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Thursday, July 17, 2003
To give Salon some respect (after...good Lord, 1,500 words of criticism): this article starts off complaining about Kerry not using his position of strength on national security to bash Bush in a speech given to NYC police, firefighters, and other civic workers. Instead of complaining about the yellow cake issue, or the missing WMD, he said "that Bush hasn't fulfilled his promises to give cities enough money to defend against terrorism," saying:

"One of the first things I'll do as president is reverse George Bush's wrongheaded rule change that is going to take overtime pay out of the pockets of fire and police sergeants and paramedics." Kerry's speech also called for putting 100,000 new police on the streets along with 100,000 firefighters as part of the Father Mychal Judge Fund, named for the New York Fire Department chaplain who died in the World Trade Center.


Kerry didn't say anything remotely new and critical about the president's intelligence imbroglio, and his biggest crowd-pleaser was a bit perplexing. "We should not be opening firehouses in Baghdad while closing them in Brooklyn," he said to much applause.

The article then goes on to point out how the other Democratic candidates have been hammering Bush on this issue, and the clear implication was that Kerry should be, too, seeing as how he's in the best position to do so (war hero etc.) even if he did vote to approve the use of force in Iraq. And I was all set to get pissed off, but then, surprisingly, the article came to the right conclusion:

But maybe more important, six months from now, few people are going to remember who was toughest on Bush during the yellowcake scandal. They are only going to remember if one of the candidates blunders and says something over the top or that turns out to be dramatically wrong. Moreover, there isn't that much additional damage that any one candidate, even the decorated Kerry, can do to Bush on this issue. With scores of pundits and papers already speaking out, a candidate can only move the debate on the margins.

However, what will matter six months from now is who has support from the unions and other fieldworkers. The police and fire department unions will be good for a lot of photo-ops and a lot of door knocking come primary season. Kerry has already built up an impressive party machine that he's been building since he raised millions that he knew he wouldn't have to spend for a 2000 Senate race against a no-name challenger. He's snagged key staff from Al Gore and Bill Bradley's campaigns, not to mention getting former state party heads to run his New Hampshire and Iowa campaigns. He also has nearly $11 million on hand, more than any of his rivals.

In other words, John Kerry doesn't seem to believe that he needs to hit home runs when it comes to national security.

Damn straight! Unions matter, and party machines matter, and campaign staff matter. (Note to Dean supporters: if you're going to say we shouldn't go after Dean because he might be the Dems' candidate, doesn't the same thing apply to attacks on Kerry?) It's a lovely bit of political realism, which has been largely missing in the big Dean grope-fest. These things get you elected Presidents; excited college students do not, which is why excited college students feel "excluded" sometimes. They don't have connection, or influence, or (as the current Doonesbury series points out) experience, and that's what you need to win a national election.

More importantly, it shows that Kerry is focusing on actual proposals instead of simply bashing Bush (or, you know, the rest of his party--an interesting if unfortunately effective strategy). As Salon says, yellow cake probably won't end up mattering so much by the time the GE rolls around. But homeland security will, and Bush is weak on that. What's overlooked in this whole "Bush is invincible" thing is that once there is a Democratic candidate and there is a singular voice out there opposing Bush's, there are a whole lot of traditionally Republican areas where he's pretty vulnerable. He's slashed funding for police and fire departments; the DHS terror-alert system causes massive drains on civic systems; he's slashed Vetrans' benefits and the pay of soldiers in the field; he's betrayed the intelligence community; and he's made America vulnerable to terrorist attack, like he was doing before. What this means is that there are a lot of people out there--the people who vote Republican but don't actually benefit from their fiscal policy--who still like Bush but can be readily convinced that they don't like his policies. And, it seems, that's what Kerry is going for.

Would that the other folks would do so too...