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Why Is It Suddenly Hard to Articulate the Case Against Bush??

More surprising than the Bush poll bounce is the fact that at this late date, it suddenly seems difficult to figure out how best to express the case against President Bush. Kevin Drum, William Saletan and others show just how much contested territory there is. Kevin's post is particularly interesting, challenging first "the consensus criticism among mainstream analysts: not so much that Bush is a captive of extremist ideology as that he's simply incompetent." Kevin picks apart several good versions of this theory, from Saletan and Andrew Tobias, and concludes, "Now, there's still nothing wrong with hammering away at this stuff, but in the end these are arguments about competence, and if you're not a policy wonk this kind of argument is just too arid and intellectual to be compelling. Michael Dukakis tried running on competence and got his head handed to him."

I have been an advocate for the incompetence argument for a long time, and while I could be described as a policy wonk, I don't think it can be dismissed this easily. I'm particularly surprised that Kevin, whose "bad CEO" theory has been the most sociologically acute explanation of Bush's performance in office, would so easily be scared off this line of attack. Granted, the most accurate case against Bush may not necessarily be the most effective -- the Republicans obviously find a completely false attack against Kerry's performance in battle more useful than the more accurate criticisms that could be leveled. ("Only intermittently effective as a Senator" doesn't have quite the ring of "He ran from a fight and betrayed us to the enemy.")

The voting public long ago lost most of its faith in Bush; to reinforce that loss of faith it is necessary to tell a story about the Bush presidency, one that rings true, makes sense, and gives people an explanation for their personal and economic anxiety. The basic premise of that story must involve a failure of leadership, and that failure is a story of incompetence.

Let's go back to Kevin's comment about Dukakis. His slogan was "competence, not ideology", in retrospect a vacuous, arrogant claim that could be knocked down simply by proving that Dukakis was not all that competent (Boston Harbor) and/or that he had some kind of ideology, which left him at the end denying that he was a liberal rather than making the case for whatever he was. Competence alone is not a case for election.

The case for Kerry cannot be simply "competence," and he knows that. But the case against Bush does depend on proving incompetence.

Consider, for example, the domestic policy proposals that Bush unveiled in his convention acceptance speech. The charges against them were as obvious and as uninteresting as the proposals: They're recycled. There's not enough detail. They're going to be expensive. All true, but not every idea has to be new; I don't need details; and if Bush really has the will, then maybe he can find the money -- he seems to find it for everything else.

What seems to have gone unsaid about this laundry list was that these weren't proposals that were blocked by a hostile Congress or that he couldn't find the money to fund. It's that most of them died as a result of his own incompetence and that of his administration. Could Bush have partially privatized Social Security in his first term? Quite possibly, but the commission he appointed, and the hacks he had working for him, didn't understand the first thing about it, and treated the serious technical problems they were paid to solve ? mainly the huge transitional costs -- as PR problems to be obscured by patently dishonest claims such as that Social Security is a bad deal for African-Americans. His "ownership society" proposals for tax-free accounts for health and retirement were so transparently just cover for another tax cut for the rich that he backed off even offering them in the State of the Union this year. His two domestic accomplishments, No Child Left Behind and the Medicare prescription drug bill, are basically sound ideas marred by profound incompetence in design. Most of those who support or supported the Iraq War now have the same view of that misadventure. And then there's allowing North Korea and Iran to become nuclear powers. On the macroeconomic front, while a president is not necessarily responsible for every turn of the business cycle that takes place on his watch, Bush is wholly responsible for his total indifference to the distinction between tax cuts and deficit spending that might shorten the recession and generate demand, and those that would not. That indifference is incompetence.

David Brooks is right that Bush's proposals hold the promise of a "transformational" presidency. The same was said of his 2000 "compassionate conservatism" campaign platform, and many Democrats worried that if Bush was truly able to integrate the idea of a supportive government with a fundamentally conservative vision, particularly by modernizing programs that Democrats are afraid to touch, it would represent a very powerful political transformation. But it didn't happen. And we know now that it's not going to happen. That's because "transformational presidents" are, above all, managerial geniuses. The success of FDR was not that he had a bunch of good ideas and pushed them through. It's that he managed a process of idea-development, collaboration, and disagreement among people he knew were far smarter than he was. For much of his eight years, Ronald Reagan was a transformational president, also because of his competence as a leader -- and before you balk at that, my point is that Reagan pretty much knew his limits, his strengths and weaknesses, and for the most part, he had competent people like George Schultz working for him. A great example of the Reagan administration's competence was the decision in 1982 to raise taxes after the tax cuts of 1981 produced a bigger deficit than expected.

