In all the controversy surrounding Bush’s National Guard service, note one interesting detail for which Bush is never given credit: he volunteered to go to Vietnam. He was refused. He can hardly be faulted, therefore, for not going to Vietnam at the time. Or accused of being cowardly.
It also rather looks as though he lost interest in the Guard right after being refused Vietnam service. I could forgive a young pilot for thinking at that point that the military obligation was less important than other things in his life: the military was saying they did not need him anyway. He was not going to be able to be a real combat pilot like his father, whom he idolized.
News flash: George Bush is a human being.
Ah, Ben Barnes. He says he helped Bush get into the National Guard. Originally, he said he helped Bush get in when he was lieutenant-governor. Problem: turns out he was not lieutenant-governor yet when Bush got in. So in a later interview on good old 60 Minutes, he says it was when he was Speaker of the Texas House. Problem: while the state executive branch might have some special influence on the Guard, someone in the state legislature would have no special pull. Or at least, no more than Bush Senior would already have had himself, as a Texas congressman. So now the problem with Barnes's story is that, if Bush Sr. wanted his son in the Guard, Barnes (a rival Democrat to boot) would not have been the man to ask.
Kerry’s Strategy from Here
Why is the Kerry campaign dwelling on Vietnam? It seems mad.
But perhaps they have no choice. What other issue do they have?
The war in Iraq?
This is a big problem for the Kerry campaign. While there might be popular discontent with it, Kerry cannot exploit it. Because he has no clear position himself, and cannot have one. His own record on the war is too vulnerable: he voted against the first Gulf War, which everyone now approves. He voted for the second, so cannot plausibly fault Bush for it. Then he voted against funding it, which ruins his image as a hawk. Even during the campaign, he seems to have been both for and against the war, at different times, depending on whether he was positioning himself against Dean or against Bush.
So there's nothing left for Kerry here except the claim that he would somehow handle it more "sensitively." Without specifics. The only basis for claiming this is either a) that he had combat experience in Vietnam, or b) that he has better rapport with foreigners.
That French Look
B is not a promising tack. It probably gives the Republicans their very best campaign issue: raw patriotism. Kerry then "looks French." He "would give Paris a veto on our foreign policy." His wife is foreign; he grew up partly in France; he speaks French; he visibly lacks rapport with the average guy. Remember how much Bush Senior was hurt merely by being involved in the Trilateral Commission? Kerry is far more vulnerable. He looks like the Manchurian Candidate.
What about the Economy, Stupid?
Many seem to think this is Kerry’s opening. After all, it worked for Clinton in ‘92, right?
Also not a good option. First, there are mixed opinions on whether the economy is doing well or badly.
Second, the economy is traditionally a Republican issue. It takes special circumstances to sell the notion that the Democrats can better with it. And it takes a fairly right-wing Democratic candidate. Kerry talks better times ahead, and the Republicans have their ready response: look how much he’s talking about spending. Your taxes are going up!
For a very special reason, this line was not available to the Republicans in 1992. Bush Senior had said, “Read my lips: no new taxes”—and then raised taxes.
There is no such special circumstance this time.
Nor is Kerry plausible as a manager in the way Clinton could be, with his executive experience and centrist pose.
So the Dems, as far as I can see, are left with no possible line of attack, except that Kerry would be a better manager of national security because of four months experience in Vietnam when he was a young man.
I hear the Kerry campaign is about to launch a new week of TV ads questioning Bush's Vietnam record. This looks like suicide at this point; but they seem to be stuck. There's apparently nothing else in their quiver.
The Decline and Fall
Kerry is amazing to watch. He never opens his mouth without insulting the intelligence of his audience. And, when you watch, remember this: this guy was the choice of the Democrats' establishment. This was not an insurgent candidate. Even when Dean looked likely to run away with the nomination, Kerry was the guy the party bigwigs felt could best carry the torch. This was their best and brightest.
Someone once traced the steps in the acceptance of a new idea: first, they ignore you. Then, they laugh at you. Then, they try to silence you. Then, they fight you openly. Then you win.
I think we can add one further step: then, you laugh at them.
It happened to the American establishment during the Vietnam era: at one point in about 1968, they all started to look pretty stupid and out of touch. And then everything changed. I think "neo-conservatism" has traced this arc in recent years. They are now at the point that the establishment they are replacing--the old liberal establishment, the Dan Rathers, the John Kerrys, the Howard Deans--is beginning to look ridiculous. The times they are a'changing.
In America, that is. In Canada, as usual, we're a few years behind the curve. We're still somewhere between the "they try to silence you" and the "they fight you openly" phase.
I predicted at this point Bush would be up five points over Kerry. Most polls now show at least that.
And Bush and the Republicans have little reason to fear the debates. Failing a major gaffe--and even that might not matter--Bush should win, because what matters most in a TV debate is who comes across as more relaxed and likable, and Bush probably beats Kerry on that nine days out of ten.
The polls are still reasonably close, but even so, at this point, I can't even think of a random event or October surprise that could win it for Kerry.