Jewish World Review May 7, 2004 / 16 Iyar, 5764
More than the failure to win each day, however, Kerry has not articulated a raison d'ętre
Sen. John Kerry's campaign is obviously falling short. April should have been his best month. More than a hundred U.S. dead in Iraq, Richard Clarke's damning testimony, atrocities against Iraqi POWs, and our unpopularity in the streets of Iraq should have left President Bush gasping, In early April, he lagged behind Kerry. Now, he leads by three to five points.
To grasp why, examine the mosaic of advertising and accusation with which Bush has surrounded Kerry.
The GOP's heavy and constant negative advertising accurately shows Kerry as a liberal who raised taxes and weakened our intelligence and military. Until Sept. 11, the Massachusetts Democrat shared the Clintonian thesis that the post-Cold War era was defined by economic and social, not military, problems, and the Bush ads detail, clearly and aggressively, how his votes reflected these priorities.
But the Bush ad campaign also sought to contrast the president's firm stances with Kerry's bends, turns, switches and flip-flops in order to cast the Democrat as too weak and vacillating to make a good wartime leader.
Kerry's liberalism was there in the record for all to see. Bush has only to dig up the votes and put them on television. But the Republicans could never have succeeded in painting Kerry as weak without the senator's complicity. It required daily mistakes by the Democrat to bolster the Bush accusations.
Here, a skillful mixture of negative paid advertising and aggressive manipulation of the news have served Bush well. Stocked with ammunition, Bush's campaign has lobbed a shell every few days into the Kerry camp. Pressured by Bush's negative advertising, unused to such scrutiny or rough handling and generally not yet ready for prime time, Kerry panicked and responded badly, confirming the Bush charges of weakness.
Does Kerry own an SUV? No, he's not sure, yes, but it's his family's. Will his wife release her tax returns? No. Can the media examine his military record? Yes, but only at the headquarters. Did he overstate his military wounds to get out of Vietnam early? Did he throw back his Vietnam medals? Only the ribbons. (The man needs a medal detector!)
Each charge elicited a response reminiscent of Clinton's pathetic response to accusations of pot smoking: "I did not inhale," the precursor of "It depends on what the definition of 'is' is." The Kerry responses reflect a candidate inadequately prepared for the barrage of attacks. His time would have been better served in March attending briefings on this subject than on the ski slopes of Sun Valley or in the hospital having elective surgery.
But the failure is the Kerry staff's as it is the candidate's. Its damage control operation is terrible. Consider the words of Steve Elmendorf, a deputy campaign manager: "You have to take the long view here. You're not going to win every day, and you're not going to win every week." It's that kind of psychology that gets campaigns in trouble.
In America today, every day is election day, particularly this year. You do have to win every day. Each 24 hours is its own campaign with its own outcome. You must win every day. You need a clear strategy for today that anticipates the other side's moves, and tosses your own grenades to throw their way.
Even more than the failure to win each day, however, Kerry has not articulated a raison d'ętre. If he bases his campaign on Bush's failures in Iraq or in the war on terror, he plays in Bush's ballpark. He is never going to convince Americans that he could run these battles better than Bush, and he shouldn't waste his time trying.
If he bases his campaign on jobs and the economy, he is building an edifice on fast-eroding ground, with each month's economic numbers washing away the soil around the foundations of his argument.
To win, Kerry must focus on those issues on which he holds a clear and enduring advantage, such as the environment, education, Medicare, drug prices, Social Security, and the like. He cannot ride the story du jour because it will likely lead in the wrong direction onto Bush territory. Instead, he must create his own stories and sell America on their salience. But that takes strategic thinking, which seems to be beyond his ken or that of his campaign.
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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, most recently, "Rewriting History", a rebuttal of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) memoir, Living History. (ClickHERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) Comment by clicking here.
© 2004, Dick Morris