Bush's case for himself is all about vision and will. He's willing to make enemies internationally, offend liberals, and transgress some of the principles of public life, because getting things done in a dangerous world sometimes requires that. For that reason, I think the two planks of Kevin's proposed case against Bush -- that he's going to get people killed and that he operates in secret -- actually reinforce the Bush message. The problem with Bush message is that he doesn't really have a coherent vision or will, and the problems we've created for ourselves didn't need to be created. That has to be the base of the message, and other points build on that. For example, Kevin's point that Bush should be critiqued for operating in secret doesn't have much bite if you assume the administration is competent. Given the threat of terrorism and other chaos, we need a certain amount of secrecy. The problem, however, is that the administration uses secrecy not to protect us, but to cover up its own incompetence and failings, and to suppress useful criticism.

Bush is almost the mirror image of Dukakis. Where Dukakis seemed to be claiming that "competence," without any content or clear aims, was his only ideology, Bush is claiming that ideology -- that is, a clear vision -- is in itself competence. That is, because he is clear about what he intends to do, you can count on him to do it. So, even if you don't fully agree with his ideology, you can trust him in a way that you can't trust Kerry, who does not have such a clear vision. It's an audacious claim, but totally false. To deal with it, Kerry needs a clear vision both on Iraq and the economy -- I think he's almost there, but it needs to be distilled down to its simplest elements -- but he also needs to challenge the Bush equation of ideology/vision with competence.

Kevin argues that "the Bush branding is just too strong" on this message. If so, I don't really see a way out. But you can't brand a lie forever. But there is now a solid two months, with people paying attention. The public has already lost faith in Bush based simply on results. They need to be constantly reminded why the President is responsible for those results, or they will fall back to the instinctive trust they give him because he is the president.

I don't have a more specific suggestion other than to always, always, always use phrases like "failure of leadership," and not try to brand Bush as simply too conservative. One way to make the case is to focus away from Bush and more aggressively on all the people around Bush, not one of whom is popular or trusted, although they are also not that well known. Cheney, Ashcroft (whose record of finding and prosecuting real terrorists ranks with Joseph McCarthy's record of finding real communists, i.e., zero), Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Feith/Perle, etc. One measure of Bush's incompetence is that he has surrounded himself with the very wrong people.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on September 5, 2004 | Permalink


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Competence like credibility is part of a foundation of reasons we like and trust a person.

I doubt anyone is making a case that the campaign should focus only on competence, or that there is only one way to make that argument. I also doubt that Kerry should be the one making it. Although with the quality of surrogates that we have, it may be that Kerry is the only one that can.

Consider how the Bush campaign is making its credibility and competence argument against Kerry. That would be the swiftie's attacks and the flipflop thingy. They believe you don't directly attack these things by using the words credibility and competence, but by making clear associations with character traits that make the argument for you.

Stubborn seems to me to lead to the competence issue albeit without the visual representation that flipflop has. I am not smart enough to suggest one for the credibility issue. Perhaps the best way to attack that is to continue to point out Bush's failings in that area through the "misleading us into war" phrase.

Both of these could work if they allow the voter to make a connection with something they suspect or some voice in their head that barely reaches the level of conscious thought. They need to think THEY made that connection before they hear Kerry making it.

Posted by: Fr33d0m | Sep 5, 2004 4:54:07 PM

I think there are two reasons to vote against Bush.

1. Bush is not a resolute leader. He is a fraud pretending to be a resolute leader. People with agendas are able to manipulate him into doing things that do not make America more safe because he cannot think for himself.


2. Bush is not a compassionate conservative. The Republicans could have produced a stimulus program that put money into the hands of people who would spend it to give the economy an immediate boost in demand, but instead he sent tax cuts mostly to people like Ken "Kenny Boy" Lay that had about half the effect on employment stimulus' such as the one Bill Clinton introduced had.

