John Kerry's Comeback
Commentary by Michael Hammerschlag
October 7, 2004

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?


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 he 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 $7 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. 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 its 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 due to the Bush propaganda, and Kerry may not have stomped Bush enough to convince them.

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 the first big scoop on all the media mistakes on Election Night 2000.

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