When the Chips Were Down …

George Bush threw up. (Play the movie…)

The point is that even the smallest comparison of what Bush and Kerry were doing in their youth tells us Bush has NO BUSINESS being in the White House. He is in WAAAYYY over his head! Think about the pure audacity of Bush running a smear on Kerry’s war record, considering his own background!

But, look at it another way for just a minute. With all the smears and lies and dirty tricks, Bush and the Republicans are demonstrating that they are willing to do what it takes to get what they want. (“You got some shit I want, I TAKE it.” Movie – DSL or cable recommended.) People on “our side” don’t respect this, but people on the other side do. Digby has been running with a “Triumph of the Will” theme, talking about how they respond with a fight. I don’t think the Republicans are making a mistake running with this theme at this time.

If you think about it, roughly half of the public is convinced that we are in a war to the finish, Christians against Muslims, and that the Muslims will stop at nothing to kill all of us. The Right is spreading this, and a lot of people believe it. (More on this shortly.) So people are afraid and WANT leadership that will stop at nothing – nothing – to destroy their opponents. Sure, we could try educating the public between now and the election. We could try that…

I think what is happening with this Swift Boat smear is a metaphor for this larger battle. The Republicans are fighting like there is no tomorrow (because a lot of them are going to jail if honest oversight is restored to our government…), and a good part of the public wants fighters. So their ruthless unprincipled stomping of Kerry tells the public that they are the ones to do the job against the Muslims.

When the smear first appeared, I wrote,

And now a big Kerry smear arrives. What response has Kerry prepared? . . . we all knew it was coming. This is what Bush Sr. did to Dukakis. This is what Bush did to Gore. The Big Smear. This is what Republicans do.

[. . .] To me, this goes beyond the campaign. This goes beyond protecting their own political careers. This goes to protecting us. What is the criticism of Bush for 9/11? That all the signs were there that we were going to be attacked, and they ignored it.

Does Kerry have a devastating response ready for The Big Smear? To me this is the same question as: Is Kerry ready to be president?

Josh Marshall also wrote about this, calling it the “bitch slap” tactic of demonstrating toughness.

“Consider for a moment what the big game is here. This is a battle between two candidates to demonstrate toughness on national security. Toughness is a unitary quality, really — a personal, characterological quality rather than one rooted in policy or divisible in any real way. So both sides are trying to prove to undecided voters either that they’re tougher than the other guy or at least tough enough for the job.

In a post-9/11 environment, obviously, this question of strength, toughness or resolve is particularly salient. That, of course, is why so much of this debate is about war and military service in the first place.

One way — perhaps the best way — to demonstrate someone’s lack of toughness or strength is to attack them and show they are either unwilling or unable to defend themselves — thus the rough slang I used above. And that I think is a big part of what is happening here. Someone who can’t or won’t defend themselves certainly isn’t someone you can depend upon to defend you.

Demonstrating Kerry’s unwillingness to defend himself (if Bush can do that) is a far more tangible sign of what he’s made of than wartime experiences of thirty years ago.”

How did you feel when Lieberman said it was OK to go ahead and count illegal absentee ballots in Florida? Did you feel like your party leadership standing up and fighting for you? No, you felt like Democrats were the party of wimpy appeasers. So seriously, after that would you want Joe Lieberman leading the fight to protect your family if they were in danger from a terrorist attack?

Of course, the other side of asking for a “ruthless leader” is that when you get people like Bush and his cronies in power there is no reason to believe they are going to fight for you — these guys would just as quick take everything you have and leave you naked in the cold. Look what the Bush administration and Enron did to California just after the election. And look how they gutted your retirement by handing out the Social Security surplus as tax cuts to their rich buddies.

I was VERY HAPPY with Kerry when he finally (after waiting two weeks) responded to the smear. But even then I wrote,

I hope they keep this up, and make the Republican tactic of smearing the issue in the campaign. Take it back to Bush, talk about the history of Republicans smearing opponents, and make THAT a big issue in this campaign. That makes it hard for them to try another smear, and gets them on the defensive about this on an issue they really can’t defend. It’s what they DO! So make them pay for it.

Well, they started running a very effective ad, telling Bush “Shame on you!” for the smear. BUT THEN THEY TOOK IT OFF THE AIR because they THOUGHT that John McCain might not approve — the same John McCain who is campaigning for Bush right now. The same McCain who said this weekend that he didn’t see what else beside the smear could be causing Kerry’s drop in the polls.

So I am not sure what to think today. Today it seems like the Kerry team has backed off from fighting back, doesn’t have it in them to see this through, SEEMINGLY DOESN’T SEE THE LARGER ISSUE IN PLAY HERE. Is the Kerry campaign ready for the fight to come? It’s going to get a LOT worse than just this Swift Boat smear. But Kerry is running against a fraud, a man who received a memo warning of a coming attack and went on vacation, who sat reading “My Pet Goat” for SEVEN MINUTES, after being told the country was under attack. Thinking purely in terms of being protected from terrorists, I do not want the Pet Goat man in office. I do not want to trust my life to the man who CREATED the terrorist threat that Iraq is now, but wasn’t before. But to get that man out of office we need a campaign team that is willing and able to explain these points to the public.

People are sc ared and they want leaders who will protect them. Kerry needs to tell the public how he is better at protecting them against terrorists than Bush is. He needs to make a convincing case. That is what the public wants to know. That is the ONLY question today. The Republicans know this.

UpdateCharles Pierce over at Altercation today:

If this campaign is lost, it was lost on the day on which John Kerry was persuaded to “denounce” a MoveOn ad concerning C-Plus Augustus’s blithe attitude toward his sworn military duty. What in God’s name did Kerry hope to gain by this? Did he expect to shame the Bush people out of the Swift Boat hoax? Did he expect to get credit for taking the high-road on the campaign-reform issue by a press corps that has treated this pack of obvious lies mainly as an effective campaign tactic? That decision more than any other enabled the R’s to shift the debate onto “shadowy” 527 organizations and off the Bush family tradition of outsourcing the really nasty stuff to the hired help. No surrender, my aunt Fannie. And now Kerry can’t go back.

Maybe he was afraid that Rush Limbaugh would say something bad about him if he didn’t.