Yeah, that's for sure.
Sen. Dukakis, or whatever his name is, may or may not be a flip-flopper. He may or may not have exaggerated his SWIFT boat heroism. And he may or may not be better presidential material than the incumbent (our view: Marmaduke is better presidential material than the incumbent), but he clearly has made terrible choices marketing himself as the next commander in chief.
Not since George H.W. Bush's failed 1992 re-election campaign have we witnessed such fecklessness, such indecision, such flailing attempts to define a candidate's positions, his qualities and his overall brand image. It's actually worse than that; the Kerry campaign has taken the candidate's profound political advantages and squandered them.
Consider the new TV ad. It begins black-and-white super slo-mo (i.e., demonizing) footage of President Bush and a voice-over right out of a trailer for a slasher flick:
"George Bush. $200 billion for Iraq. In America, lost jobs and rising health-care costs. George Bush's wrong choices have weakened us here at home. The Kerry plan: Stop tax incentives for companies that ship jobs overseas. Lower health care premiums by up to $1,000 per family. Reduce the deficit to protect Medicare and Social Security."
Let's ignore for a moment that those promises-absent a huge tax increase-are mutually exclusive. Focus on the main argument, that the Iraq war has cost the taxpayer $200 million. Well, yes it has. It has also cost more than 1,000 American lives (and tens of thousands of Iraqi ones.) To ignore that toll to focus on the money not only misses the main political point-an electorate baited and switched into war-but also insults Americans into making Iraq just another pocketbook issue.
Yes, the most greedy of all special interests is the individual voter, who can be counted on to put his own welfare ahead of the commonweal. But how can war protestor John Kerry put dollars ahead of life and death? It's perverse.
It's also the wrong message. The right message is something like this:
Yo, swing voters, you entrusted the American government to compassionate conservatives and instead got reckless extremists. Bush has lost jobs, harmed the environment, tricked us into war, taken away basic liberties, enriched cronies, antagonized the world and stretched the military too thin to battle Al Qaeda-only to create vast safe havens for new terrorists in "liberated" Iraq. And these bunglers want four more years?
No such luck. Instead, the campaign chose to let the Bush-Cheney record speak for itself while Kerry focused on his leadership qualities. Leadership? His compulsive reticence about confronting the administration has put the Democrat constantly on the defensive, easier to knock off balance than a homemade dreidel. And when Karl Rove trots out his retired military pals to cast the war hero as a traitor, suddenly Kerry looks sillier on a SWIFT boat than Dukakis did in a tank.
John Kerry reporting for duty? Like the former National Guardsman he's running against, he seems to have shown up on the wrong base.
Bob Garfield's book, "And Now a Few Words from Me," is now out in paperback by McGraw-Hill.
Shrum, Devine & Donilon and Squier, Knapp, Dunn, Washington
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