. . . Tuesday August 10, 2004

Between Iraq and a Hard Argument

Is Iraq a winning argument for John Kerry? A lot of the answer to that question will have to do with events on the ground. But let’s take those out of the equation (along with who we may or may not be rooting for) and ask who is winning the war of words.

President Bush and his team have been delighting in Kerry’s recent remarks that he would, knowing what he knows today (that the WMD intelligence was wrong), still have voted for the congressional resolution.

Now, this certainly avoids the flip flop charge. But does it make sense as the centerpiece of a campaign? And make no mistake about it, the handling of Iraq and Kerry’s own military record were at the heart of almost all of the convention messaging.

President Bush hasn’t wavered from his own assertion that he made the right decision (amazing since most of the so called facts that led to that decision turned out to be hogwash). “Knowing what I know today, I would have made the same decision.”

So wait a second. Both guys stand by their earlier decisions. What gives? The difference is that Kerry would’ve handled the lead-up and execution of the war differently. Again, I wonder if that is enough of a distinction to put at the center of one’s campaign.

Kerry explained today that: “My question to President Bush is why did he rush to war without a plan to win the peace? Why did he rush to war on faulty intelligence and not do the hard work necessary to give America the truth? Why did he mislead America about how he would go to war? Why has he not brought other countries to the table in order to support American troops in the way that we deserve it and relieve a pressure from the American people? There are four, not hypothetical questions like the president’s, but real questions that matter to Americans. And I hope you’ll get the answers to those questions because the American people deserve them.”

These are all valid questions. And the handling of the power delivered to Bush by Congress is certainly open for debate. But to be at the center of the campaign, this issue needs to be narrowed down to a lot less than four “not hypothetical” questions.

And this isn’t Jeopardy. How about phrasing this all in the form of an answer. The President blew this and here’s how…

By indicating that he would still vote the same way today, Kerry has reduced this issue to a matter of styles. Kerry essentiallly admits this when he says: “I would have done this very differently from the way President Bush has.” That matters. But does it create enough of a distinction to make undecideds decide?

How about narrowing it down to one question: How can the President send U.S. troops into battle based on a massive distortion and then not admit any regret over that decision once that distortion becomes clear? Or to turn that into a campaign soundbite: The President wants you to believe he can do jumping jacks in quicksand.

Look, I know this is sort of inside baseball stuff, here. These are complex issues and the simpleminded soundbites from the Bush camp are just that. But when it comes to messaging and making clear distinctions on the Iraq issue, I just don’t see Kerry and his team getting it done so far.

Concentration is important!