Scandal City, or The Rhetoric Game, Part I
Yes, I’ve been extremely busy, but that’s not really why I haven’t been blogging. I haven’t been around these parts because the “scandals” of the past weeks have been so devoid of intrigue and full of trite rhetoric that it’s taken this long for them to play far enough out to generate anything worth commenting on. So let’s start with the big story: the Swift Boat story that’s been on every channel nonstop for weeks now.
My opinion has always been that videos like the August 4 Swift Boat Ad are the kind of negative publicity your campaign simply doesn’t want, and as such all the press Kerry’s public defenders generated for the ad amounted to a terrible idea. However, I felt Kerry was smart to ignore it and hope the subject changed. But three weeks went by and the subject didn’t change, so Kerry mounted his counter-offensive starting with a cute quote: “When you’re under attack, the best thing to do is turn your boat into the attacker.” I initially felt the whole counter-offensive strategy was risky at best, but some pundits like Mickey Kaus felt it was necessary:
The problem is that Kerry is running for president on this official hype of a more-than-honorable record (one reason he’s constantly referring reporters to his official medal citations). He’s not only running on the hype but pushing it to the limit, milking it for all it’s worth. That’s dangerous in, yes, the Internet era! Obsessive fact-checkers can smoke out the exaggerations and get them past the ex-gatekeepers.** Unfortunately, it’s more or less all Kerry’s got. It wouldn’t be so important if Kerry had a) a discernable ideology; b) a political message; c) a record of achievement; or d) an appealing personality!
Okay, so I’m thinking that now Bush is on the defensive and should at least deal with this by changing the subject or coming up with a more effective sound byte or something. When Bush said nothing, I could only assume he didn’t want to show his cards before the convention or something. Boy was I wrong. The second Kerry turned that boat his lead evaporated, returning the electoral college projections to a virtual dead heat. My guess is it’s the reverse Fahrenheit 9/11 effect: it’s only a novelty until you start fighting it, and then it becomes a phenomenon. Moreover, when Kerry calls for a ban on a negative ad he becomes vulnerable to a counter-offensive calling for removal of all ads by 527s, which is exactly what happened. “Bush wants all negative ads removed, but he’s skirting the major issue which is that I want only this one ad against me removed” simply isn’t an effective argument for Kerry even if Bush is skirting the issue.
Let’s recap: Bush lets Swift Boat Vets do his dirty work; Bush lets media do his dirty work; Bush lets Kerry let media do his dirty work; Bush comes out against 527s; Bush gets a 6-point shift right before his convention. And how much money came out of the campaign war chest for this? Hot campaign tip: when your strategy results in the media essentially running your opponent’s attack ads against you, change the subject fast.
If you’re an issues person, you’ve got to be simply disgusted with this story. When the entire thrust of the Kerry-Bush banter has been reduced to the semantics of whether denouncing all 527s counts as denouncing a specific one, this election’s politics may have degenerated even further than I thought. It’s like The Filthy Critic once said: “I hate George Bush, but I have better reasons than this”. I can’t wait for the Republican National Convention, if only so we can talk about something else for a change.