One thing that absolutely drives non-partisans insane about our political system is watching the way the parties distort what the other side says in order to make a false argument. This is something that the Bush campaign, in particular, are turning into an art form of stupidity these days. We've already seen two textbook examples of this tactic. In early August, Kerry said the following:
I believe I can fight a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side and lives up to American values in history.
The Karl Rove machine immediately seized upon the word "sensitive". You see, sensitive is a girly word, and a large part of their strategy was to feminize John Kerry. So out of the larger context of that perfectly reasonable statement, they seized on this single word and began screaming it everywhere possible. The Daily Show had a hilarious montage of video clips of every Republican official you can think of, on every imaginable TV news or talk show they could find, saying the exact same thing, all within a couple days of each other. This was obviously a central strategy. A dishonest one, but that's politics. Then we had last week's furor over the "global test". Here is what Kerry actually said:
No president, through all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America. But if and when you do it, Jim, you've got to do in a way that passes the test--that passes the global test--where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing, and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.
And here is what President Bush said Kerry said:
He said that America has to pass a global test before we can use American troops to defend ourselves. That's what he said. Think about this. Sen. Kerry's approach to foreign policy would give foreign governments veto power over our national security decisions.
Again, this is the result of a deliberate decision and part of a deliberate strategy to distort the truth. Bush's restatement of Kerry's words are the exact opposite of what he actually said. And they know full well that it's a lie, and they know that a lot of people will catch them in this lie. But they also know that a lot of people will see only their distortion and not what was originally said, and that's all they care about. The lie works. Now here's the latest distortion. Kerry was asked in an interview what it would take for Americans to feel safe again. His reply:
''We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance,'' the article states as the Massachusetts senator's reply.
''As a former law enforcement person, I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling. But we're going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn't on the rise. It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life.''
So what does Rove do with this perfectly reasonable statement? Why, he turns it into a campaign commercial saying that Kerry thinks terrorism is merely a nuisance! The Bush campaign chairman went on CNN yesterday and said that Kerry believes:
"that the war on terrorism is like a nuisance. He equated it to prostitution and gambling, a nuisance activity. You know, quite frankly, I just don't think he has the right view of the world. It's a pre-9/11 view of the world."
And the Republican National Committee chairman was on Face the Nation saying the same thing. Again, this is a deliberate distortion of what Kerry said. It's a coordinated strategy of lying to gain votes. The Democrats do much the same thing, of course, but this particular type of dishonesty they have never been able to do nearly as shamelessly as the Bush campaign, which makes a living off of it. The irony, of course, is that while attempting to portray Kerry as weak they show themselves to be weak. How else can one interpret the fact that they repeatedly have to distort the reality of what he says in order to answer it? If they were stronger, they'd be able to handle his real positions head on, wouldn't they?
Of course, it should also be said that, in a way, it does show Kerry to be weak, or at least it shows how incompetent they are at countering such nonsense. Why is there not a running campaign ad series showing these lies? Every single time the Bush campaign does this, the Kerry campaign should have an ad on the air showing what he actually said and what Bush says he said, and ending with a voiceover saying, "If he's so willing to lie about our position, wouldn't he also lie about his own?". But they don't do this. Instead of going on the offensive about it, they just whine to the media about how unfair it is. So the distortions succeed, and they do so because, at least in a political sense, they're true - Kerry IS too weak to respond forcefully to them and turn them around on Bush.
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Bush should be "roadkill" by now, but Kerry and his people don't seem to know how to finish him.
I've said it before: the Republicans are SO much better at playing politics than the Democrats; it's amazing to me that the election is as close as it is. Since Nixon, the Republicans have adopted the strategy that politics is a down and dirty game, where playing fair is for suckers, and where elections are won or lost on the ability to peddle sound-bite rhetoric effectively. To invert a well-worn phrase, their attitude is that politics is war by different means. They're masters at it, and while I'm not so naive as to think that Democrats don't play dirty, too, next to the Republicans, they're bush-league amatuers (no pun intended).
Within the past thirty-plus years, the Democrats have had only one effective antidote: Clinton politics. When the Clintons get attacked, they respond forcefully and effectively, and they give every bit as good as they get. Clinton wasn't afraid to call a liar a liar or to respond to an attack; in fact, I think he really enjoyed that rough-and-tumble aspect of high stakes politics. Kerry seems content (as Gore did in 2000) to play rope-a-dope, hoping that the Republican slime machine will run out of gas (it won't) or the the voting public will see the tactics for what they really are (they won't).
It simply floors me that Democratic operatives at the highest levels can be so incompetent. Especially when an effective counter-model is only four years removed from the White House.
I don't know, it seems to me that both Kerry and Edwards are using the word 'distortion' every chance they get to describe any statement coming from either Bush or Cheney. Given the recent momentum in the polling data, it seems to me that they have been countering the lies somewhat effectively. For instance, they have really cut off the 'flip flop' theme, as witnessed by the change in strategy of the Bush camp to start playing the Liberal card. So overall, I think they are doing well there.
But again, who is Kerry's coach? Even if his intent was not to say so, equating terrorism to a nuisance when the election year hinges basically on this one subject seems so stupid to me. He should never have been in the position where the words could be taken out of context. I'd rather he stayed hawkish on the subject, just the way Bush does. Remember when Bush slipped and admitted he couldn't win a war on terrorism? You've never heard anything close to that since then. Kerry needs the same approach to nullify they only area where Bush outscores him among likely voters.
Honestly, Kerry is the worst candidate imagineable for the Democrats. I think they could have walked away from this election with the right men in power. I had the fortune to attend the South Carolina democratic debate, when all 7 (or maybe it was 9) candidates were still running. After sitting through the entire thing, I knew Dems were in trouble, not a single person on that stage (other than maybe Lieberman) was anywhere close to being electable (and obviously Lieberman wasn't either since he had already been on a losing ticket).