Bush also did not press to extend unemployment benefits when the economy was in a recession because people who cannot make their mortgage are simply not Bush's concern.


Posted by: | Sep 5, 2004 5:23:05 PM

Articulation is the problem, not the solution.
Democrats just don't get it. This is not a failure to articulate. Kerry has a marketing problem. Marketing is about selling the sizzle, not the steak. The Republicans win by selling "sizzle" (perceptions and symbols) and the Democrats lose by selling "steak" (issues). It's Madison Avenue versus the policy wonks, and the policy wonks will lose every time.

While Kerry and the Democrats are all in a tizzy and focused on the "issues" and even the micro-details of the issues, the Rove/Bush campaign has demonstrated an understanding of campaign fundamentals that totally escapes Democrats and liberals. Campaigns are only tangentially about "issues". Campaigns are about symbols and perceptions. Maybe 20% of voters follow the "issues" and are obsessed with the minutiae. People vote on their perception of the candidates. The media doesn't even cover the issues, they cover the horse race. "He said, she said" stenography is a substitute for covering the issues. It doesn't matter if Kerry is "right" on the "issues". It doesn't matter how often Lord Saletan, the NY Times and the Washington Post articulate the "issues" or fact check Bush speeches.

Voters will not and cannot be expected to spend hours disecting each and every issue to determine who's "right". Most voters are not policy wonks. Most voters are too concerned with the daily hassles and struggles of real life to be the policy wonks Democrats expect them to be.

What elections boil down to is "may the best liar win." Republicans understand this and Democrats do not. Bush/Rove have defined Kerry as a flip flopper who is weak on defense. The "truth" doesn't matter. The perception has taken hold because Kerry and the Democrats think elections are about issues instead of symbols.
Bush is perceived as "resolute" and "determined" because Kerry and the Democrats have failed to provide the voters with an alternative script. Move On ads have been focused on the issues and Bush/Rove ads have been focused on Kerry's image.

The best idea I've heard for an ad came from Chris Matthews. If Kerry ran the clip from "Farenheit 911" where Bush is dressed in a tuxedo and says to the "have mores" that "I call you my base" the election would be over.
He's right and the Democrats and Kerry campaign are too tone deaf to hear it.

Kerry is a flip flopper because Bush ran the "I voted for the $87 billion, before I voted against it" ad over and over. All of the Republican surrogates always bring up "I voted for the $87 billion, before I voted against it". Dukakis lost because of the "tank commander" ad and the "Willie Horton" ad.

This is about marketing not articulation folks. Sell the sizzle, not the steak. If Kerry and/or the DNC ran a 15 second "I call you my base" ad over and over and over the election would be over. Why do people think Bush is a man of the people and Kerry is an elitist? Why do most Americans think the Bush tax cuts are for the middle class? Because Kerry is talking a lot of policy wonk smack and Bush/Rove are creating a Kerry "brand". Kerry and the DNC don't even get it.

Detroit doesn't sell cars, they sell sizzle. P&G doesn't sell soap, they sell sizzle. Jack in the Box doesn't sell hamburgers, they sell an antenna ball head guy with sizzle.

"I call you my base" over and over and over. Bush/Rove could try to link Kerry to Michael Moore, but the words are coming right out of Bush's mouth. Gee, that's funny. The "I voted for the $87 billion, before I voted against it" words were right out of Kerry's mouth.

Is the Bush "brand" too strong to be attacked, or is the Bush "brand" so strong because it hasn't been attacked? Republicans win the symbol and perception contest hands down.

Posted by: JollyBuddah | Sep 5, 2004 7:02:30 PM

Jolly Buddah has it absolutely right. Kerry needs to hire a bunch of tough Madison Avenue hustlers, the kind of guys who could sell snow to an Eskimo. Image and perception are all that matters to most voters; if you have three kids and are working 50 hours a week just to pay the bills you aren't likely to be hanging around the blogosphere discussing policy details. The Kerry message needs to be compact and visceral.

Posted by: peter jung | Sep 6, 2004 12:30:15 AM

"If Kerry and/or the DNC ran a 15 second "I call you my base" ad over and over and over the election would be over."

