By Dick Morris
March 19, 2004
And the Bush ads are very good. He focuses on three lines of attack: Kerry's advocacy of a "$900 billion tax increase," his support for weakening the Patriot Act and his commitment to
Particularly clever is the tax-increase charge. Throughout the Democratic primary, Kerry competed with his fellow candidates to denounce the Bush tax cut and to urge its repeal. Now Bush has turned the rescinding of a tax reduction into a tax increase.
The sunset provisions the Democrats agreed to include in the tax cut legislation specify that the cuts automatically expire in 2005 and 2006, making them highly relevant in the election. While Bush has never had a convincing majority in favor of his tax cuts, over 80 percent of Americans oppose a tax increase.
Kerry's answer is weak. In a rebuttal ad, the Democrat just says it ain't so without elaborating. Kerry's commercial says "John Kerry has never called for a $900 billion tax increase. He wants to cut taxes for the middle class."
But voters are inclined to believe that Kerry does want to raise taxes, and they have heard the Democrat excoriate the Bush tax cuts in his speeches for a year. So Kerry has to do more than just deny the charge. The Bush attack will hit home and score deeply.
Kerry doesn't even answer the other two charges: That he would weaken the Patriot Act and await United Nations approval before acting against terrorism. These two attacks will open up a big distance between Bush and Kerry over terrorism. While the issue now works as a positive for the president, it has yet to come into play as a negative for the Democrat.
By charging that Kerry would weaken homeland security on Kerry, Bush is framing the issue in the best possible way. With the recent horrific bombings in Madrid and the consequent rising insecurity over terrorism in the United States, any imputation that Kerry would undermine our defenses will cut deeply into the Democrat's vote share.
And Bush cleverly avoids the issue of weapons of mass destruction and says that the real issue is whether the United States should preserve the ability to defend herself or if we must first wait for the United Nations to permit us to do so. By framing the issue this way, Bush is tapping into American distrust of internationalism and of the United Nations in particular.
The fact that Kerry is not answering these two charges plays into Bush's hands. A charge that goes unanswered is one that is, in effect, admitted in our modern political dialogue.
Kerry is making a huge mistake in letting Bush hit him without a response on this critical issue. But to respond puts Kerry in the position of engaging with Bush over the Republican's strongest issue and distracting attention from the economy, which the Democrats would rather debate. The Bush attack puts Kerry on the spot. Either he lets this attack stand and suffers the consequences or he makes terrorism the central issue of the campaign and hurts himself that way.
But the key event in the presidential race this week happened 3,000 miles away. The terrorist bombing in Spain will reawaken Americans' fears and their sense that terrorism is not going away. This reminder will make voters think longer and harder before they trust the presidency to a man who they do not think is up to the job of battling al Qaeda.
The conventional wisdom is
that the election will be close, a replay of 2000. Not if Bush
keeps attacking and Kerry fails to respond. Then it will be a
replay of 1988.
Dick Morris was an adviser to Bill Clinton for 20 years. Morris is a political consultant, commentator and best selling author. Look for his newest book, "Power Plays" and his new book, "Off With Their Heads - Traitors, Crooks & Obstructionists In American Politics".
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