September 05, 2004
I want you to get nasty
Posted by Dale Franks
That's the message to the Kerry campaign from Joe Klein, one of Kerry's most unapologetic supporters in Old Media1.
The message of the week was: You know where Bush stands. You can't be sure about Kerry. But that headline also came with a misleading subhead: Bush is fighting the war against terrorism, and Kerry wouldn't.
Actually, the subhead was, "You have a pretty good idea about what Bush will do. You have no similar clarity about Kerry." And that's not misleading at all.
We actually don't know what John Kerry would do. We know he would fight the war with more sensitivity to our "allies", i.e. France and Germany. We know he feels everything Mr. Bush did on the path to war in Iraq was wrong, and he would've done it differently. But knowing that doesn't tell us much.
What sensitive policies would Mr. Kerry pursue to placate Paris and Berlin? What, precisely, would Mr. Kerry have done differently vis a vis Iraq. We don't know, because Mr. Kerry has been adamant in refusing to give us the answers to these questions. We must wait until he's president, because it would be too dangerous, presumably, to tip his hand at this point.
Wouldn't be prudent at this time.
Apparently, Mr. Kerry expects us to vote for him based on some criteria other than the details of his criticisms of Mr. Bush.
Besides, I'm not sure that the subhead as Mr. Klein states it, is actually incorrect. What we do know of Mr. Kerry indicates that he might not actually prosecute the war on terror very strongly.
Now, we can argue about why Mr. Kerry voted against the Trident, the F-18, SDI, intelligence funding, etc., in the Senate. We can probably parse each vote and come up with some plausible budgetary or political rationale for each vote. But, in toto, his voting record is not one that we would expect from a committed defender of National Security. It is not unreasonable to question why his voting record in the Senate seems to pit him so solidly against funding so many security and intelligence tools. Nor is it unreasonable to form conclusions about his future actions based on his past record.
It was a theme that was pounded from the very start of the convention, and it depended on a sly conflation— the notion that the war in Iraq and the war against the 9/11 terrorists were one and the same. We heard far more about Bush in the World Trade Center rubble than we did about the U.S. in the Iraqi quagmire. And when Iraq was raised, it was done in a deceptive and simpleminded way. Even John McCain, who gave the most serious foreign policy speech of the week, presented a false choice: "Our choice [in Iraq] wasn't between a benign status quo and the bloodshed of war. It was between war and a graver threat."
Actually, there were at least three choices: doing nothing about Saddam, going to war as Bush did or doubling down on the war against al-Qaeda, as Senator Bob Graham and others suggested at the time.
And what was Mr. Kerry's preferred solution? Apparently, based on his most recent position, it would've been to go to war against Iraq. But, you know, differently.
Now, Mr. Klein explicitly presumes that the Iraq War and the War on Terrorism are two discrete wars. That is, at best, a questionable presumption. One could similarly have argued in 1942--and similarly wrongly--that an attack on neutral Vichy France in North Africa was a distraction from our real purpose: opening a second front in Europe.
It might, in fact, be an interesting proposition for debate, in a purely academic sense, at this point, whether the Iraq War was or was not integral to the War on Terror. But, even Mr. Klein recognizes that we won't be having that debate, mainly because Mr. Kerry's position on Iraq has become so...uh...nuanced.
The attacks on Kerry ranged from the reasonable—he certainly has empretzeled himself on Iraq—to the outrageous: Zell Miller's assertion that Kerry would take his orders from Paris. The Miller speech was the ugliest I've ever seen at a convention. It certainly trumped Pat Buchanan's 1992 "culture war" speech, in which the target was an abstract army of social liberals. This was a direct assault on the character and integrity of the Democratic nominee.
All you have to do to get the Left frothing at the mouth now is to say, "Zell Miller". But the charge that Kerry is, shall we say, overly concerned with the opinions of the man sitting in the Elysee Palace, not as specious as Mr. Klein pretends.
Our current coalition in Iraq is one he has derided as a "some trumped-up so-called Coalition of the bribed, the coerced, the bought and the extorted". So, if our current coalition--one, I hasten to add, that contains a majority of our NATO allies, as well as several Asian nations, including Australia, Japan, and South Korea--is illegitimate, who, precisely is it missing?
France and Germany, certainly.
At best, it implies that Mr. Kerry believes that the lack of French and German support delegitimizes our actions in Iraq, although, to be sure, he promises us he would've gone to war in Iraq anyway.