Excellent, and upsettingly obvious, idea.

I am very worried that the Kerry campaign plans to cede national security issues as it sharpens its focus on the economy. I've posted on the subject in several places this weekend, more to share the angst than anything. So one more time: the campaign seem to be on the cusp of accomplishing two remarkable precedents. The first is to work for a Democratic Presidential nominee who has earned the endorsement of two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a former head of CentCom, a former Superintendent of West Point, a former Air Force Chief of Staff, etc. The second is to fail, so far, to make sure that the swing electorate knows this.

That DNC has that Gen. McPeak ad running here and there, but that is it. Maybe the Kerry people are afraid of backfire if the Bush campaign really does have 100 generals, but if they use the endorsements they have effectively, they can greatly improve Kerry's national security numbers.

One hears nothing about two more Army divisions and the backdoor draft. And the ludicrous attacks on Kerry's defense voting record go unanswered. I see signs of life, for example, Carville on "Meet The Press" yesterday bringing up Cheney's advocacy of defense cuts in the early '90s. But they have allowed Bush to use the "voted yes before I voted no applause line" for months now. Of course, they're afraid of losing attention-challenged voters in the process of explaining that Kerry wanted to pay for that $87 billion by repealing upper-class tax cuts, but that's what media people are for.

Yesterday's and today's Adam Nagourney/David Halfbinger/Jodi Wilgoren pieces in the "Times" contained no reference to ways that campaign plans not to avoid dropping the ball on national security as it refocuses. And yesterday's piece contained a a truly "Thank God Kerry didn't pick him for VP" line from Evan Bayh, stating that every time Democrats talk about national security, they're on Republican turf. If that's true, then the Democrats will just have to wait for the end of the nation-state international system to become a majority party again, because the single-superpower 1990s aren't coming back. Mr. Bayh should start a "2076 Club," which would start planning for majority status and a policy agenda for the day when national security might not be important.

Perhaps I've simply been spooked by Nagourney's and company's particular take on the campaign story. But the precendents of 1998 (candidates, run away, far away, from a hugely unpopular impeachment of a popular President!), 2000 (any mention of the inadequacies of our opponent's ideas or his lack of readiness to be President is "going negative"!), and 2002 (when they impugn your patriotism, ignore it, and don't even think about asking a six-word question, "Will we have to occupy Iraq?"), are resonate too well with the recent campaign news.

This strayed a little off-topic, but we have to remember that no campaign message will be effective unless it dovetails with a credible national security stance. Kerry doesn't have to beat Bush's numbers, but he cannot have more than a small gap.

Posted by: Sean Flaherty | Sep 6, 2004 11:53:59 AM

There is no case to be made against Mr. Bush as an individual, because he does not exist as a historical actor. He is a pure figurehead, if an outstandingly successful one. The case that must be made is against the Republican Party, as the custodian, in this time and place, of the totalitarian impulse.

Posted by: Frank Wilhoit | Sep 6, 2004 9:06:07 PM

I also have two reasons for voting against Bush:

1. Bush has betrayed Conservatives with his fiscal policies. (Actually as far as I can tell his entire fiscal policy is tax cuts)

2. Bush has betrayed Conservatives with his radical, interventionist foreign policy.

I am making my comments as a very annoyed RINO. I am part of that microscopic voting demographic of Bush 41 Democrats. These days I agree with the authors of "Running on Empty" by Peter G Peterson and "America Alone" by Halper and Clarke, that Bush policies are a fiscal and foreign policy betrayal of the conservative philosophy.

I recently read Podhoretz's Commentary article, "World War IV: How It Started, What It Means and Why We Have To Win". Aside from the intellectual dishonesty and historical revisionism, that Halper and Clarke point out are symptomatic of neo-cons, I was struck by the following accusation. Because of his Wall Street Journal Editorial criticizing the neo-con justification for the Iraq war, Brent Skowcroft was providing "aid and comfort to the hard left". Well lock me up in one of Michelle Malkin's internment camps and call me a red diaper doper baby.

