Kerry Should Stay Invisible
Howard Fineman (Newsweek) — Best Advice for Kerry: Be Invisible
IÃ¢€™ve figured out what Sen. John Kerry needs to do to win the White House this November: wrap himself in Harry PotterÃ¢€™s Invisibility Cloak. If the Massachusetts senator can only stay out of sight for long enough, George W. BushÃ¢€™s presidency may sink into the sands of Iraq.
BushÃ¢€™s decision to go to Iraq is one of the most fateful calls any president has madeÃ¢€”right up there with Harry TrumanÃ¢€™s decision to send aid to Greece and Turkey, JFKÃ¢€™s secret agreement to pull American missiles out of Turkey to end the Cuban missile crisis, and Ronald ReaganÃ¢€™s deal with Gorbachev to begin winding down the cold war. Because BushÃ¢€™s decision was so importantÃ¢€”and because it was so clearly his own to makeÃ¢€”itÃ¢€™s central to the campaign. The questions of the season are and will remain: was it worth so much blood and treasure? Did it make us safer?
The American public seems to be slowly but steadily coming to the conclusion that the answer is Ã¢€œno.Ã¢€ Trend lines matter in politics, and the trend of support for the war Bush launched in 2003 has been steadily declining for months, dragging the presidentÃ¢€™s job-approval rating with it. Even if things go reasonably well in Iraq after the official handover date of June 30Ã¢€”a huge and probably unwarranted assumptionÃ¢€”there are growing indications that most voters will see the original decision to go there as wrong, even if they accept the underlying, and still controversial, theory of pre-emptive war, and even if they donÃ¢€™t want a rapid pullout of U.S. troops.
As he seeks to defend the warÃ¢€”arguing that the world is far safer with Saddam behind barsÃ¢€”Bush is operating in an increasingly hostile media environment. In journalism, as in physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. After 9/11 there was an understandable willingness to cut him slack. That era of good feeling is gone, replaced by a media that feels burned, embarrassed and lied toÃ¢€”and doubly wary of the validity of good news coming from Iraq. There is some; but you wonÃ¢€™t see it on TV.
This echoes my thoughts earlier this morning. I believe Fineman accurately captures the mood of the public and the hostility of the press. That said, Kerry will need more than an invisibility cloak. “Not the incumbent” is enough to get someone elected to the town council or the school board; it’s an insufficient basis for electing a wartime president. Kerry will need to persuade the public that he’s a man who can be trusted with protecting their security. That he was a good lieutenant in Vietnam is likely not enough in that regard.
UPDATE: Jim Hoagland disagrees:
The Bush administration’s credibility on managing Iraq has fallen so far that all Kerry has to do to score points is utter that country’s name. His criticisms are seemingly validated daily by the disasters splashed on the front pages and television screens. By cautiously shadowing Bush’s policies and condemning their implementation, Kerry deftly avoids getting in the way of the beating that Iraq is giving the president at this point.
Kerry’s untested (and largely unrealistic) “solutions” of getting France and Germany more involved and providing better training to Iraqis look credible only by comparison to Bush’s recent floundering. Kerry can parry questions about what he would do in Iraq by dwelling on what Bush did, and how it seems to be
This is really a non-strategy, in my view. It’s working right now because Kerry has the aid of the mass media, which harps on bad news in Iraq (because they involve explosions and are photographable) while largely ignoring the good. Later this summer, though, the two men will go head-to-head. I can’t imagine that Kerry’s continued saying that he’d do exactly what Bush would do except “better” and that France would somehow help out will work. Clinton might have been able to pull that off, but Kerry isn’t that compelling a salesman.