THE BEGINNING OF THE END GAME
How the Presidential Debates will determine the challenger's electoral fate
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
John Kerry is behind... it might be by a little, it might be by somewhat more than a little (the latest polls are rather inconclusive though they make it clear that it is George W. Bush, not John Kerry, who has the advantage)... nevertheless, John Kerry is behind (for instance, my own State of New Jersey- not all that long ago an apparent "shoo-in" for Senator Kerry's Presidential Electors is now, per the most recent polls, "too close to call": what might this portend for Kerry/Edwards in other industrial urbanized States seen as "up for grabs"?)-- and, while President Bush's momentum coming out of the Republican National Convention might have slowed, it is still Bush in the lead with Senator Kerry needing a BIG boost (and SOON!) to pull him even with- if not ahead of- the President at this stage of the General Election campaign. Yes, as New Englanders say about the "Sawx"- even as late as the first two-thirds of the Baseball season, no matter where they might be in the Standings at the time: "It's early yet"-- but, unlike Baseball, there is a clock in the 2004 Presidential Election game- one that is ticking inexorably down to Tuesday 2 November. There is, therefore, not a whole lot of time left in which to reverse these trends-- and this is precisely why the upcoming Presidential/Vice-Presidential Debates are so crucial to the Massachusetts Senator's chances to be elected President.
Senator Kerry's political problems, insofar as Foreign Policy (the ostensible subject of the first of these Debates this Thursday evening) is concerned, can be well summed up in one word- a Proper Name: Saddam. The very fact of Saddam Hussein's deposition and subsequent capture, indeed, still remains President Bush's "trump card"- for not all that many of those originally opposed to the invasion of Iraq and very few who originally supported that invasion but who are now gravely concerned about its aftermath are particularly unhappy that Saddam is no longer in power; meanwhile, you would have to troll the deepest recesses of some of the largest asylums in America in order to, perhaps, find at least one person who wholeheartedly supported the Iraq war and yet didn't at all want Saddam to be removed! Senator Kerry, however, has spent most of the six-plus months since he first clinched the Democratic presidential nomination attacking President Bush on what he has- or has not- done in relation to the War on International Terrorism, the situation in post-Saddam Iraq (as well as the very reason there even is a "post-Saddam" Iraq!) and Homeland Security. Kerry's criticisms may or may not be valid but he seems far too comfortable being in this mode of telling the voter what he would- or would not- have done had he, and not George W. Bush, been in the Presidency these last nearly four years: truth be told, Kerry spends far too little time and effort (though, to be fair, he has increased this of late) dealing with what he will do should he be elected President.
In the end, it actually matters little whether or not terrorists might have already been active in Saddam Hussein's Iraq well before the U.S. invasion began- because terrorists are active in post-Saddam Iraq NOW! If Iraq is, as critics of the Bush Administration's policies contend, far too unstable nowadays, such stability as still exists therein is largely due to the very presence of American military forces: a too quick pull-out of American troops from Iraq likely risks that country becoming an even larger version of pre-9/11 Talibanic Afghanistan- that is, a potentially safe haven for Al-Qa'eda and other like minded Islamist terrorist groups- and one right smack dab in the midst of the Middle East, bordering Iran and Sa'udi Arabia and within relatively short missile range of the oil sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf- as well as Israel- to boot! Yet polls indicate that a large chunk- perhaps as many as half- of Kerry supporters would like the Massachusetts Senator, should he be elected President, to remove the American troops from Iraq-- like-- NOW! A "President Kerry" is likely to disappoint these people but, were he to rush training of an new Iraqi army and security forces (something Kerry claims he can get done better than Bush has been able to), he would clearly run the risk of being viewed by his Party's own Left the way an earlier Democratic Party Left once viewed Richard Nixon's policy of "Vietnamization" (as "too slow, too late") while being viewed, at the same time, by already anti-Kerry conservative Republicans in much the same way- and, as in the early 1970s, for a quite different reason- as earlier conservatives also saw "Vietnamization" (as "too little, too late").
