Kerry's Need To Deal With The Attack Campaign
After watching a week where chicken hawk GOP leaders and their media surrogates took turns calling into question John Kerry’s military service, and then seeing Bush send his big sister Karen Hughes out to fight for him over the weekend on an issue of whose medals were thrown over a fence thirty years ago, it is clear that any hope that Kerry had of running above the fray and pointing out differences is a pipe dream. Face it, the White House wants to run in the gutter through Dick Cheney and these pathetic surrogates, and keep the Kerry campaign on the defensive instead of talking about Bush’s record. Bush, for his part, wants to use the Woodward book (which makes his administration look bad) to show that his advisors were dopes but he was a man of smart questions. The White House counts on the media to chase garbage stories like whose medals were tossed over a fence thirty years ago and Teresa Heinz Kerry’s tax returns because the media did this same service for Bush four years ago. As Howard Kurtz points out in a fine even handed piece this morning on the Post website, there are several reasons for all of this, ranging from an aggressive and hypocritical White House smear operation, to the fact that yes, the media doesn’t like Kerry. It’s like 2000 never happened with these guys.
It’s hard to believe that which medals a guy flung over a fence thirty years ago is more important to the media that why the president has yet to fulfill promises to fully explain where he was thirty years ago avoiding combat. Why is it a character problem for Kerry to toss medals over a fence, but it isn't a character problem to use dad's connections to avoid combat and then not even show up for Guard duty amidst disciplinary problems? Some of our GOP critics complain now that it is wrong to bash Bush for not serving in Vietnam when we supported Clinton in 1992, yet these same GOP critics were the ones who said for eight years that Clinton wasn’t fit to serve as Commander in Chief because he avoided Vietnam combat. If Clinton in your mind wasn’t fit because he went to Oxford, then neither Bush nor Cheney are fit either because they went to Alabama or were too busy getting deferments. You can't have it both ways. And a guy can't make himself a war time leader by dodging combat, putting on a flight suit for a photo op on a aircraft carrier returning from battle, handing out plastic turkeys, and then botching the war on terra'.
Bush uses others to do his dirty work, so that he can appear to be above it, even though he is personally approving the smears and makes all the campaign decisions. Kerry will need to do the same by running an aggressive and in-your-face campaign for the duration. The White House likes trotting out Pacemaker Dick for his attack dog appearances because it forces Kerry to fire back at him, making Kerry look negative and away from message while Bush gets to stay above it. For this reason Kerry still needs the Tier Two operation I have been carping about for weeks so that surrogates can do the attacking for him and keep the media busy focusing on the legitimate charges that Democrats fire at the administration. More to the point however, it is clear that Kerry will need a running mate sooner rather than later who can be the effective attack dog against both Bush and Cheney, and do so with some level of acceptance and comfort from the media. It has to be someone who can take every volley fired by Bush and Rove and turn it back against the White House for even mentioning it. For example, if Bush and his minions trot out the medal and battle injuries attack, the campaign shoots back immediately on Bush’s efforts to avoid combat and withhold his Guard records. If the Bushies trot out the issue of where Kerry and his wife get their money, the Kerry campaign should shoot back a withering barrage of questions about Bush’s ties to Saudi money and the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, and why he has never fully answered questions over who bailed him out of Harken Energy and his insider trading. This White House has proven that the media won't cover an issue unless you raise it and lead them to it. Kerry should follow suit and turn it against Bush.
Every charge must be answered with a response that is more damaging to Bush than the original question was to Kerry. And it takes a running mate who can do this effectively and to some degree the media likes. Kerry has an opening here to be aggressive and get evenhanded coverage in doing it, as pieces by both the Times and the Post this morning demonstrate. But he needs to get the attack machinery going against these guys now so that they are somewhat hesitant to fire at him. Kerry may not want to admit it, but the voters liked him better when he was aggressive. He may not like doing this himself, so he better get a partner to help him and quickly.
Who fits that bill the best? John Edwards? Dick Gephardt? Someone else? Again, it should be someone who the media likes and will give favorable coverage to, and who doesn’t mind attacking.