Friday, February 06, 2004

Bring it on!

Michael Grunwald in The New Republic - Is Kerry Really the most electable Democrat? Bring it on?
Massachusetts Senator John Kerry likes to say that, if he's the Democratic nominee and President Bush wants to make the election a referendum on national security, he has just three words to say: "Bring It On!" But what if Kerry becomes the nominee and Bush wants to make the election more than a referendum on national security? What would the Republicans bring on then?

In all likelihood, they would hammer Kerry for his opposition to mandatory minimum sentences for dealers who sell drugs to children and for voting against the death penalty for terrorists. They would mock his efforts to provide cash benefits to drug addicts and alcoholics, and his onetime opposition to a modest work requirement for welfare recipients. They would trash him for supporting more than half a trillion dollars in tax increases-including hikes in gas taxes and Social Security taxes on ordinary Americans-while accepting free housing and other goodies for himself from friendly influence-peddlers. They would even point out that, when Kerry served as lieutenant governor under one Michael S. Dukakis, Massachusetts famously furloughed more than 500 murderers and sex offenders under a program Kerry later defended as tough.

In fact, they already have.

In 1996, Republican Governor William Weld ran an aggressive campaign for Kerry's Massachusetts Senate seat, blasting him as a soft-on-crime, soft-on-welfare, crazed-on-taxes paleoliberal. He accused Kerry of siding with murderers and junkies over victims and taxpayers; he ran one ad with the slogan: "FREE RENT FOR KERRY, HIGHER TAXES FOR US."

It didn't quite work. Weld was the wrong guy, 1996 was the wrong year, and Massachusetts was the wrong state for a chest-thumping, red-meat, ditch-the-wuss conservative message. Kerry relentlessly linked Weld to the Republican bogeymen Newt Gingrich, Trent Lott, and Bob Dole, energizing his state's powerful labor unions and yellow-dog Democratic establishment, and he managed to escape with a seven-point victory in a state where Bill Clinton thrashed Dole by 34 points. But George W. Bush is not Bill Weld, 2004 is not 1996, and the United States most assuredly is not Massachusetts.