Fixing the Kerry Campaign

Column No. 31 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH-  September 15, 2004 I had said that I would not again get into this topic.  Many observers write on it, and a few, like our own Michael Carmichael, write on it very well.  But as of the time of this writing, the Kerry Campaign is in deep trouble, so I am putting in my two cents.  Not that anyone in the Campaign will pay any attention to what I say, or to similar thoughts expressed by others who are not part of the magic inner circle of (more often than not) losers.  But at least I will feel better.

In a reasonably rational country with some historical sense, with a reasonably rational media, and a party running against him with some reasonable devotion to telling the truth, Kerry would win easily.  Why?  The disasters of the Georgites (as I like to call them) are legion and only too well-known.

In foreign policy, Iraq, the substitution of unilateralism for multilateralism, the adoption of an open policy of preemptive war (in contravention of the UN Charter), unalloyed support for Sharonist expansionist policy in Israel/Palestine, the abject decline of the American position and prestige in the world, and so on and so forth.  In economic policy, massively cutting taxes for the rich, while massively expanding spending so that in a breathtakingly short period of time, we face the largest budget deficits and national debt in our history, all accompanied by a massive expansion of private domestic debt and increase in foreign commercial debt, so that many traditional fiscally-conservative Republicans, not to mention the rest of us, are terrified of the long-term consequences, and so and so forth.

In the matter that I personally am most concerned with, the preservation of traditional American Constitutional Democracy, the Georgites have gone after it with a vengeance (obviously not realizing the totally painful irony that they claim to be in Iraq to "establish democracy and freedom," while they are doing their damnedest to stamp it out here at home).  Consider: the “Patriot Act” (because of its length and complexity obviously written sometime before 9/11 --- it could not possibly have been written in the two weeks between the horror and the date on which it was introduced to the Congress), allows the President, entirely on his own authority, to deny US citizens: protection against unreasonable search and seizure (the 4th amendment gone), the right to the due process of law (the 5th amendment gone) and the right to a speedy jury trial in a criminal case (the 6th amendment gone).  The so-called “gay marriage” amendment would gut the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment.  And this President is ignoring Congress by the use of Executive Orders on major matters, like the reorganization of our intelligence services, to a degree previously unheard of, even in a wartime actually declared by Congress, the only way war can be declared, under the Constitution, thus unilaterally and very significantly altering the system of checks and balances.  The deficiencies of the Georgites in the above three realms are matched in every other one, as readers of TPJ know only too well.

Given the record of the Georgites, how can Kerry win, electorally?  As I have been saying for months, Kerry can win, and win easily, if he can mobilize a significant number of people who ordinarily don’t vote, as I am fond of saying, “getting 20% of the 50%.”  He will also benefit from increasing the number of Republicans who for any number of reasons have determined to vote for “Anybody But Bush,” the so-called “ABBs” (which includes many well-educated Republicans who do vote regularly.) The mother lode for Kerry, Bob Shrum and colleagues to the contrary notwithstanding, is thus not the ever-shrinking number of “undecideds.”  To court folks who are still on the borders, you need to stay on the borders, exactly where you don’t want to be to get significant numbers of both usual non-voters and ABBs to the polls to vote for you.

What to do, then, strategically?  As I have also been saying for months, the single most important element is gaining and maintaining control of the political agenda.  Kerry had control of it, until mid-summer.  But since the middle of August, the Republicans very cleverly changed it.  They know what they are doing, and they know very well that if the agenda is George Bush and his horrible recording office, they will lose.  So get the focus off Bush, using, occasionally, truth, like the Senator’s voting record, irrelevant to the present time, but true, and, much more often, lies, both about Kerry (as with the Swift Boat Brownshirts) and about what is going on in the world, in Iraq, our economy, our environment, our education system, and so on and so forth. These people are masters of Goebbles' “Big Lie” technique: tell a big lie, but keep telling it over and over again, and people will come to believe it, as in Cheney and the fictitious al-Qaeda/Saddam link.

To get the agenda back onto Bush, it seems to me, and many other observers who actually get quoted in the newspapers, that the Campaign needs to adopt a single common theme designed to accomplish that task.  I suggest learning from Karl Rove, beyond Lee Atwater’s “always attack, never defend.”  Attack, alright, but make sure to focus your attack on your opponent's strength, not his weaknesses.  Of course, if you cannot do that truthfully, you use lies. But one has to admit, that using their privatized Ministry of Propaganda, otherwise known as Fox “News” Channel, the Washington Times, and most of political talk radio, which managed to make a pack of lies about John Kerry’s war record into a “controversy,” they have done this very well.  Well, let's learn from them, and let's make the single theme of the last 45 days Bush's core issue, "trust."

Thus I propose as the central theme, which the Campaign has indeed dipped in and out of, from time to time, but now to be the primary, unending focus: “You Cannot Trust George Bush.”  In the following list, the details of what George Bush has done and not done can be filled in by any reader of this column.  And so here is simply a list of topics for Kerry to hammer away on, but always being sure that the nail his hammer is hitting on is: “You Cannot Trust George Bush:”

*             As detailed in the Report of the 9/11 Commission, the Georgites did not prepare in any way for 9/11 despite everything from a very strong “heads-up” from Richard Clarke just after they took over to the Presidential Daily Briefing of August 6, 2001, to the request from the FBI for a vast increase in counter-terrorism funds that Ashcroft turned down on 9/10.

*              Bush lied about the reasons for invading Iraq.  “Bringing freedom and democracy” is a “Johnny-come-lately,” following the exposure of no WMD and no links to al-Qaeda as false reasons.  Does anyone think that if he had presented the former as the reason for invading, even this supine Congress would have given him the go-ahead?

*              Bush lied about how easy it would be to install a pro-Western democracy there, once the (initially easy) military battle was won.  “Mission Accomplished” and what it does not mean says it all.

*              Bush told us that he would create the conditions for democracy in Afghanistan.  Generally, outside of Kabul there is none, many of the old war-lords are back in place and in some parts of the country, the Taliban is making a comeback.

*            Bush promised “compassionate conservatism.”  Tell that to the rapidly increasing ranks of persons living below the poverty line, the growing ranks of the permanently unemployed, the swelling ranks of persons without health insurance, the expanding number of job-takers who find that their jobs do not happen to come with health-care benefits.

*            Why trust Bush when he doesn't trust the voters?  He was originally against having any kind of 9/11 commission, has put off the report of his own investigation of the intelligence agencies and their possible failures until after the elections, hides any information, even attendance lists, about meetings affecting everyone’s future, like that of the famous Cheney energy task force, provides for skyrocketing amounts of government classification, plummeting amounts of government data gathered that are actually released, a stone wall response to Freedom of Information Act requests, and so and so forth.

*            He promised straight talk, tax reductions for everyone, smaller government, environmental protection, disengagement from nation building abroad.  He trumpets as successes programs the funding of which he is cutting to the bone. And on and on.

You get the picture.  The data on the Bush record, beginning with what he promised in the 2000 campaign, is there for the taking.  The Kerry Campaign needs to take and use it.  The Kerry Campaign needs once again, as it was doing well in the Spring, to make Bush the agenda.  It is the only way to win, and if they can somehow manage to do it, they will win.  And so will we.