Is Frist the phony now?

Courting the NASCAR vote, the Senate majority leader reveals his inner Kerry.

Published May 31, 2005 12:29PM (EDT)

The right had a field day when John Kerry flubbed the name of the Green Bay Packers' storied football stadium and professed his love for the Boston Red Sox but got some of the players' names wrong. Blogs for Bush found in the stumbles what every Republican already knew: "John Kerry is a big, dorky phony."

So what do we make of Bill Frist? The Senate majority leader and self-proclaimed lifelong racing fan was courting votes at the Coca-Cola 600 this weekend when he called Tennessee-based NASCAR driver Sterling Marlin "Sterling Martin."

While the Washington Post notes that Frist didn't correct himself, the Marlin-Martin gaffe might not have been his most Kerry-like moment. Just as the millionaire senator from Massachusetts may have deluded himself into thinking that windsurfing off the coast of Nantucket made him one with the common man, the millionaire senator from Tennessee exhibited something less than spot-on political instincts in his play for the NASCAR dads. Trying to establish his stock car credibility, Frist said that he knows a lot about engines because he "grew up flying small planes." And the heart-surgeon-turned-politician said that he could relate to racing on another level, too: "You have a team of about eight to nine people, working on a car, preparing to race," Frist said. "So from a technical aspect, my years as a surgeon who has worked with artificial hearts and lasers and mechanical devices is sort of an innate identification."

Artificial hearts and lasers and mechanical devices and innate identifications? It's enough to make one ask the question Kerry never did: Who among us does not love NASCAR?

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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