There are many Democratic political strategists who are urging Senator Kerry to more "talk hard" against the President- to, in effect, come out swinging: but this would pretty much be a "loser's gambit". Although some Democratic activists have convinced themselves that a ground-swell of resentment against the Bush Administration is just waiting, somewhere out in the hinterland, to come forth in big numbers in Kerry's favor-- if only the Massachusetts Senator would well stir up such resentment, I would like to see from where such resentment would be so forthcoming: the bed of hard core anti-Bush sentiment has already been well mined, that field has already been harvested, by Kery/Edwards and the Democrats-- like a fertile field that has finally been emptied by the Fall, there is little left there to be picked this Fall. No, instead Kerry will have to gain among moderate, centrist fence-sitting undecided voters in order to overtake Bush and he will have to use the upcoming Debates as a forum through which he can make the attempt to fully mine these people by the time the echoes from the final Presidential Debate will have faded by mid-October.
Beyond all this, however, there is also the persistent problem of Senator Kerry's being seen as far too conciliatory in relation to the more recalcitrant among America's European allies- that is, many Americans still on the fence re: this Presidential Election see John Kerry as, in a sense, French President Jacques Chirac's favorite candidate for the U.S. Presidency (a view which, in one of his weaker moments during the Spring Primary/Caucus "season", Kerry himself- however inadvertently- well fed).
Many of the undecided voters Senator Kerry has to reach out to- people who don't particularly like President Bush but who are, at best, lukewarm toward the Massachusetts Senator (so these are not, by any means, the more inveterate Bush-bashers who are already pro-Kerry)- are concerned that a "President Kerry" might well be too tempted give away much too much to America's usual European allies (perhaps under the aegis of either NATO or the UN) who have not been willing to become part of President Bush's "Coalition of the Willing" in order to get them to help the United States at least enough to then allow us to extricate our military forces from Iraq. If Iraq should thereafter further descend into chaos and, thus, becomes a further cesspool of terrorism, then this is precisely the kind of policy which would bite a "President Kerry" on the proverbial "backside", let alone better set the stage for further terrorist attacks against the West in general and the United States in particular (as well as within the broader Middle East itself).
In short, there are some American voters who feel that- while President Bush might well have fought the wrong war in Iraq- the current President, nonetheless, is far more likely to fight any necessary right war than Senator Kerry would be and these people also worry that a "President Kerry" would not at all be able to end the current wrong war in anything approaching the right way. It's all a simple case of "the devil you know versus the one you can't be all that sure is not even more of a devil".
Thus, it is John Kerry- and not George W. Bush- who walks the tightrope on Iraq and its relationship (or lack thereof) to the War on International Terrorism and Homeland Security in this first debate. Therefore, come Thursday evening 30 September, the Massachusetts Senator will have a golden opportunity to well deal with most, if not all, the doubts about him among many undecided voters which I have noted in the preceding paragraph-- well mark my words: any failure to do so on his part causes possibly irreparable harm to Kerry's quest for the White House.
To repeat two things I noted at the end of each of my two most recent Commentaries- two observations that Senator Kerry will have to well address in the upcoming Debates, particularly in this very first one:
<<Some six months ago, as it became so readily apparent that John Kerry was emerging as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and the Republicans began to turn their sights on him by questioning Kerry's abilities to well deal with issues involving the War on Terror, Homeland Security and Iraq, the Massachusetts Senator responded by saying he would welcome a debate with President Bush on National Security. "Bring-- it-- on!", he cried, time and time again.
Well, he'd better welcome it still-- because that debate is coming, and soon-- and it is a debate that will ultimately well determine Senator Kerry's fate this coming 2 November!>> [from 'IT'S GOOD TO BE THE KING', 6 September 2004]
<<Simply put, there is just far too much- at least so far- of Senator Kerry as the anti-war candidate, one continuing to run against a war which was launched nearly 18 months ago, and comparatively little about how he intends to wrap up the current situation in Iraq significantly better than President Bush can. If "running against Iraq" should continue as the overly dominant theme of the Kerry/Edwards campaign re: National Security for the rest of the period leading up to the General Election, then- indeed- as far as the Bush/Cheney campaign is concerned, it is good to be the "king"!>> [from 'OF RED STATES AND BLUE, 7 September 2004]
I will now close this piece by pointing out that not all that much has changed over the four weeks-plus since I wrote that which I have just quoted from myself. Senator Kerry will have to well use these Debates to change these observations of mine in order to retain any real hope he can, indeed, actually become "President Kerry" next 20 January.