It is an unlovely fact, but a fact nonetheless. The surest way to win a presidential election is to successfully scare the bejesus out of the voters about what will happen if the opponent becomes, or remains, president of the United States. Not a pleasant thing for Democrats, who like to be nice, to have to ponder. Fortunately for the squeamish, they will simply be telling the truth. George W. Bush is scary. Going negative against him, early, even right out of the box, might be not just a winning strategy. It will also be the patriotic thing to do. Just ask Rand Beers.
I fantasize about the Democratic nominee kicking off his campaign with a TV spot like this:
Picture a man standing in an office, handsome, serious. It is Rand Beers, a former top Bush administration counterterrorism expert, looking into the camera and telling America the exact same words he told The Washington Post this past June when he resigned from his job with the National Security Council and joined the John Kerry presidential campaign: “The administration wasn’t matching its deeds to its words in the war on terrorism. They’re making us less secure, not more secure.” (The words appear along the bottom of the screen, for emphasis: They’re making us less secure, not more secure.)
Perhaps at this point a shot might home in on a document—the oath of office he keeps framed upon his wall. Then he might say something like: I served under presidents Ronald Reagan, Clinton, and George H.W. Bush. But what I saw under this president made me do something I never thought I would do: quit the government service.
Cue close-up: steely eyes.
I decided this past June that the best way to keep my pledge to help secure my nation was to work full-time for the defeat of this president.
Is that too wordy? I don’t know. I’ve never written a television commercial before. I suspect that this one might work, though, even if General Wesley Clark isn’t the Democratic nominee.
Another reverie: I picture zeros filling the screen. George W. Bush’s zeros. There are 11 zeros in $500 billion—the current estimate of Bush’s budget deficit. There is one more zero in a trillion—the amount the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates the Bush tax cuts for the rather well-off will end up costing. Maybe start off the commercial with six zeros almost filling the screen: the six zeros in 3 million, the number of jobs lost under Bush. Picture them as balloons: six of them, filling with air, crowding the frame. Five more balloons, then six, crowd them further, the narrator explaining how many zeros there are in $1,000,000,000,000. The balloons get too big, the screen is too small, a single TV set proves unable to squeeze them all in. The balloons begin to explode, one by one, until there’s only one fat, round one left. Which begins to whinily leak.
A single zero. To illustrate the number of net jobs created under every administration led by a man with the last name of Bush.
People hate budget deficits. George W. Bush has built up the largest one ever, by far, and in record time. It is visceral, this hatred of government red ink. In the American mind it has symbolized dissolution, a loss of control—the kind of sleazy, lazy, bumble-headedness Republicans have so effectively pinned on Democrats for decades. The first person who told me she loved Howard Dean, a college student, said it was because he would eliminate the Republican budget deficit for her children’s and grandchildren’s generation.
It’s a powerful appeal. How about a slogan: Remember the Surplus.
I find a certain orotundity in the phrase, a handsome, bumper-sticker-worthy roundness. Remember the Surplus—Vote Democratic in ’04. Columnist Matthew Miller speaks of Bush’s “radical fiscal immorality.” A pretty good line. Remember the Bush speech on Iraq—the one a few nights back, the one where the Son King crawled on his knees begging the nations of the UN to aid our occupation after months and months of insolence toward the UN? (Americans hate to see their presidents beg. And Americans rather like the UN.) “We will do what is necessary,” he said. “We will spend what is necessary.”
He means us to think of John F. Kennedy: Pay any price, bear any burden, pass the torch to a new generation of Americans. Why not a Democratic commercial asking the Republican candidate if that means he’ll cancel any of his tax cuts when the deficit grows great enough to spark a fiscal conflagration that will devour our children and grandchildren in the flames?
The Bush administration must be held to its words. Nailed to its words. Until Bush bleeds.
Here is an image. A picture to strike fearful memories in the hearts of Americans. The empty, abandoned airports.
Quick cuts on the airports, busy and bustling, then those same spaces as they were the first few days after September 11, 2001: eerie ghost towns.
Then, the voice-over, citing the facts established in an indispensable article in the October 2003 issue of Vanity Fair: “Within minutes of the attacks on 9/11, the Federal Aviation Administration had sent out a special notification . . . ordering every airborne plane in the United States to land at the nearest airport as soon as possible, and prohibiting planes on the ground from taking off.”
Cut to an abandoned baseball stadium: Across the country, professional baseball games were postponed.
So why were 140 members and associates of two families with close business and social ties to the Bush family—the bin Ladens, and the royal family of Saudi Arabia—allowed the only flights out of the country on those days? The monologue might get a little dry at this point—explaining all those ties: the Saudi family’s bailing out Bush Jr.’s Harken Oil, for example. The racquetball games between Colin Powell and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador who brokered the favor. It might get complicated, laying out how, as ground zero was aflame and Arabs were being hustled into FBI interrogation rooms around the nation almost at random, the dozens of people most likely to be able to shed light on the suspects were ushered out of the country under FBI escort.
At least the ending could be punchy.
Call the White House at 1-202-456-1414 and ask George W. Bush why his administration denies those flights ever took place.
Fade in: the rugged, all-American face of Rand Beers.
They’re making us less secure, not more secure.
Repeat as necessary. ‘Til victory is ours.