KERRY's COMEBACK                                  by Michael Hammerschlag   Oct 2-16, 2004

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John Kerry leaped back into the race with a bravura performance against the President, but failed to deliver a fatal blow with his greatest weapon: Bush's pathological dishonesty. Bush has been so successful in defining Kerry as weak, waffling, cowardly, and untrustworthy that his entire 10 point rise since the Repub. Convention was based on it. These were intimate, vicious, dishonest attacks on Kerry's character; and required a powerful personal response- a roundhouse that would knock Bush out of the ring.

And Jim Lehrer, bless his heart, gave him the fat softball, right down the middle of the plate. But Kerry stepped out of the box.

LEHRER: "You have repeatedly accused President Bush of ...lying ... about Iraq. Give us some examples of ... his not telling the truth." KERRY: "Well, I've never used the harshest word. ..he told Congress about nuclear materials that don't exist.. he said he would exhaust the remedies of the UN.. he misled ...when he said we'd plan carefully ..(and) go to war as a last resort."

That was it. Nothing about the WMD's that didn't exist, "the smoking gun of a mushroom cloud", the humble foreign policy, the balanced budget, the uniter not a divider, the dozens of monstrous blatant screaming lies. JFK was solid, macho, scholarly, concise, Presidential, polite; but what the public needed and wanted was toughness. Bush needed to be punished for his cheapjack slanders. He should have INTERRUPTED Bush when he lied about Saddam-Osama links: "I know Osama attacked us! I know that."

"Then why did you LIE about their connections again and again. Why did you INVADE another country and kill 40,000 people based on baloney? How can we believe anything you say?"

It is quite likely Bush would have completely cracked, regressing to some fatal childish phrase.

Kerry has to focus on a single theme (like Bush did with inconsistency)- that Bush lies- every Administration statement can be successfully mined for evidence of this. It also would inoculate Kerry from the outrageous slanders that Bush concocts (including the Swift Boat Bushies). Chuckle them off: "See, there he goes again.", rather than whine about unfair attacks. Once one overcame the media barrier to that word, the press would finally start to analyze Bush's serial lies- they would be in play. Why did Kerry vote for the resolution against Iraq? BECAUSE BUSH LIED TO US! No candidate has ever had a fatter target than the dishonesty and corruption of the Bush Administration, but Kerry initially handcuffed himself with the high-road positive-image strictures that I think did in Al Gore, who could have dissected Bush like a biology class frog in the debates. Exposing Bush's LIES also undercuts (the inexplicable) public confidence in his leadership and supposed strength. It isn't mean- after the blizzard of Administration lies... it's necessary.

The second theme should be corruption - the $10 bil Veep/Halliburton contracts and sleazy overcharging (running empty trucks through the desert), the great Cal. energy robbery and Enron enrichment, the payoffs to drug, insurance, credit card companies. This flip-flop thing can be turned right around on Bush, from his wildly varying claims about Osama/Saddam connections, to his sudden acceptance of global warming, to his rejection and courting of the UN.

 The one big lesson of my political experience is that you have to respond to an unfair attack within 5 days. I watched Hart be disemboweled by the idiot "Where's the Beef" ads in 2 weeks. One third of people will believe any negative attack UNLESS it's immediately refuted, but Kerry ignored the flip-flop charges for many weeks.

It was agonizing to see the missteps the campaign was making, from the prohibition against attacking Bush at the Vietnam-fest Convention. Kerry just got a black woman national security advisor spokesperson named RICE- another bizarre imitation of Bush, like speaking at hostile venues right after Bush. John Kerry has been tied in knots over Iraq and his shifting positions towards it, especially when he said he would have supported the war even knowing there were no WMD's. To an extent that's inevitable: criticizing an unwise war does undermine it, and open the candidate to charges of encouraging the resistance, which Bush is furiously pushing. When Bush admitted the WAR on TERROR would never end, Kerry should have jumped all over it: "Yes, because you invaded Iraq and turned 50 thousand potential terrorists into 50 million". Instead he did a nyeah nyeah gotcha, "Oh you can't say that- I will WIN the war on terrorism." But the phrase was chosen for it's limitless possibilities, like the War on Drugs, terror will never end and never be defeated. Had we concentrated everything we had, we may well have crushed Al Qaeda within the next 2 years. With his reckless Oedipal invasion into the heart of the Muslim world, Bush may have created a generational religious war that will see hundreds of thousands of Americans die.

Kerry was masterful against a vapid repetitive distracted Bush, who didn't seem to realize he was on camera. But much of electorate are now uninformed dopes who've ingested many helpings of propaganda, and Kerry may not have stomped Bush enough to convince them.

NOTE: This was mostly written before the first debate and transmitted to a top Kerry advisor.

