September 16, 2004

Kerry Watch

Kerry's doing better in the latest polls--and is also looking better on the campaign trail than I've seen before. I just caught him on Fox over here now back in London. Here's where he sounded, er, like he actually had some combination of balls, gravitas, and conviction (text at this NYT article):

He [Bush] did not tell you that with each passing day, we're seeing more chaos, more violence, more indiscriminate killings," the senator said. "He did not tell you that with each passing week, our enemies are getting bolder that Pentagon officials report that entire regions of Iraq are now in the hands of terrorists and extremists. He did not tell you that with each passing month, stability and security seem farther and farther away.

Now, all this is easy carping from the sidelines. And it doesn't get me even remotely close to thinking Kerry is sincere about trying to see the Iraq project through. But it might, just perhaps, lead Bush to have to play defense a little more on the Iraq issue than he has to date.

You know, that's probably good--if it comes to pass. Bush needs to reassure people that he gets how complex and fraught with danger the situation in Iraq is. It wasn't (and isn't) just a miscalculation here and there. It's a project that, while still salvageable, is today imperiled in very real fashion.

So Mr. President--tell it like it is. We're grown-ups--we can handle it. More important, clue us in (at least in a couple speeches--let the listening crowds eyes glaze over if need be)--to what your game plan is if elections can't happen and Sistani goes ballistic (Shi'a crude majoritarianism held at bay!), or elections happen but hundreds get bombed to death at polling stations dotting the land, or the Sunnis refuse to abide by the results, or Kurdish-Shi'a tensions burst to the fore post-elections.

Now, I know this President has doubtless been counseled by Karl Rove to play to his strength--projecting simple, rock-ribbed conviction--so that speeches getting him caught up in such details would not necessarily play well in Peoria or might have him stumbling over his lines. But he, or surrogates like Powell or Condi, need to start giving us more than we've been getting: 'freedom is on the march'! 'elections coming up in January'! more kindergartens opening! (now that we, er, do kindergartens...)

I believe it will be a net gain if Bush hits back at Kerry hard on this latest line of attack--despite Roveian 'keep it simple' guidelines. Bush should go beyond the standard lines mocking Kerry's flip-flopping (it might get stale). He should also say that it's easy to whine from the sidelines--but Kerry has still not offered any cogent, real, intelligent policy alternatives on Iraq. And then (if only!), how wonderful it would be to see Bush begin to chart a more detailed road ahead showing that a) he's more in touch with reality and not too far in the bubble and b) he is thinking more proactively than Kerry and his foreign policy advisors (not a hard thing to do!)

UPDATE: Polls are really all over the map right now. I can't really make much sense of them...though I suspect campaign internals would show a continuing post-convention lead for Bush of 3-5% pts. Not huge--but not statistically irrelevant either. Incidentally, per some e-mails, I gather some of my readers think my recommendations above are poppycock--that Bush should keep it real simple and 'on message' re: Iraq barring massive disaster there between now and November. I still think, all told, that he should level with us more re: the real challenges taking place there. Seeing POTUS more apprised and engaged with the issues might help make some fence-sitters think a Bush II will be less flat-footed in terms of making breezy, erroneous policy assumptions about complex conflict situations.

MORE: Others were less impressed by the Senator from Massachusetts:

The convention of more than 4,000 Guard officers responded far more coolly to Mr. Kerry than it had to Mr. Bush. The hall, which had been full on Tuesday, had scattered empty chairs on Thursday as Mr. Kerry arrived, and the group, which repeatedly interrupted the president's speech with standing ovations and hoots of approval, offered Mr. Kerry a polite but quieter reception.

At the point that Mr. Kerry said Mr. Bush had not told the convention the truth, a man shouted out "No!" As Mr. Kerry finished speaking, a few officers sat in their chairs, arms crossed. Col. Joanne F. Sheridan, of the Louisiana National Guard, got up and walked out before he was done.

"Mine was a silent protest to what he was saying," Colonel Sheridan said later. "What he was saying about George Bush not telling the truth on Iraq - I just don't believe that. George Bush did tell us the truth, so I guess I couldn't believe what Kerry was saying. Here, he came before a military audience, but he said what he said for the media, for the television cameras - not for us, that's for sure."

Posted by Gregory at September 16, 2004 11:54 PM

Today will be a day of huge poll-spinning. Gallup has a new poll that runs strongly counter to Reuters article (Bush up by 8 among registered voters, a staggering 13 among likely voters). The Gallup poll overlapped, but shifted later, than the Pew and Harris polls. The only difference I can think of other than differences in methodology is that CBS's confession on the forgeries came after Pew and Harris but before Gallup was completed. Here's the link:

Posted by: Jack at September 17, 2004 10:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Gallup's weekday poll is more accurate than Pew's weekend poll.

(Gallup polled Mon-Weds; Pew from Sat-Tues.)

What's the connection!?

Over the weekend Pew almost certainly polled fewer religiously observant people - people who OVERWHELMINGLY support Bush.

If religiously observant peole are likely voters then the Gallup poll is far more likelyh to be far more accurate.

Posted by: dan at September 17, 2004 03:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

With Bush, we may or may not succeed in Iraq. I hope we succeed.

But with Kerry's new position on Iraq, I have not heard of anyone seriously suggesting that his "cut-and-run" strategy will be anything other than a defeat for the U.S.

Posted by: john marzan at September 17, 2004 04:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yesterday was Rosh Hashanah, which reminded me of this anecdote: Several years ago, during my surgery rotation in med school, I was working in the OR on Rosh Hashanah. The OR nurse was nice to me: "Why are you here? Aren't you celebrating Rosh Hashanah?" "Uh, no, I don't," I replied. The OR nurse looked shocked. "Aren't you an Islam?" It was an easy enough mistake to make. I look like an "Islam". But my point is this: I might not like it when Mr. Kerry argues that money spent on Iraq should have been spent "right here at home". But I bet ordinary Americans, like that OR nurse, like that kind of talk. And since I now want Mr. Kerry to win, I should stop complaining about his rhetoric.

Posted by: Arjun at September 17, 2004 07:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

... and if Kerry wins and delivers on his promise to "cut and run" and leaves them at the mercy of ex-bathist and "militants", I don't know if the U.S. will have any credibility left with Iraqis.

Posted by: john marzan at September 18, 2004 11:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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