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September 21, 2004


One after the other, John Kerry's misdirected campaign is making decisions incomprehensible to most political operatives close to the ground and to the voters. First came the news that, as far as I'm concerned, Vernon Jordan had his pants taken down in the negotiations over the presidential debates by that sly old fox Jim Baker.

In this battle of the master-fixers from the back rooms of power, Baker somehow sweet-talked Jordan into accepting a change of topics for the first Kerry-Bush debate. It was to have been on domestic policy--the area in which, the polls all show, Bush's leadership is seen as the weaker of the two.

Instead, Jordan agreed that the first debate should be on foreign policy--but, in every category under this rubrique, whether it be terrorism, managing Iraq, national security, or leading the country in a crisis, this is the arena in which all the polls say Bush has a distinct (in some of them, overwhelming) advantage. The first debate is usually the one most watched by the electorate, and the one leaving the strongest impression of the candidates that it is subsequently difficult to shake or change. Kerry, of course, is seriously hobbled in these debates by his vote for war in Iraq--which is why all his pirouettes on the issue this year have been so ineffective and content-weak. Score Jordan's mistake for Bush.

Then, on Tuesday morning came Kerry's much-heralded speech on Iraq. The telepromptered text was crisper than Kerry's usual meanderings, but just as devoid of new and convincing substance. It would, we were told by his campaign's pre-spinners, lay out a detailed plan for how to get the U.S. out of Iraq. Well, Kerry's NYU speech did nothing of the sort. It was the same-old-same-old, airbrushed with a bit more vigorous rhetoric and given numerals so that Kerry supporters could talk about his "4-point plan."

One of the cleverer GOP consultants, Mike Murphy, devastatingly skewered these pretentions when he characterized the "Kerry plan" on Tuesday's Nightline as "Bush is a liar and I can be nice to the French." Kerry's assertion in the speech that he can somehow persuade foreign leaders to send their troops and personnel into the chaos that is Iraq to pay for America's imperial mistakes with their blood, and relieve the burden on the treasury of the World's Only Superpower--the poor, impoverished thing-- is a fantasy unlikely to convince anyone outside Kerry's circle of sycophants. And Kerry himself acknowledged that it would be four long years before the U.S. could withdraw from Iraq under his so-called "plan."

I found it incredible that, only 43 days before Election Day, Kerry was still engaging in pompous, first person claims about his better skills than Bush on the Iraq issue--which up to now, let's be frank, have left the voters confused--instead of talking about the economy. Kerry, who won't admit a mistake, kept insisting, too, that he'd been right all along and had had a better plan than Bush all along. But, we learned from this week's Newsweek report, the latest batch of lobbyist-consultants imported to the Kerry campaign to save it from its blunders are responsible for pushing Kerry into refocussing his campaign on Iraq, making it the central theme on which he hopes to win the election. It is even, Newsweek reports, the theme of the final week of campaigning.

These millionaire media goniffs and Clintonista off-year whores for Corporate America, to whom Kerry is now listening, are themselves deaf to the wails of distress coming from those Democrats in the battleground states who have been begging for a bold Kerry economic attack on Bush, which they see as the only way of having a prayer of defeating this war president by mobilizing the victims of the Bush economy and energizing the desultory Democratic base. It's as if the Clintonista imports have forgotten their own mantra that brought them the White House: It's the economy, stupid--especially when Kerry has shown ever since he became the virtual nominee of his party that he cannot win on the Iraq issue.

The problem, of course, is that Bush's greatest and most tragic ideological blunder is the one on which Kerry cannot criticize him: the decision to invade Iraq. No amount of Kerry's wiggling explanations can erase his vote for war. And that is why his decision to refocus his campaign's final phase on Iraq instead of the economy is a fatal error. The American people cannot be educated into tossing out a war president because the fundamental debate--over the Bush first-strike doctrine and the invasion of Iraq--cannot be truly joined, because Kerry supported them both.

