The Guilfoile-Warner Papers

Improving Kerry

In 2001 Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner lampooned the new president in their book, My First Presidentiary. Now, with the real possibility of four more Bush years, they discuss the issues facing today’s voters. This week: how to fix Kerry’s image.


The Sept. 19 New York Times opinion page carries op-eds from Bob Kerrey, Donna Brazile, and Leon Panetta, all good and loyal Democrats telling Kerry what he “must” do if he would like to win the election. I thought that we could play too. Here’s my keys to a Kerry comeback:

1. Get some new supporters.

Gauging from the wailing and breast-beating among Democrat loyalists following the news of the Bush convention bounce, you would’ve thought Kerry had been caught eating unborn babies on live television while surrounded by a bunch of gun-destroying, married homosexuals—instead of just being the victim of a disadvantageous news cycle that emphasized hurricanes, staged political theater, and fake memos that tell us stuff we already knew.

Too many of us came out to bury Kerry, not to praise him.

Kerry supporters are so damn fearful that Bush is going to win that we can’t contain our anxiety when things look bad, even for a second. I believe that if Bush exited his convention down instead of up you wouldn’t have heard a single public disparaging remark about his campaign. If Bush can look at daily suicide bombings in Iraq and declare that progress is being made, I don’t think the Republicans are going to blanch at a few points in the polls.

Democrats need to suck it up and channel their inner Cheneys and learn how to make assertions that sound true even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The trick is to start small and build up from there.

“Generic laundry detergent offers all the cleaning power of a name brand at a fraction of the cost.”

“Ben Affleck is an underrated actor who deserves more attention for his artistic gifts, rather than for his succession of hot, famous girlfriends.”

“That burning sensation when I urinate is one of the body’s natural processes designed to fight infection and doesn’t in any way indicate that I might need medical attention.”

“We are on the path to victory in Iraq, a safe, and stable society that will be a beacon of democracy for the entire Middle East.”

See how easy it is?

2. Become the underdog.

I want you to be honest with me: weren’t you kind of pleased to see our almost-51st state, Puerto Rico, spank the United States Men’s Olympic basketball team? Were you secretly pleased to see the Europeans put the hurt on the U.S. Ryder Cup squad? If so, what does this tell us? 1) America loves an underdog; and 2) America hates flabby man-breasts on alleged athletes like Phil Mickelson.

Even though he’s likely currently behind, the problem is that Kerry doesn’t look like an underdog because he’s too busy passing himself off as an incredibly well-financed, highly professional candidate for the highest elected office in America.

The first thing he has to do is trade in that fancy Kerry/Edwards motor coach for a school bus that he personally drives from stop to stop. The school bus must be rust-colored and un-air-conditioned. The shocks must be suspect and the seats should be spewing that fiberglass stuffing out of rips and tears. Kerry will arrive at each campaign event sporting giant, half-moon pit-stains, stinking of road and diesel, and really pissed off at the noisy press core in back who think it’s hilarious to stomp on their empty juice boxes to simulate explosions. Bush’s down-home image advantage will vanish instantly when Kerry lets loose a stump speech after one of those trips.

Also, he should get the number for Dennis Kucinch’s barber.

3. Kill a man with his bare hands.

Only one of the presidential candidates actually had the courage to volunteer for armed combat and then was even wounded by enemy fire, yet somehow, when much of America looks at Kerry, they think, “effete, liberal, eastern pussy.” Never mind that Bush has now taken two tumbles from his bike and can’t even watch a football game without choking on a pretzel—because he has a highly trained and lethal war machine to show off his cojones. Kerry, on the other hand, with his kite-surfing and skiing, has painted himself into a corner of unmanliness that can only be reversed through a vicious physical attack on another person.

My suggestion is that he arrange to meet Saddam Hussein in the detention-house showers and wielding a bar of soap inside a sock, give him a thorough beat down. As Hussein cowers in the shower-stall corner, begging for mercy, Kerry can stick a shiv in his gut, and later, hang that shiv inside the Oval Office when he’s president.

We’ll get Spielberg to film it. It’ll be huge.

I’m pretty sure I’m on to something here.



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When it comes to international athletic competition, I’m usually a put-on-pants-that-look-like-the-Stars-and-Stripes fanboy. It sure was a lot easier when I was a kid, though, and the Cold War was on and you could believe that athletes from other countries were acid-drooling kitten gobblers. The first Olympics I can remember were in 1976 and the Soviets had this old weightlifter named Vasily Alexeev. He was the world champ for like ten years and man, that guy gobbled up kittens with Fig Newtons and a Diet Fresca.

It’s hard for me to enjoy the Ryder Cup because on the PGA tour I often root for Sergio Garcia and Colin Montgomerie. I can’t hate those guys. And what I realized this summer about the Olympic basketball team was that I had no feelings at all about Manu Ginobili of Argentina, but the American roster was half-stocked with guys I already can’t stand. Allen Iverson? Total kitten gobbler.

To get me fired up before the next Americas Cup I’d like Denny Hastert to come out and say that al Qaeda wants New Zealand to win.

The hilarious thing about your underdog proposal is that it can never happen. Even after four years in office, George Bush seems so hopelessly overmatched by the job that he sucks all the underdog sympathy to his side. Every presidential press conference is like watching a movie where a nine-year-old becomes a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs or Carrot Top is named chairman of a Fortune 500 company. And the stupid thing is that when you’re watching him give a big speech, there’s such a sense of impending embarrassment that I can’t help but feel reflexive sympathy for the guy. I think that’s another reason it’s so hard to attack him on anything. It’s like, “Come on, stop beating up on George. He’s having a hard enough time being president without you bringing up his incompetence all the time.” I mean, those Kerry ads have been just terrible for the president’s self-esteem.

That said, if I might ask you to join me in lifting our shirts so I could gaze at our navels for a minute: I was reading this review of the new Daily Show book, and the reviewer was wondering why Jon Stewart and Co., who are obviously left-of-center, don’t come right out and endorse Kerry:

“What exactly does a simon-pure Stewart fear might happen if he came out and told some of his more apathetic fans that he’d rather they vote one way than the other? Is he afraid he’d lose all the credibility he’s carefully built up by telling viewers to check out his celebrity guests’ latest teen comedies?”

I once had a conversation with an old poli-sci professor of mine. He defined satire—specifically political satire—as humor that tries to change people’s minds. I disagreed. To the best satirist, the mind-changing is incidental. The laughs are the first thing and a good satirist is way too cool to give a shit what you think. Stewart has credibility because his viewers know he would sacrifice any point for a laugh. It’s essential for a satirist to have a point of view, but once he has an agenda, he’s a lot less funny.

My latest theory (one I might flip-flop on someday, just to warn you in advance) is that this is why liberals (who are too disparate to have anything like a coherent agenda) are funnier than conservatives, and also why conservatives are generally better at winning elections.

Here’s something that’s barely related: This morning on CNN I saw the results of a poll that said Floridians who support Bush are less concerned than Florida’s Kerry supporters about another devastating hurricane strike, even as Jeanne, the fourth major storm of the season, is bearing down on them from the east.

I think that’s what you’d call an unhealthy optimism.


TMN Contributing Writer John Warner is the author of the preeminent guide to winning the race for the Oval Office, So You Want to Be President?, and is Chief Creative Czar of TOW Books. He teaches at the College of Charleston.

TMN Contributing Writer Kevin Guilfoile’s debut thriller, Cast of Shadows, was named one of the Best Books of 2005 by the Chicago Tribune and the Kansas City Star. His humor has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Maxim, and The New Republic. More by Kevin Guilfoile & John Warner