OUT OF LEFT FIELD
-von Clausewitz Strategy
President Bush in his flight suit. He wasn't a war hero
like John Kerry, but images like this may count bigtime.
Attack your opponents
where their strength lies
By STAN ISAACS
The ghost of Vince Lombardi, the legendary football coach, hung over the Republican convention last week and is at the heart of the Republican campaign. Lombardi, taking a leaf from the old scalawag, General Karl von Clausewitz, who said the best form of defense is attack believed that the way to win football games was to attack his opponents strength.
If the opponent had a great defensive tackle, Lombardi would have his team start the game by running at that tackle. Inevitably, that would break the opponent's will and his Green Bay stalwarts would prevail. The Republicans have aped the Clausewitz-Lombardi strategy and as of the end of the Republican convention have had the Democrats reeling.
This is pointed up by the following exchange. In a slick column the conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote, the essential contest will be over who really has courage, who really has resolve, and who is just a fraud with a manly bearing.
In a letter to the Times Beverly Friedenberg of Huntington Woods, Mich. wrote, I ask: Who put on a uniform he didnt earn, strutted across a stage created on an aircraft carrier, and announced the end of the combat phase of the war? And who put on a uniform and went into real battle?
Her letter underscored Kerrys strength. He went to war and won honors. Bush avoided the Vietnam war under the most suspicious circumstances. Kerry has it all over Bush, the slacker who has sent more than 1,000 men to their death in a questionable war. So this contrast should be rebounding to Kerrys advantage every which way in this campaign.
But it was not working for Kerry because the Republicans, a la Clauswitz-Lombardi, went after Kerrys strength. People who have had ties to Bush trashed Kerrys war record. They got a bunch of veterans to say Kerry was not a war hero, that he didnt earn his purple hearts, that he has lied about his war service. This has occupied a good part pf the last month. It doesnt matter that the Democrats belatedly responded and the charges proved to be lies. The tactic got Bush off the defensive and set back Kerry in what should have been an area of strength.
The Republicans have been exploiting the charge that Kerry has been a flip-flopper in his many years in Congress. They put this at the heart of criticism of Kerry at their convention, despite the latest flip-flop coming from Bush. Consider:
On Jan. 30, 2002, Bush said, We can win this war. [on terrorism]
On Aug. 30, last month, Bush said, We cant win thjs war.
The very next day Bush said, We can win this war.
The Republicans have been going Clausewitz-Lombardi one better by making a strength out of weakness. They actually boast that Bush, the man who avoided war, is the strong leader.
The annals of low comedy were enriched by New York mayor Rudy Giuliani's whopper at the convention saying that in the midst of the 9-11 tragedy he told his
police commissioner, "Thank God George Bush is our president." James Pinkerton,
the conservative columnist who once worked for President Ronald Reagan, wrote,
"Any such believers might also be in the market for a nearby bridge."
The Democrats can counter this by playing over and over two tapes during the rest of the campaign. The first would show Bush in the Florida classroom reading the childrens story The Pet Goat for several minutes after he was told of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. The deer-in-the-headlights look on his face as he contemplated the fate of the nation while reading to the kids prompted one general to say, I have seen that look; it is one that I would never send into battle. And after Bush finished his inspired reading to the kiddies, this great leader was whisked around the country by his handlers and reputedly only started taking charge the next day in Washington.
The other tape worth constant repetition is the one that shows Bush, the man who had questionable national guard duty during Vietnam, having the gall to don a pilots uniform and fly onto the deck of the aircraft carrier not many miles from the California shore to declare the end of combat. This under the banner of Mission Accomplished.
The Republicans dont even blink an eye of embarrassment in using the term commander in chief with Bush. Zell Millers comic tirade at the Republican convention actually included two references to Bush as a worthy commander in chief, Millers speech was so vicious, so over the top it may, says Sen. John McCain, boomerang against Bush. A more cynical view: Miller was a mole for the Democrats. .
I should not deny that Bush has shown courage. Fred Thompson, the actor-former Senator, laid that out at the convention. A filmed tribute to Bush showed him making an appearance at Yankee Stadium shortly after 9-11. Thompson talked about Bushs bravery in the way he approached throwing out the first ball of the game. Because he was wearing a bullet-proof jacket, Thompson said, he could hardly lift his arm over his head and intended to throw the ball from in front of the pitchers mound. But when Yankee Derek Jeter told him, This is New York and he had to throw it from the full 60-foot distance, Thompson said Bush went to the pitchers slab and threw the full distance because that is the kind of man he is. Take that John Kerry, you purple-heart bleeder.
Far too many suckers have been buying this mans-man image of Bush that the Republicans have been hustling. In fact this is papier mache strength that the Democrats ought to be exploiting. Once they puncture that image, they could bring the dialogue down to what the people care about: Bushs failures in health care, education, child care, his dangerous forays to weaken social security and philosophy of leaving no rich person behind.
I have another suggestion for the Democrats: Give widespread exposure to a quote from Pat Buchanan, the hard-rock right winger who is disenchanted with Bush and his war. We invaded a country that did not threaten us, Buchanan wrote, did not attack us and did not want war with us to disarm it of weapons we have since discovered it did not have.
A last word: Wisdom is where you find it. On a news report in New York, a teacher supporting Kerry said, I couldnt watch the Republican convention. All those lies...and we have our own lies.
©2004 by Stan Isaacs. The Stan Isaacs caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel.
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