“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, September 18, 2004


The second term

LI would like to think that the defeat of George Bush is still a good bet. But we can’t trick our gut feeling. That our worst president – vacuous, dishonest, corrupt – is going to really win, instead of fake win, this election fills us with political despair. It is as though we’d been condemned to eke out the rest of our life on a diet of nothing but potato chips. Endless non-nutrition.

However, the polls record the obvious. Kerry’s strategy for defeating Bush has been a series of unbelievable miscalculations. It has not only eroded Kerry’s own image as a “leader” – those questions about leading the country can go up or down – but it has locked in an image of him as a loser. The worst numbers for Kerry are not in the for or against categories – they are in the question about who is going to win. This is a measurement of the sense of the race. The only way to dislodge an incumbent is to make the incumbent seem vulnerable. Here are the latest NYT numbers:

“The poll found that 61 percent of respondents expected Mr. Bush to win the election this fall; in March, shortly after Mr. Kerry clinched the Democratic nomination, just 44 percent thought Mr. Bush would win.”

The last election left a widespread taste of coup in the mouth. Coups work not so much because the coup’s leadership is popular as because the coup projects an image of inevitability. The image of force, of there being no alternative, has the effect of keeping people who oppose established power below the threshold where that dissatisfaction magically transforms itself from an intellectual mood into social action.

One wonders: what was the thinking behind making Kerry a Vietnam hero? The man’s credentials spring not from what he did to gain his medals, but from his coming home and articulating the reasons the Vietnam war was evil. And, in fact, his Senate career was not a mindless jog. Kerry’s book about terrorism, which he put out in the nineties, should have been the center of portraying the man as a leader against terrorism, and should have been contrasted with Bush's own record at every turn. He could well have pointed to it, and pointed to the inability of the present administration to constrain Al Qaeda and its affiliated terrorist network, and hammered Bush at every appearance with the demand that Al Qaeda be taken care of. Apparently, the Dems are so paralyzed by the idea of an October surprise that they have colluded, out of fear, in keeping Osama bin Laden's name out of this race.

The coulda beens pile up. He could have made the 9/11 commission’s report into what it actually was – a searing indictment of Bush. He could have turned around the rightwing meme about law enforcement as a mamby pamby way of “warring” against terrorism by showing that the real criteria in judging the war against terrorism is whether it works or not – not whether it is tough enough or not. As Kerry should know – I get this from his own book – terrorist organizations of the Al Qaeda variety rely on the same cell structure that the Mafia relied on. The victories over the Mafia in the nineties were achieved by international cooperation between law enforcement groups in Italy, Brazil, the UK, the USA, and other countries. They pooled information, for one thing, coordinated trials, coordinated investigations, and eventually rooted out the patrons of the Mafia. His book could have put real flesh on the hollowness of Kerry's line about internationalizing Iraq. By not foregrounding the criticism of Iraq in the larger criticism of the war on terror, Kerry essentially handed the issue to Bush.

Instead of playing to his strength, Kerry played to his weakness – his desire to pander. Pandering to the testosterone charged veteran constituency of Bush’s was never going to pick them off – it was simply going to get them talk radio riled against the anti-war protestor.

All of which means – it is time for lefties to start thinking about the landscape of Bush’s second administration. We’ll consider this in some posts next week.

PS -- there's a nice discussion of this over at Pierrot's Folly.

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