What’s wrong with the Kerry campaign?

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From the Publisher/Arnold G. York

I’ve been puzzling over that question for weeks now. Is it the campaign or is it Kerry? By now you should all know my prejudices. No one would accuse me of being a great fan of George W. Bush. But surprisingly, especially to me, I’m also even less of a fan of Kerry, and as the campaign has progressed, I’m finding myself even less so.

That’s how I know Kerry is in trouble because if I can’t get excited about him, I suspect some swing voter in Ohio or Florida is going to be even less enthusiastic.

Does that mean that Kerry is finished? The signs are certainly there. He’s slipping in the polls, particularly in key states like Ohio, Michigan, Florida and Pennsylvania. Frankly, the rest of the country, including California, doesn’t count that much because this country is split down the middle. Effectively, we all cancel each other out. But there are certain states that do count-and in those states probable voters are trending toward Bush.

The question is, why?

I think in the final analysis it’s more a question of personality and the public perception of that personality than it is of the actual reality. There is something about Kerry that’s difficult to define. It’s not new. It’s apparently been that way all his life and it’s a consistent theme. Guys that went to prep school with him say the same things that the reporters on the campaign bus are saying. So what do they all say?

For one thing he’s extraordinarily bright. He has Clintonesque intellect, but the problem is that it shows. I suspect that Kerry understands fully the value of being perceived as smart, but not too smart. However, the real intellect keeps pushing through and it’s a political problem for him. The Republican strategists picked up on this because they understand that the American public likes its presidents smart, but not too smart, and likes its issues simple and easy to digest. The fact that a policy may be dead wrong matters less than that if it is clear. The Republicans have painted Kerry as Hamlet, giving the soliloquy, “To be or not to be,” and it has stuck because there is enough truth in it to make it stick.

On the other hand, no one would ever accuse Bush of being Hamlet. He’s an absolutist and he knows what’s right and what to do. How does he know? Because Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld told him so. (Sorry I just couldn’t resist.)

In Bush’s mind we’re winning this war and bringing democracy to the Middle East, and winning the war against terrorism. There is just one thing wrong with that mantra. It’s just not true.

How do I know? Well, for one thing I don’t talk to Rumsfeld and Cheney, which tends to keep my head somewhat clearer than Bush’s. For another thing, I am a little bit older than Bush and I can remember the Vietnamese war, and this entire Iraq scenario is beginning to feel familiar.

I remember how in Vietnam they used to talk about body counts and portions of the country that were pacified as evidence of our winning, and yet the areas of the country where we couldn’t go at night kept growing. Months ago they were talking about how we were pacifying the Iraqis except for an occasional area like Fallouja, a hotbed of Sunni resistance. Now they’re talking about containing the insurgents (mind you not foreign terrorists but insurgents, so the spin has changed). The translation of the poli-speak about Fallouja is we can’t go in without all sorts of casualties, both ours and theirs, so it’s better to just isolate the town for now. OK, I could accept that because Fallouja was always a hotbed of resistance. Now in today’s Los Angeles Times there was a lead story that another town, Ramadi, was en route to becoming another Fallouja with abductions and killings. One begins to wonder what town is next.

What’s going to happen next, I predict, is that the Shiites are going to rise up to fight us, and Shiite towns are going to begin to be off-limits also. And the reason I know this is because the Shiites can’t just sit back and allow the Sunni to be the only ones attempting to free the country from the perceived American oppressor. They’ve all got their eye on the next government and there is no way they can allow the other side to show bigger cajones because that’s the way democracy is played in the Middle East.

Thursday is the first debate, really more of a joint appearance, but most of all it’s a bully pulpit. Kerry’s campaign is weakening but there is still time to comeback. For one thing, ironically enough, expectations about Kerry have been lowered, so any kind of decent performance is going to exceed expectations. But Kerry must grab the initiative and bluntly and articulately make his case why our current Iraq position is untenable and how he would fix it. If he can do it, then frankly he’s probably back in the game. If he can’t, then he’s probably going to lose, and the country will continue to be run by Bush.