THE REAL JOHN KERRY….Here’s the final paragraph of Tom Oliphant’s highly personal profile of John Kerry in the American Prospect:

John Kerry is a good, tough man. He is curious, grounded after a public and personal life that has not always been pleasant, a fan of ideas whose practical side has usually kept him from policy wonkery, a natural progressive with the added fixation on what works that made FDR and JFK so interesting. I know it is chic to be disdainful, but the modern Democratic neurosis gets in the way of a solid case for affection. Without embarrassment, and after a very long journey, I really like this guy. As one of his top campaign officials, himself a convert since the primaries ended, told me recently, this is pure Merle Haggard. It?s not love, but it?s not bad.

This is a genuinely interesting article from a guy who’s known Kerry for more than 30 years, but he’s right: there’s no real love there. In fact, here’s another version of his piece:

….slow climb up the public-service ladder….could be a successful, even excellent, president….well-prepared….likely to be a tough grind….contemplative, serious person….iron butt for grunt work….patience and tough negotiating that are Kerry attributes….sober yet imaginative person….quiet leadership….pretty good, ambitious local prosecutor….true expert….passionate and authoritative advocate….leading spokesman….worked like a dog….always listened to criticism….listened and responded….difficult path to success….careful vetting….vintage Kerry: part traditional….part new thinking….worker as well as a thinker….not by instinct a visionary….grubby, central task of coalition building.

Compare that to this take on the Bush administration from John Lewis Gaddis, who’s basically sympathetic to their worldview:

They violated a really fundamental principle. It’s the dog-and-car syndrome. Dogs spend a lot of time thinking about and chasing cars. But they don’t know what to do with a car when they actually catch one. It seems to me this, in a nutshell, is what has happened to the Bush administration in Iraq.

Yep. After four years of almost breathtaking unwillingness to face up to the hard work of how to really deal with 9/11, an “iron butt for grunt work” strikes me as a welcome change. The question is, will the American public agree? Will they interpret this kind of traditional work ethic as more Thomas Edison or more Jimmy Carter?

Stay tuned.