Listen carefully to these passages from a new column in Newsweek by Eleanor Clift ...
Kerry knew this was coming. âBring it on,â he said so often it became his battle cry. Well, now theyâve brought it on, and what is Kerry doing? Heâs going on vacation in Idaho, leaving behind the festering story of his unholy bond with foreign leaders. âBefore long theyâll be calling him Jacques Kerry,â says a Republican strategist. âItâs only a matter of time.â
The harsh tone of the attacks this early in the campaign indicates that Bush is willing to drive up his own negatives in order to raise doubts about Kerry. The good news for Kerry is that he fights better when heâs behind, and the way things are going, heâll soon be behind.
A thought: if your opponent has $100 million to portray you as an effete snob, don't go on vacation to a fancy ski resort in Idaho.
Now read this email from a couple days ago from a very astute Democratic party insider in Washington ...
First, the ballgame will be won or lost in second quarter and early in second quarter. Right now Bush money is gaining him yardage, depicting Kerry as flip-flopper and weak on defense. That's the plan. Simple. Effective. Steamrolling. Fools like Maureen Dowd today echo and enable it in mainstream media, just as she did in 2000. Second, Kerry loses if he can't raise money to buy time to fight back in April. All pundits who say money doesn't matter are wrong, and enable Bush more. Money talks and early money screams. Third, Kerry needs Clinton fundraising and Gore fundraising base badly. Will Clinton really help? Seen any sign of it? Seen him rap Bush lately? Seen Hillary?
This is all true
, the Clift passages every bit as much as the email just noted. As the emailer notes, and as we'll return to, this is a very challenging situation. I'm going to note some of the Kerry campaign's mistakes below. But other Democrats need to get off the sidelines too. Now.
(Put Richard Holbrooke, not campaign flacks -- much as I love them -- on every show that will book him. He wants to be Secretary of State. Make him work for it.)
Kerry is now being hit by a barrage of attacks <$Ad$>almost all of which, as I've tried to note here, are based on lies and distortions
. They're being organized and planned by the president's partner Karl Rove, a man who has specialized for more than thirty years in vicious campaign tactics (remember McCain in South Carolina) and dirty tricks.
As John Dean notes in his soon to be released book Worse than Watergate
-- about which we'll be saying more soon -- even during the Watergate investigation
assistant Watergate special prosecutor Richard Davis -- who was tasked with investigating various dirty tricks operations -- was investigating Rove, quizzing Nixon's staffers about Rove's role in various dirty tricks operations.
But you know what? That's life.
Don't complain; fight.
The press is too lazy and insensible to be a watchdog for this sort of business.
Everybody knew who Kerry is going up against. As Clift notes
, this is what Kerry told them to bring on. And they're bringing it on. Democrats gave Kerry this chance to take on the president -- whose reelect number is hovering in the low to mid-forties -- because they believed he would fight and that he was electable.
a fighter. I saw it first hand during his 1996 senate race against Bill Weld. But Kerry will never successfully parry these hits by getting tangled and stuck in the molasses of the president's lies and distortions. Getting sidetracked into a discussion of legislative maneuvering isn't the answer to the president's attacks; it's precisely what they're trying to elicit
The answer is simply to say they're lies (while having surrogates and staffers explain why) and then to go on the attack.
For instance, the Kerry campaign should never have let Bush get the upper hand on the issue of combat pay, health care, and getting things like body-armor to front line troops. One need only be a casual reader of the military press to know that the president is extremely
vulnerable on these issues.
The Bush campaign against Kerry is already crystal clear: Kerry has no center, no core. That makes him a waffler and weak -- too weak to defend the country in perilous times. That's the whole campaign, the whole message.
The winning campaign against the president is equally clear. He doesn't tell the truth. Almost nothing he has told the American people has turned out to be true (from budgets to jobs, from wmds to his personal past). In many cases, that's because he's lied to them. In others, it's because he's promised things he had no reason to believe were true. In some instances, he just failed to deliver.
As you'll note from the Clift column
, Republicans themselves know this is his central vulnerability.
Just as the president only tauntingly alludes to the attacks being mounted by his campaign surrogates, Kerry can't go around calling the president a liar in so many words. But the president's credibility and his ability to deliver on his promises should be the centerpiece of his campaign.
Indeed, the president's loss of <$Ad$>credibility should be central to Kerry's attack on his stewardship of the country's security.
We are accustomed to thinking about a president's and the country's 'credibility' abroad as a factor of his willingness to use force. Credibility is key because it is central to a president's ability to protect the country and advance its interests.
But what we are seeing right now is that the president has lost his credibility with the world. Whether foreign leaders want Bush to be reelected is, from a domestic political perspective, irrelevant. Indeed, it can easily backfire on a candidate who seeks to mobilize it against him.
The key is simply that the president has no credibility. He has lost the trust of the country's allies in part because he has repeatedly deceived them -- dealt with them falsely or simply lied to them. But to a critical degree neither do they fear him. This is what we're seeing as our few remaining allies in Iraq ramp back their deployments in the country (Spain, South Korea, possibly Poland) and abandon
our foolishly shortsighted effort to advance our interests by dividing Europe.
Right-wingers in this country are casting this pattern as a cosmic moral drama of appeasement, with the faint of heart cowering before the grand struggle. In fact, the president is reduced to a mix of taunt and begging
, pleading with other countries not to abandon him. What is a leader without followers? Not a leader.
The president's campaign ads have heavily pressed the point that when confronted with a threat, he takes action -- but with conspicuous inattention to what action he takes, or whether it makes any sense or diminishes the threat.
The message of these ads amounts to ...Vote Bush: When Dangers Threaten, You Know He'll Go Berserk!
But again, the president has damaged the country's hard
credibility by lying to our allies and isolating us from them. For half a century the United States has been the guardian of a prosperous and increasingly democratic world order. If our allies are really abandoning us and making 'separate peaces'
with gangs of murderous religious fanatics what does that tell you about this president's leadership? His credibility abroad or even his ability to use hard power to advance the country's interests?
The president made the mess and he lacks the credibility, thus the strength, to clean it up.
Credibility is the thread that ties this whole election together.