On paper, George W. Bush should have been easy pickings for the Democrats in the 2004 Presidential circus.
As an increasingly unpopular President at the helm of an unpopular war fought under dubious circumstances, Bush’s vulnerabilities seem tailor made for politics 101. Add a stagnant economy, record deficits, struggling state economies due to federal cutbacks and a general feeling that we aren’t better off now than we were four years ago and most political pundits would be writing Dubya’s obit right about now.
Yet the race for the Presidency remains neck-and-neck in most polls with Bush ahead in some and only slightly behind in others. If the trend continues, the Dems will be sitting around on the day after election scratching their heads and wondering what went wrong.
In part, the answer can be found in a war that ended 30 years ago and wounds that should have healed by now but haven’t.
But the real answer can be found in three words:
John Forbes Kerry.
With apologies to Humphrey Bogart, Democrats have to be shaking their heads and asking: “Of all the political parties in all the world why did he have to walk into mine?”
Vietnam veterans have to be asking: “We’ve waited 30 years to get one of our own on the Presidential ballot and this is the best we can do?”
And that may be the real question of this campaign. Is this the best we can do? Out of 200 plus million souls in this nation, are George W. Bush and John F. Kerry the best candidates that either party can put forward?
Think about it. You have a President who is vulnerable because of an unpopular war, one who sat out another unpopular war by using his daddy’s influence to land a coveted spot in the Texas Air National Guard, so the best the opposition can come up with is a Vietnam Vet who came home from the war and pissed out thousands of fellow veterans by leading marches against the war and going in front of the U.S. Senate to say other vets killed babies and tortured civilians?
Then, to make matters worse, you make that opponent’s Vietnam service the central theme of the campaign even when the record of combat can’t stand a lot of scrutiny. Kerry’s military records has enough holes in it to allow a group of bitter vets who have held a grudge for 30 years to drive their Swift Boat right through it and swamp the central theme of his campaign.
By most accounts, George W. Bush’s brain wattage can’t light up a flashlight but Kerry ain’t exactly the brightest bulb in the tree. Besides, modern political campaigns aren’t run by candidates. They’re run by strategists and Bush’s strategists are a hell of a lot smarter than the dimwits running Kerry’s road show. First they let the Swift Boat vets redefine the message of the campaign and by the time they get around to dealing with it, polls show many Americans believe the Senator hyped his military career and maybe even lied about his actions and wounds that brought a shadow box full of medals. Then, when they do respond, they devote nearly all their efforts to that and abandon any other message that might be more effective with voters.
Bush is a flawed President but he has the luxury of running against an equally-flawed opponent. Both men are products of wealth and privilege. Neither had to work very hard to get where they are today and both owe their present place in life to a family member who cleared the way (Bush owes his daddy, Kerry a rich wife). Both are shameless opportunists who will exploit anything, including death and human tragedy, to further their political ambitions.
Neither is honest. Both have been caught in a number of lies and neither, when caught, has had the guts to stand up and say “hey, I was wrong.”
Sadly, both are running for President and neither is qualified or up to the job.
If this is the best we can do then we, as a nation, are in a hell of a lot of trouble.