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September 15, 2004

Why the Issue of Bush & the Guard Will Hurt, not Help, Kerry

Americans are historical amnesiacs for the most part, doped on a truncated and cartoon-like version of their collective past, on the myths they are inculcated with in high school civics classes. They are creatures of an instant gratification culture who want to live in the now and the immediately touchable short-range future. Whaddaya gonna do for me NOW, and tomorrow morning?

A majority of Americans have no economic choice but to live in the now. Revisiting the 2000 Florida election controversy doesn't tell them how they're going to afford to pay off the second mortage or put the middle kid who'll be 18 next year through college--neither do John Kerry's medals, the Swifties' assault on them, or the slagging of Bush's no-show National Guard service. And you shouldn't forget that voters don't like negative campaigning--this is especially true of women and independents. Negative campaigning does work more ofthen than not--but it also drives down voter turnout by increasing voter cyncicism--and Kerry needs a large turnout to have a prayer.

Moreover, in large chunks of the country, particularly the South and the Midwest, the National Guard is the struggling classes' second job, the thing that keeps their noses just above the ever-rising waters--which is why so many of them see these attacks on Bush as attacks on THEIR Guard, and on their pocketbook. The geniuses running the Kerry campaign spend more time worrying about getting a good table at the Monocle in Washington or Morton's in New York or Spago in Tinseltown than they do about paying the second mortage--since, thanks to the lavish emoluments the get from theiir off-year corporate lobbying when there's no election on the calendar, they haven't got a first mortagage, let alone a second.

The class differences between the wealthy Democratic candidate and his gold-card message-shapers on the one hand, and the voters in the battleground states they're trying to inveigle into ousting the current occupant of the White House on the other, are enormous. That's why Kerry and his overpaid consultants just don't get it when it comes to the issue of the Guard and the roll it plays in the life of the struggling classes, who are hanging on to some fragile semblance of solvency only by their helmet-straps. The extensive Kerry/DNC multistate campaign using surrogates to bash Bush on the Guard, which has been detailed in the public prints, is a really idiotic idea that is only going to hurt the Democratic ticket. Terry McAuliffe has proclaimed that the DNC will be hitting Bush hard on this issue "every day until the election." Yet all this stuff about Bush and the Guard, whatever onanistic satisfaction it gives us echt anti-Bushies, means Kerry can't get traction on the pocketbook issues that might, just might, still win him the election.

The issue of Bush's Guard service has been terminally undercut by the avalanche of testimonies tending to prove that the CBS Killian documents were forgeries--like the one from Killian's secretary. Or the warnings given to the network from the docs experts CBS hired. All this white noise about CBS, coupled with the Kerry camp's continuing offensive on Bush and the Guard, distracts from the economic message, on which Kerry should be focussed like a laser in the dwindling number of days left before the voting in November.

The Rove Republicans are geniuses at sticking to their simplistic, central, mobilizing messages and never straying from them. Kerry has no message discipline. Take today--here he was, rolling out what was supposed to be a major attack on the Bush economy in a Detroit speech--yet, as MSNBC's First Read noted this morning, "Kerry's Imus interview this morning probably guarantees another day on the trail with with a strong Iraq undercurrent..." (and the day's TV coverage on CNN bore that out).

The day before, instead of talking about the economy, Kerry's big media event was an appearance for endorsement by 9/11 widows. Nice--but endorsements don't often change votes. The day before that, instead of talking about the economy, Kerry was talking about the assault weapons ban (Kerry's position was the right one--but one which not only alienates Democratic and swing workingclass voters in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania where they hunt and love guns--but it was also a bit of a stretch to say that Bush's position on the ban "helps terrorists," who've been more noted lately for using bombs and planes in the U.S. than AK-47s). And even when Kerry is on message, he is incapable of communicating coherently, and in punchy, grabbing sound bites, what he stands for--his constant mid-sentence digressions get in the way.

I've often quoted the advice that George Wallace gave to Jesse Jackson when Jesse came to see him during his first presidential campaign: "Jesse," growled old hell-on-wheels Wallace, "you gotta keep your message so low the goats can get at it!" Kerry has no such crystal-clear economic and social message, one that can fit on a bumper sticker. And the past won't give him one.

Posted by Direland at 09:49 PM | Permalink


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The main issue concerning Bush and the national guard is not whether he was MIA, but the slickest class warefare move ever pulled on who you describe as the "strggling classes". It's true that they need the income the guard provides, and that many are poor. That is why Bush choose to employ them in Iraq. He sends the poor kids into battle, while his well off friends sit back and wave the flag. Much has been made of the Michael Moore movie scene when he tries to enlist the sons of legislators to fight, but it is a telling scene. If you think this quagmire in Iraq needs to end the way to do it is start conscription again. As soon as everybody's kid has to go you will see how quick we find a way out of there. But keeping this "backdoor draft" in effect will only serve to perpetuate it.

Posted by: Rich Slavick | Sep 16, 2004 8:52:22 PM

I've always admired you, Doug. I too am an HIVer, a gay white man, and a leftist. Back in 1970, I deserted the US Army and came to Canada. That was the smartest (only smart?) decision I ever made, and it means that now I'm a Canadian watching the US election from ver the border.

So far, Kerry's campaign has been a disaster. His numbers in the polls aren't disastrous, but that's because he's lucky enough to have an opponent hated by about half the American people. He's given no one any reason to support him apart from the fact that he's not Bush.

It's not going to be possible to "change the subject" from terror to the economy. Terror is dramatic and tragic; the economy is not too good, but not disastrous. Anyway, most people doubt that any politician can guarantee a better economy. That's why economic stress gets expressed in "religious" fervor, xenophobia, and fantasies about Bush's "strong leaership".

For Kerry to win, he would have to transform himself from a worthy senator with a mediocre record and poor communication skills to a dynamic candidate with a clear message, passionately expressed and relentlessly hammered home. He needs to respond vigorously and cogently to every attack from the Bush camp.

As you imply, none of this is going to happen. So he'll probably lose. If only Edwards had won the primaries! At least he's hungry, he's got some pizzazz, he wants to win.

We had better start thinking now about how we're going to respond to a Bush win, how we're going to build worldwide solidarity against an America that has given Bush a clear victory, and thereby, in practice, endorsed his vision of a world under the heel of the neocons.

Posted by: Lee Zaslofsky | Sep 16, 2004 5:52:43 PM

Sigh. The Democrats rolled over and played dead in 2000, and Kerry's not doing much better this time. It's possible there's enough Anti-Bush sentiment out there to do Kerry's job for him, but I wouldn't take any bets on that right now...and even if that is the case, it's certainly not to John Kerry's credit. The worthless piece of shit.

The main point about Bush's overflowing closet of scandals (not limited to his AWOL guard "service") is obviously the hypocrisy. It's so blatantly in-your-face that I think it does have some effect on how people view the little creep, but the useless Dems aren't even hammering very hard on that level.

Posted by: John Dorrian | Sep 16, 2004 2:06:10 PM

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