Well, OK, but that raises a lot more questions than it answers. If Mr. Kerry would've gone to war in Iraq anyway, than the support of Germany and France is, at best, a side issue, because he's already conceded the legitimacy of the war in Iraq. One wonders then, how his policy materially differs from the Bush policy he so decries.
Perhaps he assumes that, under a Kerry Administration, he could have convinced the French and Germans to sign on to our coalition. That would be a neat trick, but unfortunately, Mr. Kerry has given us no indication whatsoever as to how he would accomplish this feat of diplomacy.
If, on the other hand, Mr. Kerry believes that our actions in Iraq are delegitimized by the lack of Franco-German support, then I think it's very fair to question whether he would, in fact, give what is a de facto, if not de jure, French veto over our foreign policy.
Of course, a clear explanation by Mr. Kerry would help clear up these questions, but, so far, such explanations have not been forthcoming.
And it followed a familiar G.O.P. attack pattern: like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, Miller wasn't an official part of the Bush campaign. He claims to be a Democrat, and so, several Republicans told me, he was free to say anything he pleased.
Ah, the old familiar GOP attack pattern. Please pay no attention to the antics of the MoveOn.Org crowd with their "Bushitler" t-shirts. That's, like, completely different.
I also like the line about how Mr. Miller "claims" to be a Democrat. He's evidently not a real Democrat, despite having served as an elected official from the Democratic Party for the last 40 years.
I have never seen a presidential campaign in which the strategies of the two parties are so different, and so dreadful. The Republican strategy is to demolish Kerry, posit the President as a man of simple strength and do everything possible to avoid a discussion of Iraq or the effects of globalization on the American economy. The Kerry strategy is to present an "optimistic" candidate with a "positive plan for the future." The Kerry consultants, who actually believe this claptrap and have zero sense of political theater, sound like a bunch of low-budget Ginzu-knife salesmen when they represent their candidate on television: We're offering you a $4,000 college-tuition tax credit and—for no extra charge—a $1,000 reduction in your health-care costs! They also seem to believe this election isn't about the most important decision Bush has made: to go to war in Iraq. Kerry's adherence to that strategy—including the robotic repetition of the words strong and values—has made him seem weak, transparent, a focus-group marionette with neon strings.
Essentially, Mr. Klein is admitting that Mr. Kerry's strategy seems perfectly designed to allow Mr. Bush to characterize him as a poodle of France. But the blame for that strategy lies with no one but Mr. Kerry. Perhaps a clearer strategy on Mr. Kerry's part would make the Bush Campaign's strategy less effective. But to denounce Mr. Bush for taking advantage of Mr. Kerry's inept campaign seems overly tendentious.
After a week of gut-wound assaults on his character, Kerry finally fired back on Thursday night, assailing Bush and Cheney for having avoided service in Vietnam and for having "misled" us into Iraq. The latter may be an exaggeration, but after the G.O.P. assault, Kerry has a right to exaggerate with impunity.
Apparently, Mr. Klein has lived in a cave—or under a rock—for the last four years, and he's missed the whole Bush AWOL, fascist, liar, Hitler comparisons. No, Mr. Kerry has a right to strike back, even viciously, against the assassination of his character by Republicans. Mr. Bush, on the other hand, having apparently served though four years of sweetness and light from his opponents, is simply being unreasonable.
Funny how that works.
Indeed, if he hopes to win, Kerry will have to do much more of that. He will have to become a version of the young John Kerry not celebrated at the Democratic Convention—the eloquent, passionate, uncoached leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War who caused the Nixon White House serious heartburn. Where did that fabulous young politician ever go, anyway?
Apparently, he grew up and became more nuanced.
In any event, I'd be perfectly happy for Mr. Kerry to transform himself into the fiery John Kerry of his VVAW days. I can't imagine a surer path to a Bush landslide than for Kerry to adopt that tactic. Let me join Mr. Klein in urging Mr. Kerry to do precisely that.
It seems to me that the Left has gotten increasingly tone deaf about what the average citizen is looking for. In the aftermath of the 2000 election, Democrats were moaning that the reason Al Gore didn't do better was that he wasn't liberal enough. Now, Mr. Klein suggests that we need to see a revival of Mr. Kerry's VVAW days.
Well, I'm perfectly willing to participate in that experiment. Indeed, I urge it strongly. After all, moving to the Left worked so well for Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, and Mike Dukakis.
Since 1968, the Democrats have elected two presidents. Both of them were southerners that ran as moderates. Apparently, though, there are no lessons to be learned from that history.
1 Note to readers: I've decided to relegate the term "Mainstream Media" to the ash heap of history. It's either Old Media or New Media