Kerry's Weak Witching Hour Riposte


Speaking at midnight last night in Springfield, Ohio, John Kerry channeled the ghost of Buckeye State late-night movie hosts such as Columbus' Fritz the Night Owl and Cleveland's The Ghoul to wail about his treatment at the hands of the GOP:

"For the past week, they have attacked my patriotism and even my fitness to serve as commander in chief," Kerry told thousands here at a midnight rally shortly after Bush accepted the Republican nomination for a second term and questioned Kerry's support for combat troops in Iraq.

"Well, here is my answer to them," Kerry said to cheers. "I will not have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have and who misled America into Iraq."

Whole account here.

To be sure, Kerry's got a lot of ammunition if he wants to attack the Bush administration's head honchos regarding duty in Vietnam: Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft, and others went out of their way to avoid the shooting there.

But to the extent he does that, he's literally fighting the last war (actually, a couple of wars ago). Worse still, he's kickstarting more discussion of his anti-war activism, which is the real motivator of the Swift Boats Veterans for Truth and a topic that's yet to be aired fully--and when it is, it ain't going to be flattering to a guy who wants to be commander-in-chief. Kerry has presented an extraordinarily confusing picture of a warrior-president: a war hero who made his entry into public life by challenging the war that made him a hero. Forget the legitimacy or illegitimacy of any of the charges about his medals, etc--at its core, his identity on this score is fundamentally ambiguous.

As important, when he turns his attention to Iraq, he's got a program that's completely muddled: What's the first thing he'll do if he's elected? Will he send more troops or less? Under U.N. control or U.S.? (This isn't to say Bush's next step is any clearer--but such is the privilege of incumbency that he can talk about staying the course, or even removing troops, without eliciting the same response.)

From a pure p.r. strategy POV, Kerry's midnight madness rally was a stroke of stupidity. If he wanted to go to show his brass balls, he should have held the conference at 12 noon yesterday, pointedly breaking with the traditional silence of candidates during their counterparts' conventions to answer the "unprecedented" attacks on his character, etc. That would have made the evening news before Bush spoke and might have put a little spine in the flip-flopper image that the GOP tattooed into the brains of all 10 Americans who actually watched the TV coverage of the RNC. Certainly Kerry had a free pass to do so after Zell Miller's spiel.

Instead, Kerry, who is increasingly looking like the Bad-luck Schleprock of presidential contenders, got pushed off the morning news shows today by the Russian school hostage crisis and a weakened Hurricane Frances. And with the U.S. Open heating up, it might be another week before he makes it back into the papers.