Thursday, February 5, 2004

Cry Havoc

The Republicans, as expected, are warming up the “Massachusetts Liberal” meme to run against John Kerry should he be the Democratic nominee. (In case it’s Dean, they change the adjective to “Northeast.”) The thinking is that it worked against Dukakis in 1988 and it should work now. Well, like Br’er Rabbit said to Br’er Fox, “Please don’t throw me into the briar patch!”

The Kerry campaign, which includes several veterans of the Dukakis campaign, says it will not make the mistakes of 1988, when Mr. Dukakis was widely seen as too passive in the face of the attacks. “We welcome a debate with the likes of Ed Gillespie, Karl Rove and this White House about who’s out of sync with Main Street America,” said David Wade, a Kerry spokesman.

“Their tired old G.O.P. attack dog just won’t hunt,” Mr. Wade said, adding that Republicans would be running against “a Democrat who fought for his country in war, put criminals behind bars as a prosecutor, stood up for balanced budgets in the Senate,” and “kept faith with America’s veterans.”

Another Kerry adviser was more blunt. “This is not the Dukakis campaign,” the adviser said. “We’re not going to take it. And if they’re going to come at us with stuff, whatever that stuff may be, if it goes to a place where the ’88 campaign did, then everything is on the table. Everything.”

Which includes the Flight Suit Follies, Bush’s National Guard “tour,” tax cuts for the rich, starting a war on false pretenses, and the wholesale slaughter of basic human rights here and around the world in the name of freedom – or at least the type of “freedom” Mr. Bush so arrogantly sees as such.

The Republicans will try to paint any Democratic nominee as “out of the mainstream.” Ralph Reed, former henchman for Pat Robertson and now the head of Bush-Cheney campaign in the Southeast, is already ramping up the charge against Kerry:

“More important than labels is the fact that he has a voting record over 20 years in the U.S. Senate that is out of the mainstream, simply out of step with where the American people are, by consistently voting to weaken national defense, undercut our intelligence capability and massively raise taxes.”

Mr. Kerry and his allies dismiss that characterization of his record, noting, for example, that he was one of the first Democrats to sign onto the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit reduction act. Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, argued that Mr. Kerry’s background as a decorated veteran and a tough prosecutor also come into play.

“It is hard to demonize as an irresponsible leftist a man who has locked up criminals and shot communists,” Mr. Frank said. “That’s John Kerry’s record. Kerry’s cast a couple specific votes that are unpopular, but so has Bush. In general, I like our ground better.”

I predict that no matter who the Democrats nominate, the battle is going to be rough. Let’s just hope that they talk about issues, not about American flags, the pledge of allegiance, or who carries what card. We deserve better.