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September 10, 2004 | 11:22 PM ET

September 11, 2001 wasn't the beginning of this war.  In fact, fundamentalist Islamists had been making war on the United States for years, with the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, the attacks on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 (which was intended to topple both towers, but failed), all the way back, in some sense, to the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran back when Jimmy Carter was president.  For all those years, they were at war with us, but we largely ignored it.

A September 11, 2001 file photo shows firefighters walking amid rubble of the World Trade Center in New York
Peter Morgan / Reuters file

But September 11, 2001 was when we woke up, and realized what was going on.  When people talk about the 1,000th casualty in Iraq, it's worth remembering that we had 3,000 casualties in a single day, in America, and that terrorists want to do much, much worse.

It's a war.  Reasonable people can argue about how to go about waging it.  But -- as someone who thinks that when you're at war, the war is the thing that matters most --  what bothers me about John Kerry is that he doesn't really seem to think we're at war at all.  He's said a lot more about his four months waging war in Vietnam than he's said about how he'd spend four years waging war with people who want nothing more than to kill Americans in large numbers.  That's my big problem with Kerry, and judging by the polls it's a problem that a lot of other people have, too.

Slide show
Attack on America
Click "Launch" to revisit images from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Whenever people point this out, the Kerry campaign charges them with "politicizing" 9/11.  I don't think so.  I think it's a matter of priorities, not politicization.  But if that's what it is, so be it.  Better to politicize it, than to ignore it, or forget it.  Or, as some people even want us to, lose it.

Here's what Lee Harris wrote, in his book Civilization And Its Enemies:

Forgetfulness occurs when those who have been long inured to civilized order can no longer remember a time in which they had to wonder whether their crops would grow to maturity without being stolen or their children sold into slavery by a victorious foe.
They forget that in time of danger, in the face of the Enemy, they must trust and confide in each other, or perish.

They forget, in short, that there has ever been a category of human experience called the Enemy. And that, before 9/11, was what had happened to us. The very concept of the Enemy had been banished from our moral and political vocabulary.  An enemy was just a friend we hadn't done enough for -- yet.  Or perhaps there had been a misunderstanding, or an oversight on our part -- something that we could correct.  And this means that that our first task is that we must try to grasp what the concept of the Enemy really means.

The Enemy is someone who is willing to die in order to kill you. And while it is true that the Enemy always hates us for a reason -- it is his reason, and not ours.

Too many people have forgotten that.  Or worse, they've decided that the real enemy is George W. Bush, even to the point of desecrating 9/11 memorials with anti-Bush slogans.
Watch this memorial and see if you think that's the right response.

September 9, 2004 | 11:07 PM ET

Yet another poll has come out showing a solid lead for Bush.  The much-anticipated Washington Post/ABC poll shows Bush with a 52 percent to 43 percent lead over Kerry among likely voters.  But I don't think that's the real news.

The poll shows Ralph Nader with 2 percent.  That's not much, but I suspect that Nader's share of the vote will rise.  Kerry has famously been all over the place on the war, and as The New York Times noted:

Nobody gets angrier about Senator John Kerry's complicated position on Iraq than his own supporters.  The Democratic base would love to see him lashing out at President Bush over the war.  But for all of his current tough talk about Mr. Bush's "wrong choices," Mr. Kerry has blurred his message, particularly with his recent statement that he would have voted for the Senate's war resolution even if he had known that Saddam Hussein had no significant cache of weapons of mass destruction.

Kerry's supporters have been angry about this, but so far they've stuck with him -- for the only thing that really unites the Democratic base is its much stronger distaste for George W. Bush, and that has caused Democrats to bury their concerns in the interest of getting Kerry elected.

But "electability" has always been Kerry's main claim to loyalty.  If he stays this far behind, a lot of his base is going to decide that if it can't send Kerry to replace Bush, it might as well send a message by voting for Ralph Nader, whose opposition to the war has been unambiguous.  To hold onto these people, Kerry will have to move to the left -- but a move away from the center will cost him more votes. 

It's a tough position for the Kerry campaign, and it's one that could have been avoided if Kerry had offered straight talk, instead of a blur.

Boy, when I wrote last month about disaster preparedness (more here and here), I didn't know just how relevant it would be.  Florida blogger Rand Simberg just got his power back after five days, courtesy of Hurricane Frances.  (He blogged using a power inverter that let him run his computer and DSL modem off his car battery).  Now he finds himself in the crosshairs of Hurricane Ivan.

Wherever you live, this is a good time to take stock and make sure that you've got what you need in case of an emergency.  And two things to worry about that people often forget:  Gas, and traffic.  The government recommends that you keep your car's gas tank half-full, so that there will be enough to get you somewhere else in an emergency.

