stars or senators, might actually share that view. One thing that could seal his lips is the quest for votes, which imposes a curious reticence upon the otherwise voluble.
Matthew Yglesias had some advice for liberal campaigners.
It would be useful, for the purposes of electoral politics, for liberals in the media to avoid expressing the view that the belief -- adhered to by millions of Americans -- that failure to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior will result in eternal damnation is daft. On the other hand, the evangelical view of this matter is, in fact, completely absurd. And not just absurd in a virgin birth, water-into-wine, I-believe-an-angel-watches-over-me kind of way. On this view, a person who led an entirely exemplary life in terms of his impact on the world (would an example help? Gandhi, maybe?) but who didn't accept Jesus as his personal savior would be subjected to a life of eternal torment after his death and we're supposed to understand that as a right and just outcome. That, I think, is seriously messed up. But I shouldn't say so!
The practice of saying things you may not believe or holding your fire on things that you hate is justified not simply on the grounds of political expedience but on the high-minded principle that it is an elected official's duty to echo the Voice of the People. Hence the practice, raised to an art by many politicians, of turning to their pollsters before saying anything at all. Unfortunately the human amplifiers for the latest polls probably have secret thoughts and even beliefs — yes beliefs! — that occasionally emerge when they're in their cups or typing on Instant Messaging and which subtly affect their official behavior. The result is that in politics what you see is not necessarily what you get: a kind of NWYSIWYG. Children's advocates who are child molesters; advocates for national defense who are really appeasers; point men on an border fence who would vote for anything but; people who celebrate their "faith traditions" but who are really militant atheists; "men of the people" who are really snobs of the worst kind. The list goes on and on.
In response, voters and political observers have become adept at decrypting coded messages in official speeches, listening to conversations when mikes are accidentally left on, parsing body language and engaging in what amounts to a form of dumpster diving to sound out a man's heart from his trash. This creates the bizarre situation, exploited ruthlessly by the tabloids, in which the relationship between signal and noise in public discourse is partly inverted. Often the signal is noise and the noise is the signal. When a politician's most sincere moment doesn't come when he has his hand to heart, eyes uplifted and lips parting in peroration but when he's drunk or off-guard then we really are no better off than a grunt in the back of the beyond straining to know whether the sheik before him is friend or fiend. From a certain point of view a job on the battlefield has certain advantages over high office in Washington. Sometimes it's cleaner.