This crop of neo-cons are radical. They are a threat to our civil liberties and our way of life. The conventional wisdom of the Bush administration that Reagan proved deficits don't matter is a threat to our entire economy. The neo-con hubris and naivte on foreign policy also extends to Bush's fiscal policy, such as it is. As far as I can tell tax cuts are the sole solution to every fiscal problem.

Sean mentioned his concern about ceding national security issues to Bush. Considering the 911 neurosis gripping the country I don't know if there is anything Kerry can do about it. Bush consistently polls lower than Kerry on the war in Iraq and higher than Kerry on the "war on terrorism". Aside from Afghanistan, I'm not aware of a single Bush policy or initiative that addresses the "war on terrorism". If anybody has an explanation other than 911 neurosis for why Bush scores high on terrorism and low on Iraq I'd love to hear it.

I agree with Mark that an attack on Bush's national security credentials might be more effectively focused on his surrounding cast. Again I turn to Michael Moore. How about a 15 second clip of Wolfowitz spiting on his comb before he runs it through his hair? Then he has an assistant spit on his comb??????? Most Americans may find this disgusting enough that it might even break through the 911 neurosis. How can any man be entirely sane if he spits on his comb to comb his hair?

I'm casting a a fiscally conservative vote for Kerry and institutional gridlock. The Republicans will filibuster Kerry programs, and Kerry will veto any extension of the Bush tax cuts. The most fiscally sound administrations we've had in the last fifty years were Reagan and Clinton, who both had a Congress from the opposite party. The most fiscally disastrous administrations have been LBJ and Bush 43. Interestingly enough, LBJ and Bush 43 also led us into disastrous wars based on a false premise.

Once my conservative friends grudgingly accept my fiscal argument for divided government, they turn to the defending America and resolute leader argument. My response is that the war on terrorism was over once we invaded Afghanistan. I point out the letter signed by a whole host of neo-cons (I believe including Cheney and Rumsfield, I should look this up) and presented to Clinton in 1998. I ask my conservative friends if they think Clinton could have prevented 911 by invading Iraq in 1998.

For any rational person this is a conversation killer. I haven't met a single person willing to argue that Osama Bin Laden's plans would have been side tracked by an invasion of Iraq. Does that matter? Not really. I heard an interview of an "undecided" voter on one of the talking bonehead shows. He didn't like the Bush tax cuts/economic policy, but liked Bush because he "went after the bad guys." The argument that invading Iraq might not have been a wise response to a failure of airport security at Logan Airport isn't going to carry any weight with these voters. Neither will any other argument. The 911 neurosis demands that we punish somebody and Bush has made the case that a few thousand Afghans are insufficient punishment for 911.

The only arguments that will win are symbolic arguments, not rational ones. I heard Kerry make the W=Wrong attack today and it sounds like a good start. No long, rational policy wonk arguments, just W=Wrong, over and over and over. That's branding. The problem is that it's still too rational. Is there anything rational or truthful about the constant attacks that Kerry favors unilateral disarmament? No, but they seem to be effective.

Wolfowitz spiting on his comb, that's branding. Bush saying "I call you my base", that's branding. They're inherently effective because you can't argue with them. Bush/Rove/RNC can complain that they're not fair, but how far is that pig going to fly?

Posted by: | Sep 7, 2004 1:07:49 AM

I agree it is symbols and marketing over substance. One of the Pandagon kids had a post on Washington Monthly about votersd using heuristics which seemed spot on.
I think the key is actually to be playing offense rather than defence, regardless of the substance or charge. If you look like you are on the offense, the media coverage is positive, whereas if you look like you are on the defensive the opposite is true. The trick is the jijitsu of taking an attack, and deflecting it back to the attacker so they are playing defence.
So far the Republicans are better at it. It is conceiveable that as the election approaches that the media will be better referees (it will be interesting to see how Kitty Kelly's book plays), but I would not count on it.
Kerry needs to not look defensive in the debates, and to force Bush into defending his record.
With that tactic in mind, there are some memes that need to be floated as part of an arsenal used to deflect Bush attacks. One is Bush always making excuses. Another is that Bush avoids difficult things (attack the strength) and use it with Viet Nam, releasing his records, debates, press conferences, defending his record without prepared remarks, hiding behind surrogates, avoiding an honest argument for Iraq. Another meme would be that Bush is not in control of his policies (being led by Condoleeza, Cheney, Feith, Franklin, etc. This could force him to try and show his command of his policies.
The surface area vulnerable to attack of GWB is so large that it counfounds, and up to this point his team has been able to sell this anchor to a struggling swimmer, but as the laser like focus of the election season approaches we need to force Bush to defend his record, and to take away his excuses or at least paint them as such.

