Saturday, October 30, 2004
Everyone has seen or heard about the OBL tape, I'm sure. The real question that has us all in a tizzy is what the political impact will be. The conventional wisdom seems to be that any mention of terrorism or OBL helps Bush. It could certainly turn out this way, but it doesn't necessarily have to. Kerry has a real opportunity to damage Bush by reminding voters that the only reason Osama is still around to threaten them is W's incompetence. There is already a latent frame in place on this issue- such an attack dovetails nicely with the pre-existing Democratic critique. The fumbling at Tora Bora and the distraction of Iraq, the deliberate displacement of Osama for Saddam, the failure to adequate support homeland security- all of these points could be reinforced if Kerry uses the Osama reappearance to his advantage. So this event need not undermine Kerry's candidacy. In fact, it could clinch it.
In 1980, Reagan secured the Presidency when he asked Americans a simple queston: are you better off now than you were four years ago? The answer was obvious, and Carter was defeated. Kerry has a similar opportunity. The new question is: are you safer now than you were two years ago? The answer to both of these questions is the same, and both remind the voters of how the incumbent president has failed them. Bush has had over three years since 9/11 to make America more secure. Even if we spot him an extra year to get his policies in place, he has still failed. We are in as much danger, if not more danger, than we were. There is only one place to allocate the responsibility. This is what we used to call in high school debate a decision rule: a principle that can be used for weighing arguments. Kerry has the chance now to enunciate one, and to provide hesitant voters with the rationale they are looking for. Let's hope he does so.