This photo (click the image to enlarge–and also click first here and then onto “NASA photos” for even more) of John F. Kerry in his baby-blue NASA bunny suit is my favorite so far to emerge from the 2004 presidential campaign. The image caused hoots all over the blogosphere, as well as acid commentary from the Washington Post’s fashion critic Robin Givhan, who noted that the “image left one wondering whether the suit had a back flap and attached feet.” My favorite feature of the pic is the oversized vacuum-cleaner hose emerging mysteriously from just behind Kerry as he crawls through the Discovery’s hatch–is it a leftover from Teresa’s housecleaning, or did Kerry just undergo a rare colonic operation?

Pointing out that, by donning the anti-contamination costume in order to board the orbiter Discovery at the National Air and Space Administration’s launcpad in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Kerry allowed “voters to make a visual connection between the candidate and Woody Allen dressed as sperm,” Givhan proffered this Dukakis-in-a-tank advice to the Democratic nominee:

“As a general rule, anyone aspiring to be the commander in chief should always try to avoid looking like a Teletubby.”
But the flap, as it were, turns out to be longer-lasting than the yucks most of us got from the image. As Florida Today’s John Kelly reported, Kerry’s election operatives decided that the Massachusett’s senator’s NASA visit would make a great photo-op and obtained pics from NASA for handing out already bored to tears covering last week’s Dem convention in Boston. What a mistake! The photo quickly turned into a sweatshirt image after an artist added missing ears to Kerry’s hood. As Kelly wrote:

“Kerry’s campaign team asked for the pictures and helped pass them out to reporters, NASA said. Once the photos surfaced on Web sites and in newspapers, becoming joke fodder for pundits at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, Kerry’s campaign got defensive.

“The Kerry team hinted at dirty tricks. Campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill said the pictures were not meant to go public.”

This, of course, echoes Teresa’s hints at similar sabotage by her staff when the pumpkin-spice cookies her office supplied Family Circle magazine turned out to taste like, well, pumpkin-spice cookies. Even more problematically, lawyers at NASA began to fret over Kerry’s well-publicized visit to the site along with Florida’s two Democatic senators and ur-astronaut/former Ohio Sen. John Glenn, another Democrat. The Kerry campaign hosted a “town hall meeting” for handpicked local Democrats at the federally owned (although privately operated) visitor complex at Cape Canaveral, and while in the area, Kerry made a space analogy in a speech that was signature-John F. Kerry. As Kelly reported:

“[H]e said space workers’ can-do drive to land men on the moon should be applied to other issues, such as providing affordable health care to more Americans.”

Naturally, the NASA lawyers got into a tizzy (thanks, NASA Watch for the updates and links and Instapundit for the tip), because the federal Hatch Act strictly forbids federal employees to get involved in political campaigns. On Thursday afternoon, NASA briefly removed Kerry’s bunny-suit photos from its website, then re-posted them after second thoughts. As the Washington Post reported yesterday, Dan LeBlanc, chief operating officer for the visitor complex, is now taking the position that the “town meeting” was no way, no way, a political event but rather, just a public-education session by a passel of public-spirited U.S. senators.”It was not in a federal workplace but in a public facility on federal property,” the Post reported LeBlanc as saying.

Oh. NASA Watch comments:

“Oh c’mon, Dan. This was a campaign event, plain and simple – by a presidential candidate on his way to a national convention. Besides, why would a senator from Massachusetts come to Florida for a ‘town hall meeting’? Indeed the attendees were hand-picked by the Kerry campaign. If this was truly a ‘town hall meeting’ then any resident from Brevard County would have been allowed to attend.”

NASA Watch does point out that the Cape Canaveral visit–and the Discovery tour–were the idea of Florida’s Sen. Bill Nelson:

“Now the folks at NASA… are going to get in trouble because they tried to accommodate Sen. Bill Nelson’s request. It was Bill Nelson who pushed NASA…on the spur of the moment to allow three sitting U.S. senators and a former senator to visit a shuttle in the OPF. Imagine the tantrum Nelson would have thrown if NASA had said ‘no’….I think Bill Nelson needs to come clean (he has been rather silent about all of this) as to how he approached NASA – and in what capacity he made his request i.e. ‘political’ or ‘official’.”

NASA Watch also points out (thanks to an alert from a reader) that work on the Discovery orbiter, which has been proceeding on a three-shift-a-day, 24/7 rush basis in order to meet an upcoming launch deadline, was abruptly halted for three solid hours in order to accommodate Kerry and his fellow bunny-suited Dems. Comments NASA Watch:

“I wonder if the Kerry campaign has been approached to reimburse the government for the actual cost (in terms of lost work time) of his visit?”