Republican Campaigns: It's a Short Playbook
Someone on philliesphans.com today pointed out how the Republicans smear the military record of any Democrat who goes up against them, even one as seemingly unimpeachable as John Kerry's. If my man Wesley Clark had won the nomination, I'm sure we'd be hearing 24/7 about how he almost started World War III with the Russians, or why Defense Secretary Richard Cohen had him yanked from command. If Bob Kerrey, say, had ran and won the nomination, it would be All War Criminal, All the Time. And of course, if Dean had hung on, we'd see Early '70s Draft Dodging Ski Bums for Truth polluting the airwaves--and, no doubt, CNN kissing their collective ass.
But a little alternate reality helps to really frame what's going on here. Imagine how the Republicans would spin it if Bush had gone to Vietnam and was awarded three Purple Hearts and the other decorations Kerry won... and the Democratic nominee had used his family's heft to pull a soft assignment which it's quite arguable that he didn't even fulfill! Anyone who doesn't think Rove would sell... well, not his soul--not even a Republican can sell what he doesn't have, except maybe Ken Lay--but let's say his children's... to switch the candidates' Vietnam-era track records just hasn't been paying much attention to politics over the last twenty-plus years. Yeah, Bob Dole had the military record Clinton lacked in 1996, as Bush 41 had before him, but the country couldn't have cared less about anything foreign policy-related in those (hard as it is to believe) more innocent times.
In a larger sense, though, there's nothing new about the Republican campaign this year. Not only does the dark lineage of Atwater/Rove Republicans smear the service of patriotic Democrats in defense of the Quayles, Shrubs and Dicks (pun intended) who love war but aren't man enough to fight themselves; they're using all the established memes and themes from election cycles past. Consider:
Witness Slick Willie, Al "The Whopper" Gore, and of course Kerry's supposedly chronic equivocation. It's a great way to win over people who equate contemplation with weakness and who don't want to be bothered by considering more than one side of any story. And of course, it's a crock--at least insomuch as every public figure with a few exceptions (the late and lamented Paul Wellstone, Russ Feingold, and... crickets) does this. This list of Bush's flip-flops alone should demolish the meme, but some myths are too treasured to part with.
2) "Hee-za Libburl!" Ah yes, the "L" word. Never mind that Bill Clinton was much more of a classical conservative in terms of fiscal responsibility and on social legislation like the 1994 Crime Bill than the Banana Republicans led by Tom DeLay whose only agenda was to stop Clinton and amass power. Al Gore was tarred with this brush as well, though the fact that 2.7 million of us voted for Nader should give some hint as to his true liberal cred. (There was also the factor that Al Gore seemed like a tool.) And now this nonsense about Kerry as "the most liberal Senator"--never mind that he was a deficit hawk from way back when (as his "empty" Senate record clearly shows); he was a very successful prosecutor in MA who emphasized victims' rights; and he supported welfare reform... in Ted Kennedy's state, no less.
I happen to think Kerry is less of a tool than Gore was, and I'm planning to vote for him, but it's not because he's the Great Left Hope. That man died in the Minnesota woods two Octobers ago, and we still miss him terribly.
(This link in the graph above offers a painful reminder of just how much Paul Wellstone meant to Americans who otherwise despaired of honest and brave progressive representation in Washington, DC--and, though it's not fair, I think it sheds some light on why so many of us have invested our hopes in Barack Obama. There is a void in our national life, waiting to be filled by a great liberal champion who might inspire us to dream bigger dreams. I wish the two could have served together.)
3) "He's crrrrazy!" They didn't hit Clinton with this one so much, I guess because it interfered with the slick Lothario image they used on him. But Gore, during the campaign and especially since he's emerged in the last two years as a devastating critic of the administration (I wonder where that eloquent, passionate public figure was in 2000), has been labeled by "experts" from Charles Krauthammer to Bill Safire and George Will as "unbalanced," "shrill", "divorced from reality," etc. Now, I'd submit that the average rantings of Rick "Man on Dog" Santorum or James Inhofe or your theocrat right-wing madman of choice are probably a lot closer to the funny farm than anything Gore has said, but Doctor Krauthammer has not yet offered a diagnosis on the issue.
This is the most recent tactic they're trying on Kerry. One of Bush's drones came out last Friday night after Kerry finally spoke out about the Smear Boat ads, and only said, "He's losing his cool... he's wild-eyed." Good thing that guy didn't see Dick Cheney's pleasantries on the floor of the Senate last month!
And that's the Republican playbook in a nutshell: they have nothing to offer the country on the merits, so they slime their opponents and seek to turn every contest into a referendum on the personality of the Democrat.