Friday, April 02, 2004

Kerry Must Fight Now 

Dear Kerry Campaign,

Your recent responses to Bush administration "jabs" on taxes and gasoline prices sounded weak and ineffective. (For instance, have you publicly cited the 1999 Fortune magazine article in which Gregory Mankiw, Bush's chief economist, calls vehemently for a 50 cent per gallon gasoline tax hike?) The good news for you is that in the big picture, this election will not be won or lost on the issues of taxes or gasoline prices, two issues that are indeed important in most Americans' minds.

The media has recently been chattering about the effectiveness of the Bushies' ad campaign to "define" Kerry as a "flip-flopping, tax-friendly Massachusetts liberal." While the Bushies are agreed to have "done some damage" to Kerry's image with these attacks, the good news for you is that--once again--the election will not be won or lost on the question of the "consistency" of Kerry's Senate record, or even his tax policies.

IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS: the central strategy of the Bush campaign is to relentlessly insinuate, through a number of outlets and in varying degrees of explicitness, that A VOTE FOR KERRY IS A VOTE FOR THE TERRORISTS. This is the "issue" on which the campaign will be won or lost.

In a recent comment in the New Yorker magazine, Mark Danner notes that "America has endured fierce electoral struggles over war and peace before, most recently over Vietnam in 1968. This 'war on terror' campaign, however, in its focus on the critical question of 'Who can make us safer?,' may come to more closely resemble the Red-baiting campaigns of the fifties or the elections after the Civil War in which rivals 'waved the bloody shirt.'"

In other words, it's dirty as only it can get when the stakes are as high as they've become.

This is not news to me, to you, or to anyone who has been paying attention to American politics since 2002. You have known all along how desperate the Bush administration is to hold onto the power they have claimed. You are fully aware of the extent of the slander, demagoguery, and outright lies they will promulgate in order to defeat Kerry. It's old news. It's our reality. Will you fight it--or will you sit back and watch the carnage unfold?

Make no mistake about it: Senator Kerry won the Democratic primaries precisely by his tactic of confronting the enemy directly and forcefully; his "Bring It On" battle cry galvanized voters across the country and won our trust that we were electing a clear-eyed fighter with no delusions about the nature of the fight he faced.

Where has that fighter gone? "Bring It On" has had its day--already that electrifying slogan has faded in the ears of Americans. What is the new slogan?


I hope you realize the urgency of this question. The life of Kerry's campaign depends upon it. Because for the last few weeks, even as the Bush administration has faced unprecedented criticism that cuts to the heart of its strategy to define Bush as the strongest, most trustworthy leader in the war against terrorism, the Bushies' attack on Kerry has flowed on beneath the radar of our national discourse, insinuatory and unceasing: A VOTE FOR KERRY IS A VOTE FOR THE TERRORISTS.

The silence from your camp has been deafening. If Kerry cannot "go on the offensive" now and "redefine" Bush, at a time when the credibility of every major figure in the Bush administration has come publicly into question--when can he? Things may yet get worse for Bush in the weeks and months ahead. But surely you can see that they are not going to get any easier for Kerry.

You need a battle-cry, and you need it immediately. I suggest the following:


That's just my take. I'm not a professional strategist; surely someone in your camp can come up with something better. But it must succinctly, directly, and forcefully call out Bush for what he is: A LIAR AND A WEAK LEADER. I firmly believe that if your campaign cannot or will not do this, Kerry will lose the election.

(This is not to say that Kerry does not also need a positive vision as a counterpart to his attack on Bush. The positive vision must also come in the form of a succinct, easily-graspable and disseminable theme. But without the attack line, the positive line is useless. Kerry's attack on Bush's credibility and defense leadership MUST BE the framework upon which his positive vision will be built and shown forth.)

You must act now and with all the resources at your disposal. And your campaign can no longer plead lack of funds. You have raised $43 million in the last quarter, shattering all records for a Democratic candidate. And I have no reason to believe your campaign won't raise even more money in the present quarter.

If $40 million cannot buy you a voice for your message that Bush is a liar--and a weak liar--then nothing will. And nothing else will be worth buying.

I wish you the best in your efforts to reclaim the warrior image that Kerry promised us in January and February. I wish you the best in your efforts to show all Americans what many of us are increasingly willing to
acknowledge Bush is, and to inspire in us the courage to believe it.

Those of us who watched the young Mr. Kerry's impassioned and eloquent testimony before Congress on the question of the government's failed leadership during Vietnam, re-broadcast on C-Span last month, were shown anew that Kerry can have--has had--the heart and mind (and tongue) of a truly great American leader.




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