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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Back to Reality

Dismayed that about half my posts on this blog have been about polls, I’m not going to delve into the new CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey that shows a much smaller Bush convention bounce than the Time and Newsweek polls that freaked out so many Democrats over the weekend. Check out Ruy Teixeira’s analysis, and if that’s not enough, look at Gallup’s own take, which pours gallons of cold water on the idea that the GOP Convention was a brilliant success (Gallup also provides a peak behind the curtain about the assumptions behind its “likely voter” definition: it’s based on the theory that turnout on November 2 will be 55%).
Frankly, I’m less worried about polls right now than about the bad advice some Democrats are offering Kerry in panicked reaction to the polls, and to the GOP Convention: Stop talking about national security, they say. That’s Bush’s issue. Talk about Medicare and jobs.
Sure, after a Republican confab where domestic issues were at most an afterthought, the Kerry campaign needs to remind Americans about those issues, and how poorly the administration has handled them. More generally, he needs to hammer away on Bush’s entire record. But that doesn’t mean conceding national security to the GOP. That’s the Mother Of All Democratic Delusions, dating back for decades. And if “decades” is too much to think about, then consider 2002, when most Democratic congressional candidates either ignored national security and then talked about Social Security and prescription drugs, or agreed with Bush on national security and then talked about Social Security and prescription drugs. It didn’t work then, and there’s no reason to think it will work now.
The truth is that Bush is as vulnerable on national security as he is on domestic policy. He’s squandered the pricesless strategic asset of the good will America enjoyed around the world after 9/11. He let Osama get away at Tora Bora. He made no real effort to get international support for the invasion of Iraq, and then, in a dumb and ideologically driven decision, gave the “go” signal without any post-war planning, and without committing enough U.S. troops to secure the country. He was dragged kicking and screaming into a half-assed commitment to homeland security, and now he’s being dragged kicking and screaming into a half-assed commitment to intelligence reform. At some point, if we’re lucky, he’ll be dragged kicking and screaming into a half-assed commitment to do something about the unsecured nuclear materials floating around a dangerously unstable former Soviet Union.
John Kerry is the right candidate to raise all these points and score on them, not because he won medals in Vietnam, but because he’s never, ever been willing to concede national security issues to the GOP. And I doubt he’s going to start now.
Kerry’s immediate strategy should be to expose the bizarre parallel universe constructed by the Republicans in New York; remind Americans of Bush’s bad record on almost every issue; and challenge Bush’s arrogant refusal to lay out a credible second-term agenda.
If you had to sum up Al Gore’s most important mistake in 2000 (yes, I know, he won the popular vote and got jobbed in Florida), it was his campaign’s inability to make Objective Reality its friend, at a time when a big majority of Americans thought the country was on the right track and that his administration’s policies were working. Now KE04 needs to identify the incumbent with a very different, and far less positive, state of affairs, and then let reality set in.

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