If disaster strikes, gas stations are likely to be either out of commission (they often don't work when there's no power) or hopelessly jammed.  And the roads are likely to be jammed too.  When you think about leaving, add a big cushion to how long you think it will take, because odds are that everyone else will be leaving too.  You hate to have to think about this stuff, but better to think about it now than to wish you had thought about it later.

September 8, 2004 | 11:01 PM ET

Over at Hardball Tuesday night, Boston Herald columnist Mike Barnicle delivered an excellent sum-up of the Kerry Campaign's message problems:

The difference between listening to John Kerry and listening to George Bush is the difference between reading Elmore Leonard and James Joyce.  The language of his campaign is so lame that he can‘t connect.

He has not yet connected with the American voter.  You listen to the president of the United States, whether you agree or disagree with Iraq... his language is direct.

Unfortunately, Kerry seems to have trouble with simple and direct statements.  This New York Times report illustrates what's wrong:

But in so doing he seemed to forget that Republicans have been tearing him down for months as a vacillating, indecisive, finger-in-the-wind politician of the worst order.
"Everybody told me, 'God, if you're coming to Canonsburg, you've got to find time to go to Toy's, and he'll take care of you,'" Mr. Kerry said, dropping the name of a restaurant his motorcade had passed on the way in. "I understand it's my kind of place, because you don't have to - you know, when they give you the menu, I'm always
struggling: Ah, what do you want?

"He just gives you what he's got, right?" Mr. Kerry added, continuing steadily off a gangplank of his own making: "And you don't have to worry, it's whatever he's cooked up that day. And I think that's the way it ought to work, for confused people like me who can't make up our minds."

But, of course, the main thing that Kerry seems to have trouble making up his mind on is the war in Iraq.  He keeps contradicting himself. 

Here's the latest example:

John Kerry said yesterday that Iraq was "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time." Translation: We would be better off if Saddam Hussein were still in power.

Not an unheard of point of view. Indeed, as President Bush pointed out today, it was Howard Dean's position during the primary season. On December 15, 2003, in a speech at the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles, Dean said that "the capture of Saddam Hussein has not made America safer." Dean also said, "The difficulties and tragedies we have faced in Iraq show the administration launched the war in the wrong way, at the wrong time, with inadequate planning, insufficient help, and at the extraordinary cost, so far, of $166 billion."

But who challenged Dean immediately?  John Kerry.  On December 16, at Drake University in Iowa, Kerry asserted that "those who doubted whether Iraq or the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein, and those who believe today that we are not safer with his capture, don't have the judgment to be president or the credibility to be elected president."

As Jonah Goldberg points out, this produces something of a muddle:

John Kerry (at least one of them) says that the war on Iraq is not part of the war on terror.  He also said that the 1,000th American died in Iraq in the war against terror.  How does that work?  Is the war in Iraq the war against terror or is it not?  Are the soldiers who are there fighting the "wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time"
suddenly become martyrs to the war on terror when they die there?

So far, this seems to be the best parsing of Kerry's various statements on Iraq:

Democrat John Kerry accused President Bush on Monday of sending U.S. troops to the "wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time"
Yet, knowing then what he knows today about the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Kerry still would have voted to authorize the war and "in all probability" would have launched a military attack to oust Hussein by now if he were president, Kerry national security adviser Jamie Rubin said in an interview August 7th.

So John Kerry is telling America and the world, essentially, "I voted for the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time, and if I knew then what I know now, I still would have voted for the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Yes on the war, no on the war:  I guess that's too many choices on the menu.  Kerry could help himself -- as I've said here before -- with some straight talk.  And he's running out of time.

September 6, 2004 | 11:19 PM ET

My Friday entry entitled John Forbes Dukakis seems to have been onto something.  Labor Day weekend saw a lot of Dukakis references in regard to the troubled Kerry for President campaign.

Mike Dukakis' former campaign manager was out last week threatening dirty tricks.  Meanwhile, former Dukakis hitman John Sasso is now working for Kerry, which, as Eileen McNamara of the Boston Globe notes, is a bit of a problem for the Kerry campaign, even if Sasso does possess the kind of dirty-tricks expertise that Estrich seems to want:

The problem with soliciting contributions to end the "smug and arrogant tactics of misinformation" that Sasso's letter rightly attributes to Republicans is that it only works when the purveyor holds the moral high ground. That would not be Sasso, he of the attack video that torpedoed the presidential campaign of Democratic Senator Joseph R. Biden of Delaware in 1987, he of the audiotape that ridiculed the physical disabilities of the wife of Edward King, Michael Dukakis's gubernatorial primary opponent in 1982.

