John Kerry Discovers Real People

Listening to Sen. John Kerry talk about his new brand of “retail politics” reminded me of the scene in the movie“As Good As It Gets” where Jack Nicholson’s character proclaims to Helen Hunt: “You make me want to be a better man.”

Shift scenes to the 2004 campaign trail where John Kerry is fresh off of upset wins in the Iowa and New Hampshire democratic primaries. How has he accomplished these feats? According to Kerry, his campaign has been born again by listening to “real people.” As if Nicholson were wooing Hunt, Kerry said to reporters talking to real people has “made me a better candidate.”

Clearly something has helped. Kerry has moved from double-digit deficits in the polls to front runner in a matter of a few weeks. However, his new found love for real people made me wonder: Who was he talking to before?

I also wonder why it took Kerry so long to discover these real people? He has been a candidate since September 2003, when he declared his intentions to run for president in South Carolina. There are a lot of real people in South Carolina. In fact, in his declaration speech he criticized President Bush for ignoring real people: “I reject George Bush’s new vision of a government that comforts the comfortable at the expense of ordinary Americans.” Perhaps part of his problem then was calling real people “ordinary.” No one likes to be ordinary.

I wonder if Sen. Kerry really thinks of real people as ordinary. People who think of themselves as special or privileged often do that. Most ordinary people do not have a personal fortune the size of the one he shares with his wife, Theresa Heinz Kerry. Nothing wrong with being affluent but it is a little unnerving to think that wealthy candidate Kerry has only recently stumbled upon the ordinary people he accuses George Bush of shafting.

Maybe part of his early campaign problem was that he was talking about real, ordinary people instead of talking with them. He now is saying to reporters, “I want to talk to real people and listen to their concerns.” How nice. Like Princess Jasmine in Aladdin who yearns to escape the royal palace and mix with the commoners, Kerry descends from somewhere higher and wants to talk to “real people” and about “real things.”

It will be interesting to see if the socially conservative democrats of South Carolina can engage candidate Kerry in a real conversation about abortion and civil unions for the unmarried. For many southern voters, these are real concerns.

Kerry’s recent tumble into the real world prompts another question. Should a candidate who has only recently discovered real people get their real votes? As a real person myself, I’m skeptical. Sen. Kerry sounds a little too much like a pick-up artist to me. When he looks into their eyes and says, in effect, “listening to you makes me want to be a better candidate,” I think real people should ask candidate Kerry: Will you still love me tomorrow?

Or is this as good as it gets?