Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Wednesday, March 17, 2004  

The War About Terror

"If anything, we understated the case for war."
--Paul Wolfowitz, this morning on NPR (quoted from memory)


"Do you think President Bush gave the country the most accurate information he had before going to war with Iraq, or do you think President Bush exaggerated information to make the case for war with Iraq?"

Most accurate: 48%
Exaggerated: 50%

NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, March 6-8, 2004.


"Who do you trust to do a better job handling the US campaign against terror, Bush or Kerry?"

Bush: 54%
Kerry: 37%

ABC News/Washington Post poll, Feb. 10-11, 2004.

Three bizarre facts contront John Kerry this year. The first is that the Bush administration lied (and continues to lie) to justify an unnecessary war. The second is that most Americans know this. And the third is that they still trust Bush far more than Kerry to protect them from terrorists.

The only thing that can explain these facts is fear, but that doesn't make Kerry's job any easier. To win the presidency, Kerry may not have to get a majority of Americans thinking he's better on terror than Bush, but he's going to have to close the gap. From where I sit, he's got three choices. He can follow the Bush prescription and try to out-scare the public; he can make logical arguments about the actual state of security in America and point out Bush's failures therein; or he can offer specific plans that will convince voters that his alternative terrorism plan is adequate.

The first two choices are losers. He can't play the fear game because he won't convert the truly terrified, and everyone else will see it as desperate. So far, he's pursued the second course--seemingly baffled by the fact that a lying president who hasn't done much on the terrorism front is whooping him. But this one's a loser, too. People are scared, and fear is irrational; he can't provide logic and hope to combat it.

That leaves the third option, which is his only real hope. The good news is that he has a plan. The bad news is that no one knows what it is. The Bushies are already putting Kerry on the defensive and painting him as a confused tyrant-coddler with no plan. It would be tempting to strike back and try to paint Bush as a confused liar with a badly failed plan, but as true as this is, it becomes just so much rhetoric. If he's going to rise above the discussion, Kerry must lead with his plan. It shouldn't be so hard--every time the President attacks, it provides Kerry with free press to outline his strategy.

Kerry's plan fairly good one, too. It highlights American service, which is a great way to offset fear: people feel safer when they're doing something. He has a component that will train and coordinate local entities who are "first responders." This is a big weakness with the President--he hasn't provided much in the way of leadership or money to local governments. If Kerry can engage those local governments, they become part of his rhetorical team. (And look what happened when Bush pissed off NYC's firefighters.) The other big weakness in Bush's effort is his failure to protect key targets like ports, bridges, and energy installations. Again, Kerry has a plan to secure these.

Focusing on what he will do--and what Americans can do--is the only shot he's got. I don't think he'll ever fully overcome the Bush advantage here, but he doesn't need to. The war on terror is Bush's only winning issue; if Kerry can cut into it significantly, issues like jobs and the economy will decide the election.

posted by Jeff | 8:22 AM |
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