Posted by: theCoach | Sep 7, 2004 9:48:03 AM

Most of the comments are on target. Bush presents a black and white image of the world. It is a very simple and easy message that anyone in America can understand (even though it is a childish view of policy, both foreign and domestic). While Kerry is arguing that everything is a shade of gray, and there are no absolutes in the world of political policy.

That is why Bush does so well, Saddam=evil. War=Freedom. Liberal=bad. Kerry doesn't have time to go the fine details of healthcare and social security.

Posted by: Carson | Sep 7, 2004 2:09:42 PM

Forget Iraq. It's the past now.

Kerry will not win the nat'l sec. battle ever. He must talk about health care until he is blue in the face. He can then eke out a victory. He's not going to get a landslide, but a win's a win. Right, GWB?

Posted by: Anonymous | Sep 7, 2004 3:21:53 PM

Bush's incompetence is only part of it.

There's also his utter lack of character. He lies, cheats, dissembles, and misleads. He will not accept responsibility for his mistakes, or even acknowledge them.

And there's the fact that he's a political extremist who believes in a religious doctrine that is far beyond mainstream American belief ("God told me to invade Iraq" is close to blasphemy).

The point is that attacks on Bush that ignore his politics, his religion, or his character are too weak to do much good. Bush really is that awful, and there is no reason to tiptoe around it.

Posted by: tristero | Sep 7, 2004 3:41:29 PM

Finding a clear, simple message for attacking Bush is as simple as pie. It's one word. It covers his entire administration and that of their entire party. It's a tried and true message that has been proven simply by looking at the New York Times Bestseller List. It is a message that even a child could understand. It applies to domestic, and foreign policy.

Lies. They are liars. They were lying then, they are lying now. They are defended by liars. Hammer it home. Sing it from the rooftops. Make them defend every lie. Past it on the forheads of every pro-Kerry pundit. Have every minute of every day on all the channels be about lies. That's another typical Bush/Cheney lie, Chris. There they go, Brit, lying again. Why would you trust these people, Dan, when they have been proven to by liars time and time again?

Every sentence should bring it home. The are liars.

Quit trying to avoid it. Quit trying to play nice. Say it like it is.

Posted by: Christopher Baker | Sep 7, 2004 4:33:12 PM

The problem, however, is that the administration uses secrecy not to protect us, but to cover up its own incompetence and failings, and to suppress useful criticism.

Example: Border Patrol agents fear coming retribution

One way to make the case is to focus away from Bush and more aggressively on all the people around Bush, not one of whom is popular or trusted, although they are also not that well known.

Listen to this interview with one of the people supposedly protecting us from terrorists for a perfect example.

If Kerry had the guts to support an end to illegal immigration, he could gain perhaps millions of votes from the 75% of Americans who oppose illegal immigration.

If Bush's cheap-labor-at-any-cost policies are allowing al Qaeda to infiltrate the U.S. via our porous borders, perhaps Kerry could offer an alternative.

Posted by: The Lonewacko Blog | Sep 7, 2004 5:04:57 PM

I agree with those who've said incompetence is only a small portion of the problem. Bush didn't privatize social security in term 1 not because he's incompetent but because it would have been an unacceptable political risk for his reelection. Privatizing social security is a second term issue if ever there was one.

As for the other recycled parts of Bush's agenda, the reason he hasn't accomplished them yet is not incompetence, it's that he never intended to accomplish them and he's lying now to attract the moderates. Increase Pell grants? More spending on community colleges? Does anyone really think Bush is going to include money for any of these things in his budgets?

This is why the "he lies" attack line has to be a part of any Kerry resurgence. He can always blame Democratic Senators for not acceding to his agenda. Concrete demonstrations of Bush's lies have to be fed to the public on a daily basis. This can be coupled with the Fahrenheit 911 line and the war in Iraq. But Kerry or Edwards has to attack the lies in order for them to win.

