Politics & Policy

Where’s The Sound of The Bite?

W. could have stung a little more.

Before the last leg of the presidential election, Karen Hughes, a longtime adviser to President Bush, had returned to the campaign trail to help the president hone his message, saying, “I’m the sound-bite lady, I guess.” But even though she’s from Texas, Mrs. Hughes was too gentle for a campaign against John Kerry–too genteel, really, with the “e” coming out of “sound-bite.” “This is America’s first presidential election since September 11, 2001,” crafted Mrs. Hughes, a sound-bit destined not to be remembered. President Bush needed more pizzazz.

Herewith some sound-bites the president might have used, with teeth big enough to take a piece out of the trial lawyers’ “cash and Kerry” candidate.

A key issue of the campaign was the safety of America in the post-9/11 world. John Kerry claimed he had fought for his country in Vietnam and would fight for it again as president. But doubt was cast on his service record both by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and by Kerry’s own refusal to release his complete military records, which may show he was dishonorably discharged. President Bush should have made that concealment expensive. “As commander-in-chief, I have kept America safe. I have a record the public can look at and remember. My opponent hasn’t even released the records of his military service.”

“He can run but he can’t hide” was a shopworn phrase even before the president used it a dozen times. But it could have been memorable if given a twist. The president could have reminded us that government’s first constitutional obligation is to keep America safe from her enemies. “I have kept America safe and strong. My opponent has a 20-year record of voting against a strong military. He can run but he can’t hide–with one exception: He’s still hiding his military record from the voters.”

Inexplicably, the president never made an issue of John Kerry’s getting a manicure. “My opponent is the first presidential candidate ever to get a manicure. Somehow, getting a manicure just doesn’t seem like the right preparation for being commander-in-chief.”

Or President Bush’s campaign might have gotten Gov. Schwarzenegger to say: “Only girlie-men get manicures, and we don’t want a girlie-man as commander-in-chief.”

A second big issue was taxes, an issue on which Kerry’s wealth made him especially vulnerable. The president could have gone on the attack with a light touch: “I believe in keeping taxes low. But my opponent, who is the first presidential candidate in history to have a manicure, has been getting his fingers ready to dip into your pocketbook.”

Or the president could have gotten tough with Kerry for his position on taxes by linking it to his penchant for, er, marrying “well.” “John Kerry doesn’t mind paying higher taxes. The rich never do. That’s what it means to be rich. And John Kerry got his money the old-fashioned way: He married it–twice.” “Ooooh,” I hear the softies saying.

Kerry was also vulnerable on jobs. “My opponent talks a lot about jobs. But he’s never had a job in the private sector. Every nickel he’s ever received has come from government–or from marrying well.” More “Oooohs”?

And why was the Kerrys’ private Gulfstream jet never mentioned? “If higher taxes ever really bothered him, he could always sell his family jet.”

And what an opportunity the president missed by not reminding the public that the Kerrys called their jet The Flying Squirrel. “From up in The Flying Squirrel–that’s the name of the Kerrys’ private jet–the rest of us down on earth look like little taxpayers. And every taxpayer dollar we have to send to Washington is a dollar that doesn’t go to our families.”

And what ever happened to the term “limousine liberal?” “You know, years ago people with voting records like John Kerry’s were called ‘limousine liberals’ because they traveled in limousines. Now, those liberals only use their limousines to get to their private jets.”

And why wasn’t much more made of Kerry’s liberal voting record? “Have you ever noticed how it’s the ultra-liberals and the ultra-rich who want higher taxes? The Kerrys, the Kennedys, the Rockefellers? They have their money–$1.2 billion in the case of John Kerry and his wife–and you’d think that would be enough. But no, they want some of yours too.”

Of course, these are not the sound-bites of a compassionate conservative. There’s nothing kind and gentle about them. But if the president had used them, he might have spared his supporters a lot of angst. And shown the Democrats that conservatives know how to play hardball too.

Daniel Oliver is a senior director at the White House Writers Group, a strategic-communications firm in Washington, D.C.


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