Thursday, September 09, 2004

Kerry's Iraq Position "In Sharper Focus"

John Kerry had strong words for George Bush in Cincinnati, Ohio yesterday, on, of all things, the subject of Iraq. Conventional wisdom was that Kerry's new strategy was to focus on domestic issues, that with his August stumbles, he had essentially ceded the Iraq issue to Bush, unable to form a distinct stance on the war from that of the president. We learned earlier this year how John Kerry deals with conventional wisdom, of course...he shatters it, which goes back to his almost mythic reputation as a strong closer in all of his Senate elections. So I guess we shouldn't be surprised to see him taking the unexpected path here. And it already seems to be paying dividends.

Arianna Huffington, in her newest column, says:

It was a great relief to hear Kerry slam Bush on Iraq, and ignore the siren song of those advising him to cede the foreign policy front to the president and stick to domestic issues. This, of course, is the same strategy Democrats followed in 2002, when they went along with Bush on Iraq in the hope they could take it off the table as a campaign issue and win on the economy. And we all remember how well that turned out. For the GOP.
And an editorial in the Cincinnati Enquirer, a notoriously conservative paper, says this about his remarks:

Sen. John Kerry, speaking Wednesday in Cincinnati, aimed his strongest slams yet at President Bush's "wrong choices" on Iraq. At Union Terminal, where Bush in October 2002 asked for Congress' OK to strike Saddam Hussein if necessary, Kerry said he would have done almost everything differently than the president. The senator's speech sharpens the differences between the candidates on foreign policy and domestic programs. It was a relief to move past mudslinging over Vietnam-era military service and hear some substantive argument.

So what is Kerry doing differently? He's focusing on the cost of the war and the ramifications of that at home. Wow, perhaps even more importantly, he finally has a message you can put into one sentence.

From his speech:

$200 billion for Iraq but they tell us we can't afford after-school programs for our children. $200 billion for Iraq but they tell us we can't afford to keep the hundred thousadn police officers we put on the street in the 1990s.
As The Wall St. Journal puts it:

In the past month, President Bush successfully altered the political calculus on Iraq, turning it from a vulnerability into an asset in his re-election campaign. By focusing on costs, and the cutbacks the war has forced in domestic programs, Mr. Kerry aims to change that equation.

A new ad, "Wrong Choices", reiterates this point.

The ad's script:

George Bush: $200 billion for Iraq. In America, lost jobs and rising health care costs. George Bush's wrong choices have weakened us here at home. The Kerry plan: Stop tax incentives for companies that ship jobs overseas. Lower health care premiums by up to $1,000 per family. Reduce the deficit to protect Medicare and Social Security.
As The Washington Post sees it:

This is the first ad in which Kerry has tried to link Iraq with domestic priorities, suggesting that if he had his way, the $200 billion spent on the war could have been better spent at home.

The beauty of this strategy is that he takes one of Bush's strong issues, challenges him on it, and then turns it into a conversation about domestic issues, which are Kerry's strength and where the debate must end up for Kerry to win. As Al Hunt says in today's Wall St. Journal:

Mr. Kerry is not going to win the commander-in-chief issues; challengers never do. But he needs to temper some of the patently phony Bush-Cheney campaign claims before moving on to issues of his choice.

Then, barring unforseen events, it's hard to see how voters won't gravitate more to the economy and jobs' concerns by October. The Bush administration tries to obfuscate a dreadful record -- blaming it on 9/11 -- or just claims disappointing news is good news, witness the bragging about last month's mediocre unemployment record.

The Democratic nominee has a plethora of issues to capitalize on in the next seven and a half weeks. It requires discipline, focus and toughness.


Blogger calvin said...

quite an informative bit and pretty much relates to my field of interest. if you find time sir, please go through my blog as well.the fact that bush has succeeded in turning his greatest vulnerability into his greatest asset is a grim reminder of our weakness to get carried away by the industry that manages public opinion.

3:21 PM  

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