Politics & Policy

Closing The Deal

What Republicans need to figure out this week.

Think back to the 1988 presidential debate. Not the actual debate, featuring George H. W. Bush’s zinger, “That last answer was about as clear as Boston Harbor,” but the Saturday Night Live parody of the debate. Dana Carvey was still working out the kinks in his soon-to-be-famous Bush impersonation, but he offered a giggle-inducing imitation of Bush’s sometimes-incoherent syntax.

“Stay the course. A thousand points of light…Stay the course.” When informed by the debate moderator that he still has two minutes of allotted time to fill, Carvey’s Bush just repeats, endlessly, “Stay the course … A thousand points of light.”

Jon Lovitz, impersonating Mike Dukakis, looks at the camera and shrugs, “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.”

Right now, as the GOP meets in New York City, the party must be collectively scratching its head and saying, “We can’t believe we’re barely ahead of/tied/barely behind this guy Kerry.”

Let’s step back and look at the state of the world. Al Qaeda is still out there; North Korea has nukes; Iran will have them any minute now. There’s increasing instability in Saudi Arabia, and as much as some of us may hate the House of Saud, those who would seek to overthrow them don’t seem like much of an improvement. General Musharraf is on our side in Pakistan, but God knows how many people in his government are al Qaeda sympathizers, allies, or agents. China’s exploding economy is putting increasing pressure on the world’s oil supply.

To deal with this situation, the Democratic party offers…John Kerry.

In a world exponentially more dangerous than it was in the 1990s–with the man sworn in on Jan. 20, 2005, set to face a plethora of complicated threats, challenges, and quandaries–Kerry has chosen to run on his biography: a biography that 200-some of his comrades in arms have declared to have been airbrushed in a wind tunnel.

As a young man urging America to change its policy in Vietnam, he estimated that perhaps 3,000 South Vietnamese would need asylum if the North Vietnamese took over. (More than 100,000 were executed without trial.) He based his first primary campaign for the Senate on being the strongest advocate for the nuclear-freeze movement. His instinct throughout the ’80s was to cut military spending. He later justified one of his few marginally conservative votes, the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act, as an effort to reduce military spending. He declared the Reagan years to be “an era of darkness.” After the Cold War, he opposed driving Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. Throughout the Clinton years, he served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence without any distinctions or accomplishments whatsoever. He suggested in a late-’90s book that the serious threats of the future were the Japanese yakuza, narcotics cartels, and kidney smuggling in China.

Kerry’s style on the stump or in politics has been far from inspiring: It is aloof, windy, droning–tolerated and perhaps respected–but not beloved in his home state of Massachusetts. Almost all of his suggested policies are boring retreads. He wants to ask for more military help from allies who do not appear to have the manpower, firepower, or will to give it. He wants to negotiate with Iran. He declared that Cuba’s pro-Democracy effort, the Varela Project, “has gotten a lot of people in trouble … and it brought down the hammer in a way that I think wound up being counterproductive.”

And then there is Kerry’s Iraq policy.

If Karl Rove wanted to design a Democrat with a worse record to deal with the challenges of the next four years, he would be hard-pressed to come up with a model to top Kerry.

And yet, Kerry and Bush are tied–or Bush is up by a few points, or Kerry is up by a few points.

This week will be, for Republicans, something of a strategy session. The GOP offered a vision, a plan, and policies, and has been matched up against a Democratic candidate with the worst political instincts since Dukakis. And we’re tied heading into the third quarter. Clearly, from the Republican perspective, something has gone wrong.

The feisty defenses of the Bush doctrine by John McCain and Rudy Giuliani Monday night may have been the first step. Arnold Schwarzenegger will get a chance Tuesday night to show a different side of the party. Zell Miller is scheduled to eviscerate Kerry’s meager Senate record Wednesday night, and then it’s up to the two men on the ticket.

How do they–to borrow the overused phrase from the Democratic Convention–”close the deal”?


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