(Actually, it's pretty hard to argue that the Kerry campaign has been "too fair.")  Meanwhile, Kate Zernike in the New York Times was making Dukakis-in-a-tank references:

Like the helmeted Michael Dukakis peeking out of the tank, or the first George Bush bewildered at the grocery scanner, the photo of Mr. Kerry windsurfing played into the negative stereotype his opponents are trying to play up - in this case, that of the out-of-touch, elitist Massachusetts liberal.

(Actually, as points out, the grocery-scanner story isn't true, but that's cold comfort for the Kerry campaign, which has been trying to keep Dukakis at arms length for obvious reasons, and which can't like the Dukakis reference here.  But they're all over the place now.)

The release of polls by both Time and Newsweek showing Bush with a double-digit post-convention bounce didn't help matters, though there's reason to think that those polls may exaggerate Bush's lead somewhat.

But there was plenty of Democratic disillusionment to be found even before those polls came out.  Farai Chideya wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle of what might be called an informal Democratic focus group during the Republican Convention:

Near the end of the night's broadcast, I took a poll.  How many people thought Kerry was going to win?

The room contained liberal and Democratic voters of different races, national origins, incomes, professions and generations.  Not a single solitary one raised a hand.

My stomach did a little flip-flop.  I'd underestimated the depth of John F. Kerry's problem, his lack, to quote a phrase from the Bush I years, of the "vision thing."  No one can win the presidency without mobilizing the base, and Kerry's base, uninspired and dispirited, is weakening.  Along with the Republican convention, this week's big political news is a series of shakeups in the Kerry campaign, a last-ditch attempt to correct course.

And blogger Ryan Sager had a similar experience with a bunch of Democratic-leaning journalists.  (What?  Journalists lean Democratic?  I thought the "liberal media" was a myth!)  Sager reports:

I watched President Bush’s acceptance speech tonight at a sushi bar on the Lower East Side with a group of reporters from a prominent Washington, D.C.-based publication. The whole time: heckling.  Every.  Single.  Line.

Now, we’ve all seen the polls (or read about them) where the press corps routinely leans Democratic by a factor of about ten-to-one.  Still, it was a bit shocking.

It was a little like Mystery Science Theater 3000, but with reporters instead of robots.

Every line of the speech, every item on Bush’s laundry list of domestic candy (yuck, too sweet), they had something snide to say.  More money for community colleges?  Somehow not good enough.  Education?  Bush sucks -- and any school showing improvement under No Child Left Behind is just fudging its numbers.  Iraq?  Don’t get them started.
The punch line here, however, is this:  Everyone at the table expected Bush to win.  No anger.  No denial.  Just acceptance.

As noted above, the Kerry Campaign is in the midst of another reshuffle, and promising to fight dirtier.  But the best advice I've heard so far came from former DNC chair Chris Dodd:

Senator Christopher J. Dodd, an influential Democrat from Connecticut, said his party's standard-bearer had "a very confused message in August, and the Republicans had a very clear and concise one."

Mr. Dodd was one of several Democrats who said they now thought Mr. Kerry had made a mistake at his convention in July by talking mainly about his history as a Vietnam War veteran and criticizing Mr. Bush's policies, without offering a vision of what a Kerry term would be like. "We did not adequately lay out the contrast, compare and contrast what a Kerry administration would do and what the Bush administration has done," Mr. Dodd said of the Democrats' convention in Boston. "That was a mistake. Vietnam, in terms of John Kerry's service, that was a good point to make, but making it such a central point sort of invited the kind of response you've seen."

Truer words were never spoken.  Er, but these words, more or less, were spoken, or at least written, right here, back in February, when I wrote:

But although a lot of Democrats are touting Kerry's Vietnam record, I wonder if Kerry's Vietnam background will help him as much as his boosters think.
Kerry may have been brave in Vietnam, but his behavior when he got back was not so admirable, and it happened in front of the cameras.  As MSNBC's Chris Matthews observes, Kerry has a Jane Fonda problem, and between now and the election we'll be seeing a lot of pictures of him with her and other anti-war activists.  Expect to hear reports like these from American P.O.W.s who are still bitter about her calling them liars for complaining about torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese, and for otherwise demonstrating her solidarity with the enemy.

Will this kill Kerry's candidacy?  Maybe not.  But it won't help.

Kerry's candidacy, like the "Dead Body That Claims It Isn't" in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, is not dead yet, and will soon be claiming, "I feel fine."  But it's hurting, and most of its wounds are self-inflicted.

I saw it coming.  Chris Dodd sees it now.  But will Kerry catch on in time?