Posted by: Stuart | Sep 7, 2004 5:16:20 PM

"W = Wrong"; "W = Wrong" "W= Wrong". Keeps it short and sweet and should be posted all over the country. Covers all bases - credibility, lying, competence; its true; and most importantly, fits easily on a bumpersticker. As A. Stevenson II once replied to someone who suggested that every intelligent person in the country was going to vote for him: "That's not enough, I need a majority."

Posted by: | Sep 7, 2004 6:19:49 PM

Some time ago Josh Marshall wrote a brilliant post on Talking Points Memo about how Bush was a Moral Coward. Since then I have thought the meme "Bush is a Moral Coward" was a far better condemnation than "Bush is incompetent" because it hits him at his perceived strength.

He was a coward during Vietnam

He was a coward during the implementation of almost ever policy initiative put forth by this administration because almost every single one was perpetrated by lies.

He was a coward for lying about the reasons for going to Iraq and not having the courage to tell the truth to the American people.

He was a coward during 9-11

He is a coward on every campaign stop in which he has to have his audience pre-screened for loyalty

and so on and so on.

Go read Marshall's post here:


Posted by: Kent | Sep 7, 2004 9:16:17 PM

How about re-using Johnson's campaign commercials against Goldwater? With Bush and the Neocons warmongering they look remarkably presentient.


Posted by: contrariwise | Sep 8, 2004 12:00:12 AM

I agree that "Liar" is stronger and better than "Wrong"

Bush is a liar about being compassionate:

Cut benefits for soldiers
Failed to extend unemployment benefits
Got rid of overtime for lots of workers

Bush is a liar about being a resolute leader:

Stuck in headlights when the nation came under attack
Claimed capturing Bin Laden was a high priority

What is so hard to say about "George W. Bush is Lying" that even Edwards will not say it?

Posted by: | Sep 8, 2004 3:15:13 AM

I support Kerry on an Anyone But Bush basis, but seriously, I don't know what Kerry specifically would do differently from Bush, especially in the future.

That's another problem.

Posted by: | Sep 8, 2004 3:17:31 AM

The two most fiscally responsible presidents of recent times were Clinton and Carter. Both did it with Democratic Congresses as well, Clinton's two years with them as fiscally tight as later with the Republican Congress. Carter even proposed a balanced budget one year. Honorable mention to Gerald Ford, who used his veto pen very frequently. (Reagan, like Bush 43, never vetoed a single bill because it spent too much.)

Posted by: sofla | Sep 8, 2004 7:21:40 AM

General comment: using Bush/Cheney's own words against them is the best method of attack. The "Base" clip is the perfect example to prove that the tax cuts were for the rich. Nothing else need be said.

"Bush/Rove/RNC can complain that they're not fair, but how far is that pig going to fly?"

Right. Lack of fairness is the complaint that Dems always level. It's a losing argument. Besides, Dems are dreaming if they think that fairness plays any role in electoral politics.

And whichever line of attack is chosen, it needs to be distilled to simple language, disseminated to every Dem water carrier and hammered at every opportunity,especially on TV. Rove & co succeed not because they lie but because they repeat the lie so much that it attains the aura of fact.

Posted by: Jon | Sep 8, 2004 8:50:58 AM

Jon and Kent make an interesting point that is like the elephant in the living room. How many books have been published about the lies of the Bush administration? Every single policy initiative is founded on a lie. Bush/Rove/the Republicans have elevated the propaganda technique of the big lie to a whole new level. They even insullate themselves by dismissing the charges as "Bush bashing" by "Bush haters". By a simple ad hominem attack they dismiss the need to respond.

In the meantime a bare majority still believes that there was a link between Hussein and Al Quaida and that Hussein was behind 911. Cheney continues to campaign on the idea that there was a link between Iraq and Al Quaida. Salon has a list of 21 "predictions" about the war that were wrong and asks if they can get away with the same thing when they invade Iran. Salon answers their rhethorical question, "Why not? They got away with it before."

