The Right Coast

September 05, 2004
Commentary on Joe Klein
By Tom Smith

I interject some comments (in italics) on Klein's piece in Time magazine below.

Saturday, Sep. 04, 2004
Tearing Kerry Down
The challenger's only hope is to get as nasty as the Bush campaign
(or else miraculously grow a more appealing personality)

It should be noted that, after a long, lifeless recitation of an illusory domestic policy, George W. Bush's acceptance speech at the Republican Convention came alive when the President gleefully skewered John Kerry's foolish claim to be the candidate of "conservative values."
Presumably Republicans should skewer their opponents the way Democrats do, in a pompous, self-righteous way. It was the pivotal moment of the speech. From there, Bush went on to his favorite topic—his decisiveness in the war against terrorism, the need to stand firm, the need to be plainspoken. And everybody knows how silly it would be to stand firm against terrorism! For those who hadn't fallen asleep during the domestic policy trudge, Does being too drunk to follow it count? Because that would eliminate the rest of the mainstream press.
this was a very effective speech—and it followed a very effective, if sometimes sleazy convention. And I, as an objective, detatched, unusually intelligent journalist, am a big enough man to admit. I know effective when I see it, which is why I can write like this. I write good upsucky novels about Democrats, too! The message of the week was: You know where Bush stands. You can't be sure about Kerry. But that headline also came with a misleading subhead: Bush is fighting the war against terrorism, and Kerry wouldn't. I agree, it is unfair. A fairer headline would have been, Bush will fight war on terror; Kerry might.
It was a theme that was pounded from the very start of the convention, and it depended on a sly conflation— the notion that the war in Iraq and the war against the 9/11 terrorists were one and the same. We heard far more about Bush in the World Trade Center rubble than we did about the U.S. in the Iraqi quagmire. You're in a quagmire! You're in a quagmire! Just like Viet Nam! Just like Viet Nam! Na na na na Nah Nah!
And Herr Klein is correct! It is sly, very, very sly! It has not been proven that Saddam and Al Quaeda were operationally synchronically coordinated at the strategic, tactical and operational levels, in the sense of long term planning, and global ideo-practical coordination, as any idiot knows. And when Iraq was raised, it was done in a deceptive and simpleminded way. We're Republicans. What do you expect?
Even John McCain, who under normal circumstances I would suck up to like crazy who gave the most serious foreign policy speech of the week, presented a false choice: "Our choice [in Iraq] wasn't between a benign status quo and the bloodshed of war. It was between war and a graver threat." Actually, there were at least three choices: doing nothing about Saddam, going to war as Bush did or doubling down on the war against al-Qaeda, as Senator Bob Graham and others suggested at the time. And hope Saddam didn't turn on the chemical weapon spigot, give nasties to terrorists, or deploy some himself, as there is no conclusive evidence he would have done! Unfortunately, a serious discussion of the best way to fight Islamist radicalism isn't in the cards this election year. Because Americans are such idiots. In any case, campaign politics isn't about details. That's for us genius journalists, who constantly remind our readers of our uncanny ability to get the details right, at least when we're not making them up, as when we write reviews before the show. It is about impressions: Bush conveys an impression of strength While Kerry conveys the impression of spoiled, rich weenie who has grown up into a man even more unappealing than the typical prep school blowhards many of us suffered through in college—and the Republicans tried very hard last week to convey the impression that Kerry is Fifi the French poodle. As if you have to try hard -- the guy has a fancy hairdresser named Christophe who flies around the country in his wife's private jet (Fifi debated Barney, the Bush family dog, in an allegedly comic film shown at the convention.) I didn't see it, but it sounds promising! The attacks on Kerry ranged from the reasonable—he certainly has empretzeled himself on Iraq—to the outrageous: Zell Miller's assertion that Kerry would take his orders from Paris. In fact, Paris has no more reason to trust him than we do. But Klein is right. Fairer would have been, Kerry MIGHT take his orders from Paris. The Miller speech was the ugliest I've ever seen at a convention. And I'm going to tell my Mommy! It certainly trumped Pat Buchanan's 1992 "culture war" speech, in which the target was an abstract army of social liberals. Umm, I don't think so. Pat evoked the image of rifle toting cavalry men storming into LA, taking back the city from rioting African-Americans. But you go, Joe, Democrats