September 08, 2004


Robert Kuttner, in today's Boston Globe:

Five big things are wrong, and each can (belatedly) be fixed.

Toughness. First, Kerry waited too long to forcefully criticize Bush's ample defects and vulnerabilities. The campaign's grand strategists made two big decisions for the Democratic convention that seemed like good ideas at the time. First, they decided that the tone needed to be relentlessly positive. This became such a mantra that whenever a rare speaker actually landed a good punch on Bush, TV commentators tsk-tsked that the speaker was "off message."

Please. The whole point of challenging a sitting president is to question his record. Better late than never, but Kerry should have been a lot tougher a lot earlier.

Clarity. The convention's second big mistake was to mistake biography for a strategy. Yes, Kerry needed to be introduced to the broad public, and yes, he needed to be credible as a leader on defens, and yes, his Vietnam record made for a compelling personal story as well as a contrast with Bush.

But they overdid it. Elections are about the competence of the incumbent and the challenger's vision for the future, not about candidate biographies. If they were, Bush never would have been elected (actually, he wasn't elected).

You can't blame Kerry's Vietnam emphasis for the right-wing veterans' smear. That was orchestrated in advance and ready to go in any case. But by overemphasizing Vietnam, the convention message inadvertently reminded voters that Kerry had both fought in the war and then opposed it. Many Americans, of course, did. But in Kerry's case, this could seem another flip-flop.

Most important, the Vietnam focus diverted attention from Kerry's vision for the future. Bush's actual policies and new proposals are so bogus and so disconnected from the problems they purport to solve that Kerry should be having a field day knocking them down and advancing his affirmative vision for America. He needs to stick to a few strong themes.

Too Many Cooks. While I respect most of the people newly brought into the Kerry campaign, I got a sinking feeling in my stomach when I heard of the latest shake-up. If anything, the campaign already has too many hands on the steering wheel. Yes, it's a source of strength to listen to multiple views -- Roosevelt and JFK certainly did. But Kerry needs to clarify the chain of command or the campaign will degenerate into a dynamic where a lowest common denominator defines a feeble consensus position or, worse, positions will shift depending on which adviser is momentarily on top. That dynamic did in Al Gore.

Hostile Media. The press (with some heroic exceptions) continues to cut Bush and the right-wing smears a lot more slack than they cut Kerry. There is no offsetting left-wing Fox.

Likability. Bush is one likable fellow. Some believe it is hard for the candidate who is less likable to utter tough criticisms of a sitting president who is liked personally, even if voters mistrust his policies. But that's just not so.

Each of these problems has the same solution: toughness. If Kerry is much tougher on Bush, he will come across as tougher generally, including on defense -- tough enough to lead. By being decisive, he will lay to rest the sense of a drifting campaign. He will get more respect from the media. And even voters who might prefer to go out for a beer with Bush will take Kerry more seriously as a potential president.

Because the Globe is an objective and independent analyst of the news, here's the link to Kutner's equally slashing criticisms of the pre-prepated slander by Kitty Kelley

(insert sound of crickets chirping)

Posted by Steve at September 8, 2004 03:58 PM | TrackBack

The press (with some heroic exceptions) continues to cut Bush and the right-wing smears a lot more slack than they cut Kerry.

When did that happen? Was I in a coma?

Posted by: Denise at September 9, 2004 04:48 AM

Nope, it just happened in the alternate universe he lives in, not here: fire is cold, water is dry, and mainstream media is filled with reporters and editors who consider themselves conservative.

Posted by: Owlish at September 9, 2004 10:06 AM
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