In the same vein, consider Dennis Hastert's accusation that George Soros gets his money from running a drug cartel. Why should Hastert and company stop? As far as I can tell the entire swiftboat vet case against Kerry is "Kerry doesn't deserve his medals because we say so." Not a single document to support them, not a single accusation that hasn't been demolished. Why should they stop?

Bush still defends his "middle class tax cuts" with ample support from National Review and like organizations. This week my own hometown O.C. Register had an editorial by Walter Williams titled "Pity Those Poor Rich People" that I'm sure ran all over the country. Is anybody else amazed at how multi-millionaires have been transformed into the new oppressed minority? One of Bill O'Reilly's favorite hobby horses is that Bill O'Reilly's taxes are too high.

Bush also takes credit for the first "forward moving Medicare reform" in fifty years. Someone forgot to tell the seniors what a good deal this is for them, the vote was held open for three hours and there's an arguable case that republicans only passed it with outright bribery and an OMB actuary had his job threatened if he told the truth about the numbers. But this is still passed off as Medicare reform.

I heard a clip of George Bush say "I know what I'm doing in Iraq" and not a single comment. Is there a shred of evidence anywhere that Bush has the slightest clue what he's doing in Iraq? And yet Kerry is the one who is attacked for not having a clear exit strategy from Iraq.

This goes way beyond a "teflon presidency". This goes beyond "Worse than Watergate". This may be the first administration in American history based on a fundamental core policy of deceit, treachery and corruption. Why should they stop?

Posted by: JollyBuddah | Sep 10, 2004 8:24:47 AM


I just recalled seeing a religious commentator say that the violence in Gibson's "The Passion" was ok because it was "redemptive violence." I wonder if Bush/Cheney have a theory of "redemptive deceit" or "redemptive corruption" to justify their policies, statements and conduct. Outing Valerie Plame, "Reagan proved deficits don't matter", "Rumsfield is doing a superb job", and on and on.

The only solution is a commercial of Wolfowitz spiting on his comb.

Posted by: JollyBuddah | Sep 10, 2004 8:46:56 AM

Post post script:

I also forgot the whole "Stausian" thing. As far as I can tell, Straus's whole philosophy boils down to "the secret of political writing is never tell the truth". Straus is the University of Chicago professor who was mentor to an amazing number of neo-cons. Wolfowitz denies that there is any "Strausian connection", but of course that's exactly what a good Strausian would say.

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the Bush administration has elevated lies, deceit and treachery to the level of conscious affirmative public policy.

Posted by: JollyBuddah | Sep 10, 2004 9:09:07 AM

Some great posts here. I agree with the common sentiment that the Kerry campaign has had a bit of a slogan deficit. Here are some thoughts:

First, I would try to associate the word 'reckless' with Bush as much as he's succeeded (unfairly) with 'flip-flop' against Kerry -- reckless at home, reckless abroad. Great to tie his budget recklessness with foreign policy craziness -- this appeals to conservatives and liberals. And call his work with the budget "Enron Accounting"

Second, John Kerry has struggled for months to find a succinct way to respond to the question: “Were you for removing Saddam or not?” If he says yes, how does he differ from the President? If he says no, he must support tyrants. (If he answers in detail, he doesn’t make the nightly news.) My suggested slogan for disarming this strategy: We did the right thing the wrong way. This slogan explains how Kerry can be for the war and against it – and when you’re defending yourself against being a flip-flopper a long, nuanced explanation is the last thing you need. You need a blunt slogan that makes your point: right goal, wrong way. We all get that idea. No contradiction there! It’s the process, stupid.

Third, relate Bush jr and Bush sr with phrases such as "We don't need another Bush economy" or "Tired of the Bush economy". This could even be extended to a theme of being "Bushed Out"

Fourth, acknowledge the obvious more: "Of course, Saddam's a bad man" Then say: "But we did the right thing the wrong way". I think the campaign, in particular, needs to acknowledge people's safety fears and anger at terrorism more. You can't let Bush 'own' these feelings.

Fifth, here's another slogan/idea that ties Iraq etc with policy at home. Let’s make Election Day a national holiday – call it Democracy Day. This steals some of Bush's patriotic clothing but is also very progressive.

Posted by: Dan | Sep 11, 2004 2:51:41 PM