August 30, 2004
By Brian Bentley
In the timeless film, The Candidate, Robert Redford portrays Bill McKay, an unknown grass roots activist who decides to run for the California Senate. Against impossible odds and facing a powerful conservative incumbent, McKay struggles to get his message out – a progressive platform of sharp and simple idealism that appears hopelessly at odds with the harsh realities of the political system. At one point, McKay’s campaign manager hands him a slip of paper with two words written on it: “You lose.” The words become a mantra and McKay’s guarantee that he can tell the truth, say what he wants and be his own man, because he has no chance to win.
Back in January of this year, John Kerry appeared as a modern day Bill McKay. He wasn’t given a housefly’s chance of survival in the bitter cold of the New Hampshire primary. Howard Dean had captured the imagination of the New Left and was preparing for his coronation as The Candidate to challenge George W. Bush in November. But from the back of the pack (or at least the middle), John Kerry burst forth and with military precision, conquered Dean on every front, becoming the party’s presumptive candidate for president in the space of three weeks. It almost seemed like a movie.
Since then, Kerry has gone further and flown higher than anyone had a right to expect. He has accomplished the unthinkable, taking a wartime president all the way to the mat, turning what should have been a Republican blowout into one of the tightest Presidential contests in modern history. Kerry has become the Anti-Bush and along the way, harvested the deep and growing dissatisfaction that a majority of Americans feel about the country’s direction.
So how, with a work record that would get you fired in most jobs, can President Bush be headed for an apparent contract extension? After the upcoming Republican Convention bounce, he should be ahead by 8-10% in the polls. It seems that even though a majority of voters agree that we are “headed in the wrong direction,” they seem content to crash, to re-elect the very same managerial team that has steered us into an un-winnable war, alienated our free world allies, plunged the country into a massive budget deficit, yielded the first net loss of jobs since the Hoover administration and set the stage for environmental disaster.
While pollsters scratch their heads in confusion, some of the answers can be found in studying George W. Bush’s continued war of psychological terror against his own people. Bush has appropriated many of the tools of classic Fascist dictatorships. He began with the initial misinformation regarding the Iraqi presence of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Then, he sacrificed Colin Powell’s reputation in N.A.T.O. testimony that was so inaccurate as to be vaguely criminal. Bush followed up with the standard tactic employed by many Third World strongmen, the philosophy that exaggerates and promotes the notion of “Us Against Them.” In late 1930’s Germany, Adolph Hitler solidified his enormous power by launching a genocidal campaign against the Jewish people, portraying them as the very incarnate of evil. Hitler’s public rallied around their leader, ignoring his major blunders because the Fear kept them united. This lesson wasn’t lost on George W.
Bush has blundered and he has bungled and he has miscalculated and yet, he is still here and about to be re-elected because he is a master, one of the best ever, at harnessing the Fear. At critically-timed intervals, he has launched humorously color-coded terror alerts via his Frankensteinian mouthpiece, Tom Ridge. He's our Daddy Dubya, the only leader we can trust to defeat the enemy. Bush has had some luck on the way. Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel markets and reinforces the Fear in masterful fashion. Nazi propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, would be envious.
But we all know what George Bush is about. His growing lead in the polls has more to do with the fact that nobody knows anything about John Kerry. In times of trouble, change can be frightening and John Kerry’s campaign in recent weeks has been indeed frightening. I don’t know who is advising him, but unless he is simply ignoring their suggestions, he should fire the lot of them. Kerry is about to lose and perhaps even bigger than one might expect, think double digits.
This isn’t just negative thinking for argument’s sake. It’s about the desire to win and not just make a nice statement. Howard Dean made a statement and he was a loser. I want John Kerry and the American people to win. And Kerry’s not going to win unless he wakes up. It may already be too late to sway those overly wined-and-dined undecided voters, because Kerry has probably lost the swing states of Ohio and Missouri. Don’t even think about Florida.
Instead, think of the Presidential race as a 12 round fight. If I’m managing Kerry and he’s my boxer, I’m worried. Outside the ring, the Kerry faithful are praying for a miracle while Kerry believes he can still win the bout just on points and rebuttals. And I’m telling him, “Forget the points, John. It’s the 12th round of the fight and you're way behind. This guy is the champion, you’re the challenger. The only chance you’ve got is to knock the sonofabitch out, now. Don’t let the decision go to the cards or you have no chance.”
For Kerry, the 12th round is the upcoming nationally televised Presidential debates. It is his last opportunity to finally articulate who he is and what he stands for. He has to score a knockout or it’s all over. Though Bush is assuredly the Anti-Christ, he has more courage of conviction than John Kerry. He is not afraid. He doesn’t worry if you like him or not. He doesn’t tailor his opinions to fit the latest poll. He says what he means and means what he says and whether he’s right or wrong, you know where he stands. George W. Bush believes in his heart that he is right. He believes that he has a mission to fulfill, whether it’s quashing terror, or at last, pleasing his own father by accomplishing the one thing that dear Ol’ Dad never could, which is to be elected to a second term.
Despite the inherent wrongness of it, Bush’s launching of the war in Iraq required tremendous political cajones. By any stretch of the imagination, it was a move that most likely would backfire and certainly did. On the other hand, John Kerry does not even have the guts to officially admit that he is against the war, despite polls that show half or more of the country agrees. This is nothing short of incredible. Handed the mic at his own convention, with a golden opportunity to get down to specifics, Kerry dropped the ball. Instead, he droned on and on with the G.I. Joe monologues, relentlessly, interminably, reminding an already much-reminded audience of his war record and gunboat accomplishments, trying too hard to sound pro-military, losing sight of the objective.
Kerry has two months, nine short weeks, to decide just how badly he wants to be President. His mission begins with defining just who he is and why he matters and how he can make a difference. This may prove difficult. Any second tier cable TV analyst can articulate the Democratic platform more clearly and passionately than the man currently running the party. And what’s the tagline Kerry needs to write? It’s simple. George W. Bush is a one-issue candidate. No one in the Kerry camp seems to understand just how little the American public realizes this. Remove the War on Terror from the picture and George W. has nothing, nada, zilch, to represent any true accomplishments in his four miserable years in office.
It is obvious Kerry has courage. To serve his country in Vietnam, he rushed headfirst, into a jungle, in hand-to-hand combat and killed a hostile soldier. A couple of years later, in another extremely hostile environment, he testified against his country before Congress, against a war that had clearly gone insane and needed to be stopped. By stepping forward, Kerry had little to gain and in hindsight, much to lose.
Now we all have much to lose if John Kerry cannot get his act together, if he can’t match George W., blow for blow in the 12th round. If Kerry does not find a way to reach Middle America and convince them that he is more than just a flip-floppy Ivy League bore, the country suffers his failure for the next four years. To stay on message, he must first have one. Somehow, he must convince the undecided that he is indeed more interesting than a plate of carrots. As Michael Dukakis, Bob Dole and Al Gore can tell you, when you snooze you lose – no balls means no glory. On the flip side, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have demonstrated that true power starts somewhere south of the beltline.
Of course, John Kerry may turn it all around in the upcoming debates. He could suddenly become JFK to Bush’s Nixon. Can anyone picture JK as a straight-shooting, Robert Redford in All The President's Men, or a desperately cool Harrison Ford in The Fugitive? Kerry might belly up to the hotel bar and instead of white wine, drink a half quart of Wild Turkey, put on the camouflage paint, grab Bush in an on-camera headlock and scream, “This is what war really feels like you draft dodging, baseball team owner!” He could come out swinging and tell the nation his Master Plan, hell any plan, as long as the masses, or the asses, will buy it. Now that would be a bold statement.
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