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Jewish World Review Sept. 22, 2004 / 7 Tishrei, 5765

Bill Schneider

William
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Scare tactics

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Democrats thought that anger over the Iraq war would drive them to victory. What happened?


It's hard to say that the situation in Iraq has improved--not with the death toll of Americans having climbed above 1,000. But public concern over Iraq has declined. Since mid-July, the percentage of Americans who say Iraq will be the most important issue in their vote dropped from 27 to 20 percent in Gallup polling. Iraq is now overshadowed by terrorism.


They are very different issues. Voters whose top concern is Iraq favor John Kerry (56 to 40 percent). Those whose top concern is terrorism overwhelmingly favor President Bush (87 to 13 percent). Bush's issue, terrorism, has pushed Kerry's issue, the war in Iraq, aside. The handover of authority in Iraq at the end of June apparently had exactly the effect that the White House intended: It made Iraq seem like less of an American problem.


Republicans used their convention to argue that Iraq is part of the war on terror. Nobody talked about weapons of mass destruction. But several speakers linked Iraq to 9/11. "Do I forget the lessons of September 11 and take the word of a madman," Bush asked, "or do I take action to defend our country?"


Denouncing Kerry's criticism of the pre-emptive war in Iraq, Vice President Cheney said, "He declared at the Democratic convention that he will forcefully defend America after we have been attacked. My fellow Americans, we have already been attacked." But not by Iraq, critics respond.


Before the Republican convention, polls showed the public split over whether the war in Iraq was a mistake. Since the convention, majorities in every poll (Gallup, CBS News, Washington Post/ABC News, Time) say it was not.


Kerry has done his part to lose the advantage on Iraq. Last month, he dismayed supporters when he answered the president's challenge to say whether he would still have voted to go to war knowing what he knows now. "Yes, I would have voted for the authority," he told a reporter on August 9. Kerry has spent a lot of time since then explaining his position and, some would say, digging himself into a deeper hole. "George W. Bush was wrong again today on Iraq. He claims that I have the same position as he does," Kerry said on September 6. "When it comes to Iraq, I would not have done just one thing differently. I would have done everything differently from this president."

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Bush was quick to respond. "After saying he would have voted for the war even knowing everything we know today, my opponent woke up this morning with new campaign advisers and yet another new position. Suddenly, he's against it again," Bush said. A few days later, he escalated the attack. "One thing about Senator Kerry's position is clear," Bush said on September 10. "If he had his way, Saddam Hussein would still be in power and would still be a threat to the security of America and the world."


Bush has finally found a way to turn Kerry into the opponent he always wanted: Howard Dean.


The presidential race is a choice between two fears: fear of the unknown, and fear of the known. Kerry, like all challengers, is running on fear of the known. "This president rushed to war without a plan to win the peace," Kerry charged, "and he's cost all of you $200 billion that could have gone" to schools, health care, prescription drugs, Social Security.


The Republicans' answer? Fear of the unknown. "If we make the wrong choice," Cheney warned, "then the danger is that we'll get hit again, and that we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating." In other words, elect Kerry and you could get killed.


Democrats were outraged. "Dick Cheney's scare tactics crossed the line," John Edwards charged. "This is un-American." Perhaps, but it's not unheard of. Fear tactics often work against a largely unknown challenger. In 1964, for example, GOP presidential nominee Barry Goldwater was hit by President Johnson's famous "daisy" ad. The message: Elect Goldwater and you could get nuclear catastrophe.


President Carter tried the same thing against Ronald Reagan in 1980. Carter charged that Reagan's "radical and irresponsible course would threaten our security and could put the whole world in peril." In 1984, the Reagan re-election campaign turned the argument against the Democrats with the "bear in the woods" ad: "Isn't it smart to be as strong as the bear?"


Fears had shifted, from Republican recklessness to Democratic weakness. Republicans again exploited fear of weakness in 1988 with an ad showing Democrat Michael Dukakis in a tank: "Now he wants to be our commander-in-chief. America can't afford that risk."


