The Truth That Dares Not Speak Its Name
Downthread, Steve Soto urges Kerry to Go Directly at Bush's Record. Absolutely right. But to what end? To convince the people who inhabit this or other blogs? No way. They -- we -- are hard core, pro or anti-Bush. There is nothing that will move me to vote for Bush short of Ashcroft slipping into the voting booth and shoving razor blades under my fingernails, just as there is nothing likely to convince the neocon trolls who mindlessly stick up for him around here to vote for Kerry.
The target audience for both Bush and Kerry in the final 8 weeks of the campaign is assumed to be "independents" and the "undecided." I think that's only half right. The rest of the target electorate consists of once upon a time Bush supporters who harbor serious doubts about what this administration has done -- and is likely to do the future. This explains, I think, the mysteries of the G.O.P. convention. And it points the way for what Kerry needs to do.
Let it be noted, in reply to Steve Soto's point, that the (too-hastily) scrabbled together Kerry Rapid Response Team list of issues released last week, plus Kerry's own Midnight Speech as the GOP Convention ended, provide a start. But the Kerry campaign's effort to articulate the issues needs work.
What's missing most of all is an over-arching, succinct theme for the final two months of the campaign; one that ties the criticisms of Bush together with Kerry's own positive platform proposals. It has to be pithy, grounded in fact, easily remembered, lend itself to repetition, neatly wrap around all that is wrong about giving Bush another four years, and -- most important of all -- be a theme that strikes a responsive chord with those who are uneasy with or tend to doubt the direction Bush has taken the nation.
That theme, it seems to me, means John Kerry must confront head-on what almost every American, Kerry friend and Kerry foe alike, knows to be at the root of the Bush administration's problems -- The Truth That Dares Not Speak Its Name:
I have a number of social, business, and recreational friends who are lifelong Republicans. (Aw, shucks. It happens.) They voted for Bush in 2000. Many are lifelong Republicans. Almost all of them detested Clinton and feel the same about Hillary without knowing why. Almost all watch Fox TV and read a bad daily newspaper. Most are probably a little better educated but no smarter than the average American. I'd have to say that most, too, probably pay a slight bit more attention to public affairs than does Joe Sixpack.
Every one of them tells me he is "worried" or "concerned" or "unhappy" about some thing or another the Bush administration has done. Some have fallen away more than others and tell me they plan to vote for Kerry. Others say they probably will vote for Bush anyway, but they confess to feeling deeply uneasy about it.
These non-concentric circles of friends and acquaintances are the people who come closest, I think, to the population profile Kerry most needs to convince. Some believe Bush lied. Some are worried he botched the prescription drug plan. Many see his deficit spending as utterly reckless. A few, of late, have mentioned the growing spy scandal in "Rumsfeld's defense department." The younger ones with school age children are contemptuous and even angry about what the 'No Child Left Behind' law is doing to their kids in the local school.
And so on.
Almost all of these people harbor some one or two specific concerns that, for them, encapsulates what is "wrong" with the current administration. And for every single one of them, the thing that has gone wrong, in their view, is or may be owing to Bush's lack of competence.
They won't say he's a dummy, although some believe it. Most are uncomfortable saying he's a liar, although a few have wondered aloud about that in my presence. Several make excuses for Bush on the order of 'it's the people under him' but even these people remain unhappy because Bush won't control or fire them. Many are willing to excuse Bush's "Pet Goat" performance on 9-11 because they, too, didn't quite know what to make of it all.
As all polls show, in four short years a substantial majority of Americans have come to believe we are headed in the wrong direction. The people I am speaking of feel exactly the same way. They know a mess has been made of much or everything and that it happened on Bush's watch. They don't care about Vietnam. They don't care about whether medals or ribbons were thrown away. They don't care if purple hearts were handed out sparingly or like M&Ms at Mars Company office party.
And they don't care if Bush and Cheney are or are not "being fair" when they attack Kerry. Nor do they care much if Kerry does or doesn't "fire back" with attacks of his own. As I say, many watch Fox TV and they are, I think, now thoroughly inured to the ubiquitous "Attacking Heads" on TV.
What they want from Kerry or some other public figure is affirmation of what they themselves are sensing deep inside. They hunger for one of the candidates to strike a chord in rhthym with their own thoughts and concerns.
If you are Bush, that means to reassure such people you mean well and will do better next time. That's what these people wish they could believe. If you're Kerry, that means telling them the truth: Bush is not competent and he needs to be replaced.
Deep down, that's what they suspect. They're waiting for Kerry to say it. He should get on with it, and now.