Stylewise the Edwards-Cheney debate was a tie; Edwards seemed nervous, blinking like a semaphore (maybe didn't practice under hot TV lights), and relatively tentative. The consummate lawyer who had slayed innumerable corporate dragons for millions of dollars, seemed to defer to the most extreme corporate villain. Edwards tried to bring Cheney to justice for his many deceptions, but Cheney hammered back, drawing blood with Edwards apparent horrible Senate attendance record. In a harbinger of fatal danger, the ice may be cracking under the weight of Bush's Iraq lies- the post spin nailed the malignant slandering Veep for his stupid claim that he'd never seen Edwards before, and the amazing lie that he had never claimed links between Saddam and Osama. Edwards slickly praised Cheney for his "acceptance" of his gay daughter (take that, Moral Majority) as Cheney struggled to restrain the searing rage he must have felt. Uncle Dick has been so relentlessly negative in his vicious attacks against Kerry, constant alarmist scare tactics, and blatant untruths- that the press corps really dislike him. Dick tried to count the Iraqi losses as coalition losses (they count if they're fighting us?), but that could have been turned by just asking what the casualties were in the entire war. This administration won't even tell us how many people we killed, a sad thing in a democracy (My guess is 40-50K total). Edwards could have said: "The global test is the SMELL TEST for rotten cooked Intelligence. YOU went down to the CIA 10 times to pressure them to change their intelligence to say Iraq was a threat; then when the occupation became a disaster, you BLAME the CIA. This Administration takes NO RESPONSIBILITY for anything and never admits mistakes. It's ALWAYS someone else's fault."

2nd KERRY debate was another near knockout by JFK, he categorically shredded and dissected every Bush claim and position, but since Bush did better than his disastrous first outing (which resulted in a 5-8 point poll shift), spinners tended to see the contest as even. But Bush was angry, defensive, sputtering, incoherent at points (several sentences were complete gibberish), and kept flashing that unpleasant pained smug smirk like a facial tick. Bush's awesome vacuity was evident as he returned to his simple flip-flop attack theme at every question, "You can't be a leader and change your mind."- but had little else to say. He pluralized "the INTERNETS" in a display of how out of touch this clown is- he not only doesn't read any newspaper or magazine; he probably has never spent any real time on the Internet.

3nd KERRY debatewas a relative tie, although of course Kerry had the far better arguments. JFK takes definative cheap shot in bringing up Mary Cheney out of blue, stupid when there are a thousand points of dark to blacken Bush with. <"#nov1">

Nov 1 NEWS - Have been beset by sporadic depression over last week- Bush message is simply and brutal- Kerry is a weakling, whereas Kerry ridicules the President for multiple failures without beating him down for the personal slanders and personal cowardice. Kerry seems to have brought a knife to a gun fight, and it does beg the question "If he can't handle a junkyard dog like Bush, how can he handle OBL?" It was dueling commercial animals: wolves vs eagles, but where was the LIAR ad showing the snickering Bush looking under a lecture table for the WMD's, "are they under here?". With Bush's disasterous decisions, Kerry should be 5-8 points ahead at this point. The great evildoer himself weighed in with a suprisingly diplomatic message that had everyone scratching their heads. 'We don't attack America because we hate your freedom', he said, 'but because you attack us'. He seemed to offer almost a truce if we would desist, very different from his earlier stark ultimatums. Unclear was his Presidential preference, but his lack of election day threat argues against Bush. Think his appearance was a wash in effect- "keep the same horse" balances "punish the incompetent Pres who didn't catch him".

POLLS: While most polls have Bush ahead 1 to 4 points, they don't take into account the huge volume of new voters or young cellular users who don't appear on the pollsters lists. Also last time, when Gore won, Bush had a greater lead. Zogby- the only accurate one last time- has Kerry dead tied or 1 point ahead.
OHIO Challengers: If Ohio Bushmen get some federal judge to overturn the decision banning voter challengers in the polling places, Dems need to respond with Teamster challenger challengers at every site, willing to physically convince vote intimidators of the error of their ways. Otherwise it could be the DeLay staffer riot that stopped the Miami vote count. Goons beat lawyers (and sometime need to). The last minute technique comes from Repubs sending mail to all new voters and getting some back undeliverable, but truth be told many people arenít registered in their current address. Voter rolls tend to be the most stable address people have, not changed while they move around the country for school or jobs, itís where people think of themselves as being from. Understood and acknowledged, this isnít fraud or improper- itís the way the voting system has always worked- people have a right to vote where they consider home is. The Repubs then cherry pick only Dems to challenge in their sleazy desperate ploy to disenfranchise voters.

FLORIDA FOLLIES: In talking to Ft Lauderdale voters who waited 3 hours in line Monday to vote early, before giving up, it was obvious Florida election officials screwed up again- they only opened a few polling places rather than the full roster for Election Day. Hopefully this won't convince give-ups to not try again today, when things should be easier than 2000. The dangerous electronic voting machines and optical machines should be faster, and massive absentee and early voting will remove millions of bodies from the Election Day booths. The 60,000 lost absentee ballots probably won't be replaced or counted, though they can do provisional ballots. I suspect this was either some Repub weasels in the Post Office, or simply guys who tried to reduce their work load. If they wanted to trash votes, they should have done it when they were returned and loss undetectable (but of course then they wouldn't be in a convenient bundle). Still, it stinks when this just coincidentally happens in about the most Dem county in America. Relax, Jake. It's only Florida. Anything can happen in this election, but probably whoever wins OHIO, wins the ball of wax.

Michael Hammerschlag's commentary and articles ( have appeared in Seattle Times, Providence. Journal, Columbia Journalism Review, Hawaii Advertiser, Capital Times, MediaChannel; and Moscow News, Tribune, Times,  and Guardian. He's been a TV reporter, foreign correspondent, and produced documentaries. He reported on the media savaging of Howard Dean, and had the first big scoop on all the media mistakes on Election Night 2000.