Earth To Kerry: Bush Is The Target
As many of you know, my support in this race lies with John Kerry. I am not pushing this as a Kerry blog, because I want the supporters of all Democratic candidates to be welcome and debate here. Also, The Left Coaster, although started by me, is a team effort. I am not speaking for Mary, Matt, or CA Pol Junkie when I say I support Kerry; they are free to, and do support others. When Kerry does smart things, I will give him a pat on the back. Likewise, when he screws up, I will mention that as well.
Yesterday, Kerry unfortunately continued with his attacks on fellow Democrats on the issue of trade, when he went after Dean and Gephardt in his speech at the Detroit Economic Club. In doing so, he tried to paint both as protectionist and himself as a free trader, but managed to lose his focus on who the real target should be: George W. Bush. When campaigning in the states hardest hit by manufacturing job losses, talking about free trade may seem noble, but it is counterproductive to demonstrating to voters that you have a plan to get some of those jobs back.
Speaking in Detroit, Mr. Kerry said that Dr. Dean and Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, who have staked out traditional pro-labor positions on trade, were pandering to unions and advocating a "retreat from the global economy."
But Mr. Kerry saved his harshest words for Dr. Dean, aiming at what has been a main thrust of his opponent's appeal to core Democratic voters, tapping into a wellspring of rage at the Bush administration.
"Anger and attacks are all well and good," Mr. Kerry said. "But when it comes to our jobs, we need a president who can build a barn, and not just kick it down." "Governor Dean has said repeatedly that America should not trade with countries that haven't reached our own environmental and labor standards," Mr. Kerry told the Detroit Economic Club. "I will assure strong labor and environmental standards. But his approach would mean we couldn't sell a single car anywhere in the developing world."
Exactly how many cars are we really selling in the developing world? Anyway, although the New York Times played up the Kerry comments against Dean and Gephardt as the lead, the Boston Globe focused on what the real intent of the speech was supposed to be: a rollout of the Kerry manufacturing plan.
During a 44-minute speech, the Massachusetts senator bundled longstanding Democratic economic positions -- such as making permanent the tax credit for research and development -- with his proposed continuation of tax cuts for the middle class, and declared them part of a new strategy to restore the manufacturing sector.
Kerry's theme was similar to other Democratic candidates, who have castigated Bush as a feckless steward of the economy, stumbling through a recession that has cost the United States 3 million jobs, including 2.5 million in manufacturing. The Democrats' messages have generally been limited to arguing that some or all of Bush's tax cuts be rolled back.
Kerry did take one risk by pledging to create 3 million jobs in his first 500 days in the White House. But for the most part, he criticized Bush and sought to wrap himself in a centrist, probusiness mantle.
"I'm an entrepreneurial Democrat," Kerry said. "I believe in the creation of wealth and of jobs. It's unacceptable for the Democratic Party to run around saying we love jobs and then hate the people and harass the people who create them."
Kerry's economic plan is similar to proposals that Senator John Edwards of North Carolina has made recently under his theme of ending Bush's "war on work." Both men would roll back some of the administration's tax cuts and keep others that benefit the middle class. Both would offer tax incentives, to reward companies that create jobs and to keep businesses from relocating overseas. And both would seek to lower health care costs -- Kerry by having the US government pay three-quarters of the costs for catastrophic illnesses.
This is a solid, effective plan for reviving the manufacturing base that marries free and fair trade with corporate responsibility. Yet it gets drowned out by the tit-for-tat Kerry provokes with Dean and Gephardt, which any savvy campaign manager knows will be covered by the lazy media rather than policy proposals.
Why does Kerry keep engaging in fistfights with fellow Dems when he could effectively hammer Bush directly and demonstrate top-dog status as confirmed by the recent polls? When the man goes after Bush directly, like he did in an interview with the Detroit Free Press, he is very effective. (with thanks to Fester)
Kerry needs to adjust to the fact that for the time being, Wesley Clark will be getting the attention that Kerry should be getting, while stealing his issues, as William Saletan says today in Slate. But Kerry is actually in a pretty good spot right now; he is right on the issues, he has a good (but not great) team around him, and as Howard Fineman says in Newsweek today, he can benefit from the overheated expectations that Dean has placed upon himself in New Hampshire.
It is best to aim your fire at the real target, keep repeating your well thought-out positions in concise and hard-hitting ways, and let voters decide that you are the real deal, as the polls now show. And while you are at it, watch how John Edwards aims his fire effectively and directly at Bush using TV. Copy him, and stay away from the slash and burn against fellow Dems.