Tuesday, October 12, 2004

# Posted 4:18 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TNR & SLATE SLAM KERRY'S INCOMPETENCE: Noam Scheiber can't figure out -- and neither can I -- why the Kerry campaign keeps trying to shift the debate to domestic issues every time the momentum starts going its way.

While it's true that domestic issues favor the Democrats, this election is about national security. Period. Doesn't Kerry remember what happened in 2002 when the Democrats emphasized domestic politics and ran away from national security?

In addition to focusing on the wrong issues, Kerry also seems to suffer from a Dukakis-like inability to hit Bush hard even when the President sets himself up for a knockout punch. Will Saletan takes a closer look at last Friday's debate and shows just how many major openings Kerry failed to take advantage of.

In contrast, Saletan says, Edwards knows exactly how to go on the offensive instead of getting tangled up in thicket of nuances:
Halfway through the debate, a questioner asked Kerry why he had picked a running mate who "has made millions of dollars successfully suing medical professionals." Here's how Edwards began his answer to a similar question Tuesday: "I'm proud of the work I did on behalf of kids and families against big insurance companies, big drug companies, and big HMOs." Here's how Kerry answered tonight: "John Edwards is the author of the Patients' Bill of Rights. He wanted to give people rights. John Edwards and I support tort reform." See the difference? Edwards reframes the question right away, goes on the offensive, and talks about people. Kerry accepts the way the question is framed, plays defense, and talks about legislation.
In his first months as a candidate, Kerry insisted repeatedly that he had learned the lessons of 1988 and that he would respond to Republican attacks with overwhelming force. I just don't understand why Kerry has failed to take his own advice on this critical point.

But perhaps the Democrats shouldn't be all their surprised by the failures of their candidate. Instead of facing a tough challenge in the primaries that might have prepared him to go one-on-one with Bush, Kerry inherited the nomination in the aftermath of Dean's sudden collapse.

Looking for a safe harbor after Dean's collapse and hoping to avoid a divisive intra-party conflict, Democratic primary rallied around Kerry before he ever had to face a serious test of his ability as a candidate. A bolder electorate inspired by bolder leadership might have taken a risk and chosen Edwards as their candidate, a decision that looks more and more attractive in hindsight (and which some of us supported at the time).

Yet why would the kind of committed Democrat that votes in the primaries prefer a Southern moderate with minimal experience to a Northern liberal who had proven his loyalty to the party time and again throughout his twenty years in the Senate?

Ironically, the front-loaded primary schedule that facilitated Kerry's rise was designed to strengthen the eventual Democratic candidate by protecting him from internal challenges. Perhaps this time around the Democrats will learn their lesson.
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