One Line Campaign

Jack O’Toole contends that John Kerry isn’t getting much traction (this, despite being essentially even with a wartime president months before the party primaries) is because he hasn’t come up with a bumper sticker reason for firing President Bush:

How much longer can we get away with offering essentially disconnected criticisms of Mr. Bush and his administration while the other side is going directly at John Kerry with a coherent message about his character and policies that, if communicated effectively, will make our guy unelectable? How much longer can we play checkers while they’re playing chess?

I don’t pretend to know exactly what our negative critique should be. But I do know that you can’t unseat a president without one. And I’m beginning to wonder whether waiting until the convention to unveil ours — which I suspect is the current plan — is really the wisest course. (At this point in 1980, for example, I already knew that Jimmy Carter was “weak.” And by this time in ’92, I knew that George Bush, Sr. was “out of touch” — that he just didn’t understand or care about the lives of people like me. What, thematically speaking, is wrong with this President Bush? I really couldn’t tell you.)

In a separate post, he attributes this to InstaPundit:

Each and every day, Glenn quite skillfully uses his site to weave the right side of the blogosphere into a coherent, compelling whole, a narrative of conservative ideas and opinion. In short, a message. And despite our signal successes — the professional-level political and policy analysis being done by some, the potent partisan anger that’s bracingly channeled by others — the left side of Blogdom still doesn’t have anything quite like an Instapundit.

What’s especially interesting is that Glenn isn’t even a conservative in most senses of the word. Further, while he’s wildly successful at what he does, he doesn’t have the impact on swing voters–who are really all that matter in the end–that any number of mainstream journalists do.

Ogged, noting that the “Bush is stupid” meme hasn’t seemed to do the trick, suggests an interesting alternative:

Here’s my nomination: George Bush doesn’t play by the rules. From the Iraq war, to the South Carolina primary against McCain, to the outing of Valerie Plame, to putting political hacks into career civil service positions, to not holding enough press conferences, to refusing to release records, to his National Guard service…all of these are examples of not playing by the rules. *** And we should also keep in mind all the ongoing investigations of Republicans. Every trickle of news about any of them will feed the “not playing by the rules†beast. Having a counter to the “boldâ€/“strong leaderâ€/“decisive†persona lets us shift the debate to facts and outcomes, which are overwhelmingly in our favor.

I’d note that the Republicans tried that one against Bill Clinton with little apparent success.

I agree that something simple is the key to defeating an incumbent or, really, selling yourself. While the Democrats need to come up with a one-liner about why Bush should be replaced, they would be well served to come up with one about why Kerry should be president. Kerry won the nomination by not being Howard Dean. I don’t think he can win the presidency by not being George W. Bush.

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, The Presidency, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bob Hawkins says:

    Whatever happens, we have got
    The Instapundit, and they have not.

  2. Scott Harris says:

    The Democrats KNOW, they just KNOW that President Bush is evil. Why can’t the rest of us see that. It is telling that they cannot come up with a coherent reason to oust President Bush – only their gut instinct that he is indeed evil. Pathetic. Not only can they not tell us why Bush should go; they cannot even tell us why Kerry should be President – unless surrendering sovreignty to the UN is considered a coherent reason. Ugh.

  3. Scott Harris says:

    I’ll revise my criticism. I think Democrats do know why they hate Bush. But unfortunately for them, the reasons would repulse most Americans. So they cannot afford to be honest about why they think Bush should go because their honesty would accrue to Bush’s benefit. The bottom line is that they do not like what America stands for, and by extension they do not like most Americans. But even a fool can see that such a position cannot win the election.

  4. RicK DeMent says:

    The bottom line is that they do not like what America stands for, and by extension they do not like most Americans.

    What a completely vapid and meaningless platitude that clearly betrays even a rudimentary or perhaps retarded understanding about what motivates Democrats in particular and those who oppose George Bush in general.

    Personally I stopped believing in the boogie man at a fairly young age. But for some he is apparently necessary in order to bring sense to this crazy world.

  5. whatever says:

    Those boogie men murdered 2000 Americans and destroyed billions of dollars of property.

    And you, like most democrats, still don’t believe in them.

  6. Jack O'Toole says:

    As I’m sure you know, I’m a long-time reader (and a genuine fan) of OTB. So when I ask this, I’m certain that you’ll understand the question isn’t meant as any kind of a cheap shot. But….

    Did you actually click through at Unfogged and read either of my posts in their entirety? Because, honestly, based on your comments, I have to wonder. You’re just too good a commentator to have written what you did had you read my statements in their proper context. (On the other hand, maybe my writing is just that unclear….)

    In closing, a brief note to the other commenters: There are lots of reflexive Bush bashers in the Blogosphere. No one who reads my site regularly has ever accused me of being one of them.

  7. Jack O'Toole says:

    Ogged from Unfogged just pointed out that I completely misread a line in your post, James. (I guess we can add reading comprehension to my ever-growing list of Things That Need Work.) Anyway, I apologize, and I’ve corrected the error in my response.

  8. James Joyner says:


    I went to bed shortly after the post (5 a.m. rolls around pretty early) so missed the whole thing until now!

  9. RicK DeMent says:

    The Democrats murderd 2000 people?

  10. RoboDruid says:

    James T. Kirck never played by the rules.

    I don’t know if it is a good idea…..
    /end geek