Finally, the DNC has decided to continue right through November with its "Fortunate Son" campaign against Bush's National Guard service--despite the fact that, rightly or wrongly, the CBS recantation on the Killian documents has eradicated in the popular mind whatever effectiveness this issue ever had. And despite the fact that the latest New York Times poll showed that voters want the candidates and their surrogates to stop talking about the past.

This has been a trashy, mendacious, unintelligent, and demagogic six months. And the Republicans are better at trash, demagogy, and lying than the Democrats. That's why they'll probably win--especially when the pocketbook issues, which are the key deciders for voting American families, have been virtually taken off the table in the final days by the incompetent Kerry campaign. Kerry has fallen into virtually every trap the Rove Republicans have set for him--which is why they're so unfeignedly gleeful on the tube at the Kerry campaign's latest decisions. But the flaw that's left us all in this stomach-turning situation is ultimately in the Democratic candidate himself--and it's called hubris.

P.S. The global danger posed by a second term for Bush was underscored in this morning's New York Times report on the debate within the administration over what to do about Iran, in which the hawks seem to be winning once the election is over. Said the Times, "The cause of regime change in Iran is expected to be revived if President Bush is re-elected," and that is a goal that can only be achieved in the short-term by another imperial exercise of American military force. More proof, as if any were needed, of the perils inherent in this ideologically-driven administration. Or, as the Biblically inclined might put it, and Quagmire begat Quagmire.....

MUST READING: The essay by Gabriel Kolko in the latest Le Monde Diplomatique, ALLIANCES AND THE AMERICAN ELECTION, looks at the shape of foreign policy in a Kerry administration and the dangers in what Kolko accurately diagnoses as the hegemonic refurbishing of the US alliance system we could expect under the guise of "progressive internationalism" from Kerry. And, since the Bush second term seems likely, Kolko prognosticates the further disintegration of that system after four more years of Bush. Since this important and insightful essay is, unfortunately, not available on Le Monde Diplo's website, I have--with Kolko's kind permission--reprinted it in its entirety in the archive of my articles, so you can read Kolko's complete essay (in English) by clicking here...

MATT GONZALEZ, the president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors-- whose grassroots campaign as a Green nearly won him the mayoralty--has a nice little tribute to one of the towering, inspiring moral figures in the history of the American left, Eugene Victor Debs, in Mesh magazine. If you've never heard of Debs, click here--and then, if Matt's article piques your interest, buy yourself a copy of Ray Ginger's superb biography of Debs. (Thanks to my friend Scott Tucker of Open Letter for bringing the Gonzalez article to my attention).

Posted by Direland at 02:28 AM | Permalink


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Maybe. I'd prefer the resurrection of damning language about "captains of industry" and "capitalist pigs" to "goniffs" and "whores". I like whores! Some phrases need to be kept more alive than others. (I don't usually care about language policing! But in the Christian evangelical age I'm noticing more ease with "colorful language" and other fun forms of dismissive vernacularity popping up all over.)

On another topic: my empirical experience is that so many people's waking daydreams these days involve saying what they would say to Kerry to say, if they could. It's a sign of political optimism and desire, and can't be underrated.

Posted by: ell be | Sep 21, 2004 8:19:24 AM

I'm an echt New Yorker, and old enough to have grown up around a lot of Yiddish speakers. For New Yorkers of my stripe and age, using the word goniff comes naturally. It's a wonderful and highly evocative word, and if I smell your concerns rightly, using it implies no anti-Semitism. On the contrary, keeping alive these pungent Yiddish words and phrases is a mitzvah for the young. Let this old shabass goy make his tiny contribution to Yiddishkeit, will you?
But thanks for the kind word as well.

Posted by: Doug Ireland | Sep 21, 2004 7:07:01 AM

1. gonif, goniff, ganef, ganof -- ((Yiddish) a thief or dishonest person or scoundrel (often used as a general term of abuse))

Dude, do you really want to use Yiddish when you're talking about corrupt money mongers?
Otherwise, a right on essay.

Posted by: ell bee | Sep 21, 2004 6:57:16 AM

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