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February 9, 2004
Considering the Political Defensive

Since at this point we can consider John Kerry the Democratic nominee, absent a bimbo eruption or scandalous revelation (hint: his Senate record won't be good enough to derail him), it's time to also consider what attracts the Democrats to Kerry and to think about how to counteract it.

Hugh Hewitt today takes Kerry to task over a number of issues, but mostly focuses on the larger war on terror. In his last two paragraphs, he wraps up the argument thusly:

Kerry seems set on a strangely nostalgic course: An anti-war campaign by a Senator who voted for the war. Which is a bit like the war-hero who came back from war only to testify --falsely-- to the war crimes he and his colleagues committed. I get the sad sense that Kerry's going to be campaigning against himself for the next nine months, the sort of self-indulgent psycho-drama that the self-absorbed among the boomers love but which the rest of us view as narcissism.

I think most of the voters will conclude we really can't afford Hamlet as president and thus will reject Kerry decisively. We are in a war. The war goes on. Win the war. Lead the world. Vote Bush-Cheney in 2004.

It's easy to dismiss Kerry as a hypocrite on the war, and Kerry makes it easy by coming up with silly and incredible explanations to avoid saying I changed my mind, which politicians aren't allowed to do without a careful and thorough explanation -- Kerry obviously has none. For Kerry, it's about political expediency rather than philosophy. It doesn't mean that Kerry's position can be so easily dismissed. As I have sat back and watched, to my surprise, a dullard like Kerry win primary after primary and Joe Lieberman fail to win a pledged delegate, it should be fairly obvious by now that Kerry's opposition to the war in Iraq is resonating despite it being an opportunistic position.

Here's how Kerry is doing it. When the Bush administration made its case to Congress, it laid out a series of credible and interconnected cases for going to war against Saddam Hussein, any of which they argued was sufficient casus belli. However, I don't think the administration counted on the public feeling that it was the totality of these conditions becoming the standard by which the war would be judged. When one of the pillars seems to have been knocked out from underneath (although that is far from settled), a good portion of the public has lost confidence in the case as a whole. Kerry, perhaps unconsciously, taps into that uneasy feeling of being wrong and turns it back on the administration as "betrayal", as Al Gore put it over the weekend. He's saying, "Sure I voted for action, but that was because I bought the entire Bush argument. Had I known that one significant part was wrong, I would have voted against it." People don't like to feel mistaken and Kerry's position offers them a way to feel better about themselves, one that many independents may take if they have no intellectual argument to dispute it. This is why attacking Kerry's flip-flop in 2002 won't work -- it just reinforces his "betrayal" argument.

Unless this is addressed firmly and consistently by the White House, the public will lose confidence in our efforts at rebuilding Iraq and in the overall war on terror. The White House needs to get past the WMDs and stop talking about "retaining the capabilities": that horse has already bolted. We need to hear about 17 UNSC resolutions that went unanswered, violations of the cease-fire terms, attacks on the "no-fly" patrols that people have forgotten, the oil-for-food bribes of European governments, and the attempts to purchase missile technology from North Korea, and demonstrate each of these as a casus belli on its own. The Bush administration needs to flood the airwaves on this now, before Kerry's meme becomes an unstoppable force.

Independent voters need what I call "water-cooler arguments," talking points that are easily recalled in order to defend their positions. The partisans on both sides already have theirs, but the partisans aren't enough for either party in November. If Bush doesn't fill the vacuum soon, the administration may lose the battle for the independents before the nominating conventions even close.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 9, 2004 12:25 PM

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