Scare tactics work if they are based on real concerns about a candidate: Goldwater as trigger-happy, Dukakis as wimpy. Are there concerns about Kerry?


In a Newsweek poll, 38 percent said the United States would be more vulnerable to attack if Kerry were elected, while 20 percent said the country would be more vulnerable with Bush as president and 35 percent saw no difference. When the ABC/Post poll asked which candidate would keep the country safer, voters preferred Bush to Kerry by nearly 20 points (54 to 35 percent).


The concern about Kerry's steadfastness is out there. And it has displaced concern over the war in Iraq.

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09/14/04:: Packaging the Bush Doctrine
08/24/04:: Which way do you cut it?
05/02/03:: Dems are more partisan than ever
03/19/03:: Feeling all alone
03/11/03:: Hussein and hope
02/13/03:: Leadership and legitimacy
01/14/03:: Dems can't afford to be bold
01/08/03:: How Bush will reclaim suburban swing voters: The evolution of a political party
12/19/02: Why Gore dropped out --- he never grasped one of politics' most important lessons
12/12/02: The emerging 'tough Democrat'?
12/06/02: Hispanic voting surprises
11/08/02: "President select" no longer: What have the Dems learned?
10/31/02: Can a party without a message or a messenger still win?
10/24/02: Fright Night may come twice this year!
09/24/02: The politically loaded question: "Why now?''
09/19/02: Pundits in the crosswinds
09/10/02: Has Bush lost his momentum?
09/04/02: Bush's European problem
08/13/02: Overdosing on prescription drug promises
08/06/02: The Dems' secret weapon
08/01/02: Time for prez to let Cheney go
07/30/02: GOPers, feeling scared, get realistic
07/18/02: Soccer Moms, say hello to NASCAR Dads
07/11/02: Israel via Alabama
06/20/02: Does the solution fit the problem?
06/13/02: Triggering unintended consequences
06/11/02: Democracy won, the president is saying to our enemies. You got a problem with that?
06/06/02: White House warnings were effective tactical move
05/23/02: Giving the Dems an education on education
05/16/02: Power to the swing voters
04/23/02: The secret formula
04/09/02: Politics Remain Stalemated
03/31/02: Values and gas mileage?
03/25/02: Truly oppressed minorities
03/14/02: Reciprocal hostility
03/07/02: Bush's prudence
02/28/02: Is the 'clash of civilizations' becoming a political reality?
02/28/02: 'Cowboy' or not, Bush has the 'axis of evil' running scared
02/20/02: Could it be that the era of Big Government really is over?
01/31/02: 'Daddy issues' grab center stage
01/15/02: And, they're off
01/09/02: Three 'War Stars' are born
01/04/02: California cluelessness?
12/17/01: Congress' life or death issue
11/27/01: Our reinvigorated spendthrift Congress
11/27/01: Out of War, Peace?
11/14/01: The other war --- the one for public opinion
11/09/01: The mayor of New Yawk and the King of the World
11/07/01: An insurance policy on America
11/02/01: A nation of defiant optimists
10/30/01: Has Bush has flip-flopped on 'nation-building'?
10/23/01: The new political world
10/16/01: The return of big government
10/08/01: On political war
10/01/01: The "born-again" president
09/25/01: Making America squirm
09/14/01: The American spirit will not wane
09/10/01: What Dubya knows about the budget
08/13/01: Japan becomes the latest country to see its politics become personalized
08/09/01: Bush backers out to remake prez yet again
07/30/01: Will the GOP's mandate of 1994 finally runs out?
07/23/01: Both political parties are full of ....
07/16/01: Empowered moderate Republicans
07/09/01: As goes New Jersey, so goes the nation?
07/02/01: Dubya: Like father, like son?
06/15/01: The new soccer moms
06/05/01: Deals or deadlock?
05/29/01: The War Between the States is heating up again
05/21/01: The answer is men
05/10/01: Bush v. Carter?

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© 2002, William Schneider