Saturday, February 14, 2004

1988 Redux: It seems that the Republican leadership has decided the key to winning the presidency is attacking John Kerry as weak on defense. From Friday's New York Times:

Ed Gillespie, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, has been giving speeches around the country detailing Mr. Kerry's votes on military and intelligence programs, including his 1984 opposition to the missile defense program promoted by Ronald Reagan and his 1991 Senate vote opposing the use of force in Iraq.

One Republican ... who is running for statewide office in Nevada, said he attended a meeting where officials from the Bush re-election campaign urged Republican candidates not to talk about [Kerry's opposition to the Vietnam War]. "Basically, they're saying don't bring up veterans' issues and don't bring up Vietnam; our surrogates will take care of it" said the candidate, Ed Gobel.

Today's New York Times follows up:

In a White House that resists analogies between Mr. Bush and his father, [Bush strategist] Mr. Dowd scoffed at the notion that Mr. Bush would run against Mr. Kerry the way his father ran against his Massachusetts opponent in 1988, Gov. Michael S. Dukakis.

"...compared to John Kerry, Mike Dukakis is mainstream. Michael Dukakis was a governor who balanced a budget. I don't remember Michael Dukakis ever advocating defense cuts, and I don't remember Michael Dukakis ever advocating against cuts in taxes."

He doesn't remember Dukakis advocating defense cuts?

Let's review what happenned in 1988. Dukakis was an (initially) attractive candidate who at one point in the campaign led Bush in the polls by as many as 17 points. Yet Bush ran a brilliant campaign which painted Dukakis as a Northeastern liberal who is too far from the political mainstream to effectively represent America. GOP ads stressed the rampant crime in Massachusetts, the "revolving-door prisons," and, most importantly, Dukakis' opposition to many cold war defense projects. The most remembered Bush commercial is the infamous tank ad --- which can be viewed here (click on 'select a video format') -- that showed Dukakis posturing in a tank while overlaying a list of defense projects Dukakis opposed onto the screen. The list, incidentally, was inaccurate and contained proposals Dukakis supported. The ad, nevertheless, reasonated with the voters; Dukakis never managed to explain it away.

The tank ad later came to symbolize the campaign as a whole: a publicly inept move by Dukakis skilfully used by the Bush campaign to reinforce the impression that Dukakis is just too out of touch.

This is why it's downright hilarious to hear GOP strategist Matthew Dowd claim he doesn't remember Dukakis advocating defense cuts. Its clear from the Gillespie/Dowd quotes that the Bush team is planning 1988 redux: Kerry is to be attacked as a Northeastern liberal who cannot be trusted on national security and cannot understand the concerns of the common man.

Will it work? Your own Detached Observer does not think so. The main event of the last year -- the one the voters are going to remember -- is the failure to find WMD's in Iraq. Attacking Kerry as weak on national security will only serve to reinforce the Democratic claim that Bush took the nation to war under false pretences. Bush is better off changing the subject.


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