Advice to the Lovelorn

Memo to a candidate's new aides: just go ahead and let Kerry be Kerry

 WASHINGTON, D.C—John Kerry and George Bush are two distinctly different people, and yet the platforms on which they are running—with few exceptions—often don't appear different enough for voters to detect any real difference.

While Bush made an effort to adopt a more moderate tone at the convention, he is a zealot with a right-wing Christian domestic policy and a cowboy foreign policy. His economic initiatives are driven by old-fashioned cronyism, masked, as always, by the pleasing banner of free-market economics.

Kerry is not a zealot, but playing to the center-right he frequently comes off as a mealymouthed opportunist who refuses to articulate clear positions. What does Kerry represent? It's better not to go there.

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  • The policy "differences" between him and Bush? Take the assault-weapons ban, which beginning this past Monday is removed from semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15. The Republican-controlled Congress let the ban disappear without seriously trying to renew it. Kerry, in an effort to draw support from police officers and gun-control enthusiasts, backed the prohibition. "The NRA put the squeeze on George Bush, and they're spending tens of millions of dollars to support his campaign," he said Friday. "Is George Bush going to stand with special interests or with the safety of the American people?" But Kerry is not anti-gun. He makes it clear he backs the right to bear arms, and he waves around a shotgun to advertise that he is a hunter.

    The fact of the matter is that the ban never had any meaning. As soon as it went into effect in 1994, gun manufacturers retooled their weapons to meet its standards, dropping such things as bayonet holders, and kept on selling them. For example, the government had put a limit on the size of a magazine, thinking that one holding a smaller number of bullets would lessen the chance a killer would go on a mass-shooting spree. But magazines made before the ban could be sold, and a brisk trade in them continued.

    So Kerry's position looks like the worst sort of cynical opportunism. The bottom line: The Washington Post reports that Bill Clinton said the Dems lost 20 House seats because of the ban. The party does not want to lose NRA votes.

    Or take the issue of energy independence. Both candidates say they want to make vehicles less polluting and more efficient. Yet, for decades, both parties have joined to beat down any serious attempt to gain fuel efficiency. And because coal is a staple of the American energy mix, both have fought off strict controls on pollution emissions. The Republican drive was conducted under the banner of free-market economics by two Republican presidents, Reagan and the senior Bush; the Democrats were spearheaded by John Dingell, the longtime Detroit congressman whose wife is a GM lobbyist, and Robert Byrd, who has for years been the coal industry's champion on Capitol Hill. The fight to prevent costly new rules against pollution and more efficient cars was played out in the halls of Congress while the politicians chirped about clean energy, the beautiful dawn of the solar age in which charming windmills dot the country and send their clean power from city to city. The arguments were farcical. And in this campaign? Same old, same old. There is little difference between the two candidates. Why? Both the energy industry and the automobile makers are prime contributors to political campaigns, and in this election both West Virginia and Michigan are battleground states.

    Or take the issue of health insurance: There doubtless is a difference here, with Kerry inching his way along a path that just possibly could end up with insurance for almost everyone, while Bush has no such intention. Bush says his goal is to bring costs down via the marketplace. By now everyone knows the clichéd goal of looking virtuous by seeming to provide geezers with cheaper drugs is little more than a campaign device.


    At each and every turn, the Democratic candidate's dweeb team of advisers, now reinforced by a rescue squad straight from hell, tries its best to make its candidate look like he's saying one thing while he does something else. The adviser team heretofore led by Bob Shrum, a longtime loser (7-0 in bungled campaigns), is now bolstered by John Sasso, the distinguished adviser to the ghastly 1988 Dukakis presidential bid. That was the campaign in which Dukakis's brainy advisers tried to make him more appealing to the masses by having the Massachusetts governor put a helmet on his head and poke it up out of a tank. People are still laughing at that one. And it was the year of another great moment in the history of political campaigning: The late Lee Atwater, in his most unforgettable moment, lobbed the Willie Horton grenade into the Dukakis bunker.

    Sasso is the man who is supposed to take Kerry's language and translate it into sharp, pithy lines that will make audiences laugh and/or cry as if on cue. In addition, Sasso himself is often considered to be an ace at negative campaigning, like, for instance, the time Dukakis was opposing the hapless Delaware senator Joe Biden in 1987 for the Democratic nomination. He wrecked Biden's campaign by accusing the Delaware senator of lifting part of a speech made by Neil Kinnock, the British Labor leader. Dukakis fired Sasso, but then brought him back. Earlier, Sasso distinguished himself by running Geraldine Ferraro's vice presidential run with Mondale in 1984. For a while, Ferraro was every mother's dream, until her husband's mob links to the porn business were exposed. She has been an embarrassment ever since.

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