September 3, 2004 | 4:55 PM ET

It's hard to criticize John Kerry these days.  Apparently, every criticism of him is unfair.  At least, we're not supposed to criticize his time in Vietnam -- or even what he's said about Vietnam more recently -- because that would be a "smear" (even when the Kerry campaign admits, as it has regarding Kerry's Christmas-in-Cambodia claims, that he hasn't been telling the truth).  That he served in Vietnam 35 years ago, we're told, tells us all we need to know about his character.

But what he did more recently, in testifying against his fellow soldiers and opposing the war after returning, doesn't tell us anything about his character at all, because it was a long time ago -- nearly 35 years!  So we're not supposed to talk about that.

And, apparently, it's unfair to talk about his record in the Senate, as Zell Miller did Wednesday night, because, well, those Senate votes are so complicated that nobody can really understand them anyway.  (You can see Chris Matthews trying -- without much success -- to make this argument   here, on video.)

So what's left?  His time as Michael Dukakis's Lieutenant Governor?  Actually, that's off limits, too:

Kerry's decision to keep Dukakis at arm's length may be an effort to avoid a repeat of Dukakis' defeat.  In the 1988 presidential race, Bush's campaign successfully painted Dukakis as a Massachusetts liberal out of touch with most of America.

But the Dukakis parallels are hard to escape.  And, in fact, even some Democrats are making the comparison:

A friend of mine tracked me down a little while ago to relate a dream.  He was walking through a big office that he realized was the headquarters of the Kerry campaign.  He saw a door marked "Campaign Manager" and entered, to see Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill, appropriately enough, sitting behind the desk.  As he drew nearer, however, the woman suddenly ripped off her Cahill mask, behind which was ... Susan Estrich, Michael Dukakis' campaign manager!  At that point, he woke up screaming.

Ouch.  The difference, perhaps, is that the Bush campaign isn't having to paint Kerry as out of touch -- he's doing it himself.  He certainly did it in his screechy and off-key response to President Bush Friday morning.  As Ann Althouse notes, Kerry's haughty and demeaning approach isn't likely to play with voters:

So, your big answer, after all of these attacks, is that you somehow "will not have" any questions.  I simply will not have it.  You hear that?  He does not want to be questioned.  He went to Vietnam, and therefore, he simply will not have any questions about whether he has the qualifications to be President.  Come on, that's a roar, isn't it?

And by the way, any man who didn't volunteer to go to Vietnam who was of age at the time--all you Baby Boomer men who had student deferments or even if you served in the National Guard, I mean were in the National Guard--you were all refusing to serve.

Apparently, anyone who wasn't in a swiftboat in Cambodia somewhere in Vietnam is a traitor, or something.

And Kerry complains that people are questioning his patriotism?

Actually, from his perspective, it's worse:  they're questioning his viability as a candidate.  As Virginia Postrel observes:

John Kerry made Bush look even better with his petulant and rambling midnight address. What was he thinking?  Doesn't Kerry have advisers to tell him not to give poorly prepared speeches that project desperation?

Apparently not.  Kerry's response has been -- as in the past -- to blame his staff:

Sen. John Kerry is angry at the way his campaign has botched the attacks from the Swift boat veterans and has ordered a staff shakeup that will put former Clinton aides in top positions.

"The candidate is furious," a longtime senior Kerry adviser told the Daily News.  "He knows the campaign was wrong.  He wanted to go after the Swift boat attacks, but his top aides said no."

I'm reminded of the old Saturday Night Live skit involving a debate between Michael Dukakis, played by Jon Lovitz, and George H.W. Bush, played by Dana Carvey.  At one point, Lovitz/Dukakis turns to the camera and says, "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy!"  I guess if it were remade for this election, Kerry would be turning to the camera and saying, "I can't believe my staff is losing to this guy!"

One question for voters -- among many, many others that we're apparently not supposed to be asking -- is this:  If Kerry can't run a campaign, how can he run the Presidency?

September 1, 2004 | 10:52 AM ET

In Boston, protesters were kept in a cage, away from the Convention, behind "cement barriers, 8-foot-tall chain-link fencing, and heavy black netting."  In New York, they march in the open.
That means that bloggers can post video and photos of what's going on in New York, while there wasn't much to do in Boston -- how exciting can you make pictures of a cage?

But bloggers also scored a news scoop yesterday -- beating out all other media to pick up the announcement by Tommy Franks that he is endorsing President Bush.  What's more, it was reported with video, and audio and, of course, text.  Watch out, Big Media!

Of course, you'll also have to go to the Web to see the Log Cabin Republicans' commercial that I mentioned Monday, as CNN has refused to carry it, saying it's "too controversial."  I hear that it aired on Fox, though.  No word on whether MSNBC will carry it...

And although she's not at the convention, Ann Althouse has been posting interesting comments and insights from her home in Wisconsin.  Check them out -- she's on a roll!

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