Trouble in Kerryville

CNN is reporting that top donors, strategists, and Democratic party leaders are describing the Kerry campaign as “adrift” and urging a staff shakeup before Labor Day.

If not, said one party strategist, “it could be too late.” Sources say major changes could come at the campaign’s highest level.

The concern, according to these sources, is that Kerry has failed to effectively respond to attacks from Republicans and criticism of his military service in Vietnam, particular ads from a group calling itself Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

These ‘sources’ are deluding themselves. The problem isn’t the Swift Boat group, it’s that the campaign’s keystone has turned out to be made of tissue paper.

The house of cards was long ago built around usurping the national security issue with an “All Vietnam, All the Time” strategy. It seems that the even political division over the past four years has led Senator Kerry to believe this strategy was working. In reality, Kerry has been fighting for a small nugget of undecided voters that tend to ignore the Presidential campaign until the last few months. Now they’re starting to pay attention, the chips are falling, and the Democratic ticket finds it may have miscalculated.

The campaign will not get back on track until Kerry faces up to the fact that it is going to take more than honorable (or even heroic) service in ‘Nam to win the election. I — like President Bush — am willing to concede that John Kerry’s military record is both beyond reproach and superior to that of the President. Unfortunately, this does nothing to change the fact that Kerry’s service ended years before I was even born. And I’m in my 30s!

Yes, Vietnam has colored our worldview since the first ‘military advisors’ set foot in Southeast Asia. But it was a long time ago. A lot has happened since then, yet Kerry remains mired in the past like a guy who’s best days were in high school. We all know people like that, and I doubt many of us would want them as President of the United States.

The Bush machine has been tough on Kerry’s military record. Welcome to the big leagues. Bush has had to deal with his share of hardball, too. You’ve gotta admit, with the VVAW and the medals and all the rest, there’s some ammunition there. The Bush campaign has been particularly savvy about this issue lately, disarming the Democrats via the President lauding Kerry’s record and plainly stating that Kerry’s military record is superior to his own. But that’s not what’s hurting Kerry right now.

Were I a consultant to the campaign, I’d say, “It’s been 35 years since you were in Vietnam, Senator. More than a third of a century. How can you possibly be perplexed by an electorate that considers your honorable service and says ‘okay… what else?’ An exemplary service record wasn’t enough for McCain. Or Dole. Or Clark. Or any one of a dozen other veterans. So if there is something else you can win on, you’d better make it known. And quickly.”

4 comments

  1. Dear Rapp,
    You are, of course, absolutely correcrt in your assessment of the mistake which the Kerry campaign has made. That said, you overlook the contradiction built in to Kerry’s strategy, and so its Achille’s heel; to wit: to say, sometimes in the harshest language, that the Vietnam War was stupid and immoral (I go along with stupid), and then to say that one’s service in such a stupid, immoral war qualifies one to be President — this makes no sense! Respectfully, Parchellan

  2. While many – from the President on down – are willing to accept Kerry’s military service at face value, many more await answers to the allegations made by 250+ Swift boat veterans. Is it possible that all 250 are partisan Republicans and are lying about their Viet Nam experiences? Mr. Kerry needs to sign an SF180 and let the American people scritinize his service record and then make a judgement on his candidacy.

  3. No staff change will alter Kerry’s fundamental problem i.e. outside of his four months in Vietnam he has little to stand on. His postwar activities will not sell well in middle America and in fact could be a massive negative. His legacy as a Senator is mediocre at best and again will not play well in middle America.

    Kerry’s entire strategy is based on his image has war hero. Once that is gone he has nothing.

  4. Actually its even worse than parchellan mentions. If Kerry was “defending the country” by fighting in Vietnam, then his post Vietnam, anti-war protests and testimony amounts to, well, aiding and abetting the enemy in a time of war.

    What is worse is that it is the same bunch of folks that have for the last 35 years been telling us that Vietnam was immoral. Now it is moral. It is the ultimate flip flop.

    It also undermines the present anti-war movement which makes up a substantial part of Kerry’s base.

    Parchellan is right, but it is far worse a contradiction than he expressed.

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