WASHINGTON -- I wasn't sure how to ask John Kerry, so I just blurted it out: "Is there anything we need to know about your relationship with your father?"
I didn't think the country could take another vertiginous ride on the Oedipal tilt-a-whirl. It's hard not to see the Bush unilateral foreign policy — blowing off allies and the U.N. to rewrite the ending of a gulf war his father felt had ended appropriately — as the ultimate act of adolescent rebellion.
"I know what you're saying," Mr. Kerry murmured.
The globe got whipsawed by a father-son relationship so twisty and rife with undercurrents that we're still not sure if W. was trying to avenge his father with Saddam or upend his dad's legacy in Iraq — or both. Or was he just following the gloomy, brass-knuckled lead of his surrogate father, Dick Cheney?
Little Bush cited big Bush as a rationale for war in Iraq, referring to Saddam as "the guy that tried to kill my dad at one time." Now Mr. Bush's ex-counterterrorism chief, Richard Clarke, has said that the war in Iraq "greatly undermined the war on terrorism."
Both J.F.K. and W. were the oldest sons of patrician fathers who had served as diplomats.
But while dutiful son John and the uneffusive father who sent him to Swiss boarding school were able to bond when they talked about foreign affairs, black sheep W. and his effusive father spent more time on sports than foreign policy tutorials.
Junior, as he was known in those days, was disengaged from the policy side of his father's presidency. He ran the political loyalty department.
Senator Kerry is cast as the heir to George H. W. Bush's avid internationalism and tender stewardship of the Atlantic alliance.
Being the son of a foreign service officer, Mr. Kerry says, "gave me a great sense of being able to look at other countries not just through our eyes but through their eyes, and that's, I think, an important asset."
Mr. Kerry's father, Richard, was the anti-Wolfie. He wrote a 1990 book, "The Star-Spangled Mirror," warning that America should not see the world in "black and white," exaggerating our goodness and our enemies' evil, or try to recast the world in our image, "propagating democracy" and imposing our values and institutions on the third world.
W. went along with the neocons' desire to dis Europe and undermine the U.N., where his father once reigned as affable U.S. ambassador.
The president seems oblivious to the swelling doubts about his policy in an Iraq sulfurous with treachery and blood. On Wednesday, he went to a press dinner here and made light of the fact that his rationale for invasion has evaporated. "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere," he cracked, showing a photo of himself searching under a table in the Oval Office.
This was awkward for some, because the dinner also featured the first presentation of an award named for David Bloom and a speech by his wife, Melanie. Mr. Bloom, the NBC correspondent who died in Iraq, probably would not have been there without the hyped claims of W.M.D.
Republicans are demonizing Mr. Clarke, who has accused the administration of negligence on terrorism in the months before 9/11.
Bush officials accuse him of playing fast and loose with facts, even while they still refuse to acknowledge they took us to war by playing fast and loose with facts.
Even after a remarkable week in which a simple apology by Mr. Clarke carried such emotional power, Mr. Bush was still repeating his discredited line on Iraq, as if by rote.
"I made a choice to defend the security of the country," he said Friday, in a speech in Albuquerque, adding: "You can't see what you think is a threat and hope it goes away. You used to could when the oceans protected us. But the lesson of September the 11th is, is when the president sees a threat we must deal with it before it comes to fruition, through death, on our own soils, for example."
Even a president who was routinely referred to as adolescent criticized this White House's adolescent attitude.
"They remind me of teenagers who got their inheritance too soon and couldn't wait to blow it," Bill Clinton said. And this, he scoffed, is the "mature daddy party"?
Well, it's the party obsessed with daddy. That's for sure.
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company