are allowed to exaggerate This was a direct assault on the character and integrity of the Democratic nominee. Oh dear, it looks like Kerry's pompous frog disease is contagious. Remember, calling Democrats weak on defense is a dirty, rotten smear! And we ain't gonna study war no more, we ain't gonna study war . . . And it followed a familiar G.O.P. attack pattern: like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, Miller wasn't an official part of the Bush campaign. Michael Moore He claims to be a Democrat, which we know he isn't really, because he's for a strong defense and so, several Republicans told me, he was free to say anything he pleased. Free to say whatever he pleased! What an outrage! Who does he think he is, a movie star? But Miller's speech wasn't the most disgraceful part of the G.O.P. show. That honor would go to the coverage of NBC and CNN That honor went to the Purple Heart Band-Aids ridiculing John Kerry's Vietnam wounds (is "wound" really the right word? Maybe "bruise," "abrasion," "scratch"? There must be a good word for something that doesn't require hospital time. I know! "Owie"!) that were distributed by a past associate of Karl Rove's. A tasteless, but funny gag. OK, we're sorry, but maps of Cambodia just wouldn't have the same impact It goes without saying that Rove had absolutely nothing to do with the idea—except perhaps for setting the scabrous tone of the Bush campaign. Am I the only person who remembers the Clinton years? Ken Starr as Grand Inquisitor. Disappearing pets of potential anti-Clinton witnesses? "Dragging a hundred dollar bill through a trailer park." I guess once you rise to the level of obstruction of justice, it becomes sort of cool again, like the Godfather. I have never seen a presidential campaign in which the strategies of the two parties are so different, and so dreadful. pompous frog inflation alert! The Republican strategy is to demolish Kerry, whaaaaaah! whaaaaaaahhhhhhh! posit the President as a man of simple strength and do everything possible to avoid a discussion of Iraq or the effects of globalization on the American economy. Globalization? Where did that come from? Oh great, Klein is one of those looney anti-globalization guys. OK, Joe, Republicans are more for free trade than the Democrats. Deal with it. The Kerry strategy is to present an "optimistic" candidate with a "positive plan for the future." Yup. It is lame, alright, but you guys picked him The Kerry consultants, who actually believe this claptrap and have zero sense of political theater, sound like a bunch of low-budget Ginzu-knife salesmen when they represent their candidate on television: We're offering you a $4,000 college-tuition tax credit and—for no extra charge—a $1,000 reduction in your health-care costs! That's the risk when you think voters are morons They also seem to believe this election isn't about the most important decision Bush has made: to go to war in Iraq. That's because Kerry's record on Iraq is embarrassing, unlike his war hero record Kerry's adherence to that strategy—including the robotic repetition of the words strong and values—has made him seem weak, transparent, a focus-group marionette with neon strings. It burrrnnnnns! It burrrrnnnnnnns! Bush, by the way, used the word strong only twice in his acceptance speech: to describe the new Iraqi Prime Minister and to describe military families. That unbelievable mastery of detail again. News flash: Klein can count words in transcript of a speech After a week of gut-wound assaults on his character, What? And no medal to show for it! How about 'the Purple Butt-Sling for Self-Inflicted Political Wounds' (sorry . . . couldn't resist) Could it be Kerry has some weird karmic penchant for blowing up his own butt in both literal and metaphorical senses? Just a thought . . . Kerry finally fired back on Thursday night, assailing Bush and Cheney for having avoided service in Vietnam and for having "misled" us into Iraq. And boy, was it a hoot! How dare anyone criticize me! Don't they know who I AM? More speeches like that from John John, please! The latter may be an exaggeration, whereas Zell Miller's speech was a grotesque political mugging but after the G.O.P. assault, Kerry has a right to exaggerate with impunity. And should, because he is so good at it Indeed, if he hopes to win, Kerry will have to do much more of that. He will have to become a version of the young John Kerry not celebrated at the Democratic Convention—the eloquent, passionate, uncoached leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War who caused the Nixon White House serious heartburn not to mention a lot of Vietnam vets, including some with real "wounds". Oooops! Sorry! Forgot that was a dirty, rotten smear! Where did that fabulous young politician ever go, anyway? Where have all the flowers gone, long time pa-asssing? Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago? Yes, them were the days . . . We could have days like that again! . . .