He who hath the most guns wins

By Joseph Planta

VANCOUVER -- With just under two months until the Presidential election, Democratic candidate John Kerry has run a lacklustre and ineffective campaign. George W. Bush is running fast and hard, and John Kerry has suffered. Then again, like his 1996 Senate race against William Weld, Senator Kerry could end up a strong finisher despite major setbacks. Can Kerry reverse his fortunes? Perhaps, but at this point, Kerry looks weak and the stigma of being a flip-flopper is stuck.

Proof that Kerry has run an ineffective campaign is rooted in his own framing of the issues. During the Democratic National Convention last month, little was spoken about Kerry's long legislative career - 20 years in the Senate, not to mention some years as Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor. Kerry's record as a Senator was ignored to focus the attention on Kerry's status as a "war hero," earning purple hearts and silver stars for valour in Vietnam. The calculation was that Kerry as an experienced legislator had far more political experience than Bush, so why mention it. While as a war hero, he was more capable of serving as commander-in-chief, then a guy who served but in the Alabama National Guard.

Alas, rather than talk about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Vietnam War, a nearly 40-year old conflict has become the central theme of this race. It's a question of character; claim the Bush camp, as Kerry had framed that debate by accepting his party's nomination by opening his speech with a salute, saying that he was "reporting for duty." Rather than talk about how to fix the mess in Iraq, the discussion has centred on whether John Kerry over speculated his injuries, and whether he actually deserved the medals he got. John O'Neill, who has long battled Kerry over the Vietnam War, returned to the fray and a he said/he said battle ensues once more.

Kerry doesn't flip-flop when he at once wraps himself in the valour of being a Vietnam vet to prove he's a worthy commander-in-chief. Yet he does prove himself wanting to have it both ways when at another, his past points to a solider who returned from Vietnam decrying the conflict as unjust and rampant with human rights abuses, who also happened to cast away his medals upon returning stateside. A few years ago, it was revealed that while he didn't throw his own medals away, that it was merely their ribbons, he willingly threw away the medals of others.

John Kerry's problem is rooted in the fact that when criticism like that from John O'Neill and swift boat veterans obviously not enamoured of Kerry arise, Kerry has been silent. Rather than address the charges, he is hoping that the story die down. Alas, in a heightened political climate such as the one had now, these stories don't so much as die, but smoulder and take on their own life. Kerry has let that happen, proving that his campaign is willing to take the summer off. While the Bush trust, in Karl Rove, are not, and are fighting hard. Can the Kerry campaign overcome such setbacks?

The Republicans and President Bush are surprisingly confident. This is odd considering the challenges posed by a miscalculated war in Iraq. The President has gone on to say that, the war in Iraq has been a "catastrophic success." Kerry on the other hand, is not challenging this confusing presidential assertion, rather seeing his campaign being besieged by debate over a war over 30 years ago. And further, the Senators Kerry and Edwards are more and more on the defensive rather than the offensive, not exactly the ideal place to be when you're running to defeat what is an incumbent who by all objective accounts should be feeling a bit more pain.

When rumours festered this spring that Senator Kerry had been involved with an intern, Kerry was quick to dispel such allegations. Since however, Kerry is nowhere to be seen. He has let his opponents frame the debate, and pummel the attacks, which not encouraging to those who wish to see a real fight over strong ideals and principles. Where Bush's dogmatic and sometimes stubborn rhetoric is unappealing to some, it resonates because unlike his opponent he doesn't revel in nuance. Sometimes the public wish to vote for someone with strongly held ideals and convictions, not someone who seems a bit nonchalant and too presumptuous of the issues and the people. Surprisingly enough, following last week's Republican National Convention, President Bush got a bounce in polls, which is odd considering he's the incumbent. Kerry/Edwards didn't get the requisite bounce following their convention in Boston, early last month.

John Kerry could still surprise. He came back from behind to defeat a popular governor to retain his Senate seat in 1996. He sparkled during the debates with Governor Weld, when most had heretofore written him off. Kerry could still trump Bush come the debates, yet Bush has a successful track record. Don't forget this is the guy who outdebated Ann Richards and Al Gore. Craig Crawford, the delightful commentator who writes for Congressional Quarterly put it best when he offered his prediction of who would win this race. He said, like in any fight, the ones with the most guns wins. And at this point, it's Bush. Unless John Kerry gets strong advisers, who'll fight rather than blithely react to the other side's bleatings - someone like James Carville or Paul Begala - then Crawford is right, this is Kerry's to lose; and Bush could swagger back to the White House for another four more years.


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