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What Should Kerry Do Next?

Sunday, September 05, 2004
I tried to post yesterday, but the system crashed so I have to write it all over again. Oh well.

In the aftermath of the Swiftboat Smear, the Republican National Convention , and the apparent Bush bounce in the polls, a lot of Democrats are worried about the election. There is a great deal of hand-wringing, which is overwrought and not helpful. But there is also some strategizing as to what we should do next.

First, the polls: Bush got a bigger bounce from a few of the overnight polls that I would have expected, but it is certainly not time to freak out. We won't know where the race really is until next week. Furthermore, Kerry's real position won't be determined until the debates. It is there that voters decide whether someone is capable of being President. Until then, Bush's numbers are probably inflated.

Now we can turn to some of the advice that Kerry is getting. Generally, Democrats want him to be more aggressive. Was I the only one who watched his speech on Thursday night? And did anyone catch Joe Lockhart on Sunday morning, or see any of the anti-Bush ads that are being released? Kerry has been extremely tough. So I don't think we need to worry on that front.

The question remains on how we should be aggressive. The NYT reports that a lot of Dems think we should focus on domestic issues. I'm not sure that relying strictly on domestic issues is a winner, because we tried that in 2002 and it didn't work very well. Certainly domestic policy is crucial, but it can't be our exclusive focus. On the other hand, Kevin Drum and Digby have thrown up their hands and decided we should get dirty. Now it might be emotionally satisfying to attack the character of our opponents, but this has two major flaws. First, we are supposed to be the good guys- if we will say anything to win, are we really any better than the Republicans. Tough is one thing, but demagogy is going too far. Secondly, the virtue of being liberal is that we are right: we don't have to lie. All we have to do is tell the truth in a forthright, coherent, and persuasive way.

So what should Kerry do? I believe he needs to make a general indictment of Bush's competence both on foreign and domestic policy. These guys have had four years of mistakes, mismanagement, and broken promises. Iraq was a good idea in theory, tax cuts might be a good idea if done properly, but these guys are a bizarre mix of a) ignorant, b) incompetent, and c) in hoc to greedy corporations. I could get more specific, but you get the idea. This attack both undermines people's faith in the President (one of his most important assets) and creates a segue to talking about what we would do specifically.

If this strategy sounds obvious, it is. And the good news is that there is every indication that Kerry is embracing this strategy. I would have wished that he would also talk about a few Big Ideas, but you can't have everything. Remember, the structural basis of the election is still in our favor. We just need to close the deal.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 4:47 PM
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