[Mb-civic] An article for you from an Economist.com reader.

michael at intrafi.com michael at intrafi.com
Mon Sep 20 09:25:28 PDT 2004


Dear Civic,

Michael Butler (michael at intrafi.com) wants you to see this article on Economist.com.

The sender also included the following message for you:

The Art of Kebabbing
Why Bush is harder to attack than Kerry

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Sep 16th 2004  

Why George Bush is harder to attack than John Kerry

NEIL KINNOCK, an erstwhile leader of the British Labour Party, once
told a BBC interviewer that he was not "going to be bloody kebabbed"
into talking about alternative policies. How a Greek delicacy made its
way into the political lexicon is not clear; but there has been an
awful lot of kebabbing going on in American politics this summer.

 In August a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth kebabbed John
Kerry with two sets of advertisements, the first questioning his
heroism in Vietnam, the second his record as an anti-war campaigner. A
low blow perhaps, but the ads have certainly had an effect. A
Gallup/CNN/USA TODAY poll shows just 38% of respondents rating Mr Kerry
as honest and trustworthy. Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster, claims
that the accusation that Mr Kerry "betrayed" his country with his
comments about Vietnam has helped move undecided voters into the Bush

Now it is Mr Bush's turn to experience a bit of kebabbing. A CBS
programme, "60 Minutes", disclosed memos that purportedly describe
pressure from above to "sugar-coat" Mr Bush's record in the National
Guard after his commander had ordered the young pilot to be grounded
for failure to fulfil his obligations. The programme also broadcast an
interview with Ben Barnes, a Democrat and former lieutenant-governor of
Texas, who claimed that he had helped Mr Bush to get a spot in the
Guard in response to pressure from certain well-connected Texans.

This was tame stuff compared with Kitty Kelley's new book, "The Family:
The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty" (Doubleday). The most scorching of
a large number of incendiary claims is that Mr Bush snorted cocaine
more than once at Camp David when his father was president.

Will these scandals--or pseudoscandals--damage Mr Bush? There are three
good reasons for thinking that Mr Bush is less vulnerable to attacks
than Mr Kerry.

The biggest reason is that Mr Kerry has staked so much of his campaign
on his Vietnam war record. The Democratic convention in Boston was one
long hymn to Mr Kerry's heroism in that affair. The focus of Mr Bush's
campaign has been his leadership in the war on terror. 

Second, most voters have probably already discounted many of the
accusations against Mr Bush. Everybody knows that he was born with a
silver spoon in his mouth (if not up his nose); that he sat out the
Vietnam war in the National Guard; and that he partied too hard as a
young man before finding Jesus in mid-life. The voters will judge Mr
Bush on his performance over the past four years, not on his
self-confessed youthful indiscretions.

Third, the Republicans are better at fending off kebabbing. Mr Kerry
was anything but swift in his response to the Swift Boat attacks. He
almost seems to have gone out of his way to provide fodder for
Republican claims that he is a flip-flopper. On September 6th he
self-mockingly praised a restaurant in Pennsylvania because it has a
set menu "for confused people like me who can't make up our minds". 

By contrast, conservatives have rushed to hurl the skewers aimed at Mr
Bush back at his accusers. Conservative bloggers immediately tore into
CBS's National Guard memos. The documents, they said, bore signs of
coming from word-processors rather than Vietnam-era typewriters. CBS's
Dan Rather is now desperately trying to defend the programme's
credibility. His basic argument--that it is up to the bloggers to prove
the documents are fake--does not augur well for the network. 

As for Ms Kelley, the Republicans say she is a Democratic donor who
maligned the sainted Ronald Reagan as a date rapist and castigated
Nancy Reagan as an adulterer who had an affair with Frank Sinatra. They
have also obtained a pre-emptive denial from Mr Bush's former
sister-in-law, Sharon Bush. Mrs Bush now says that she never told Ms
Kelley that he snorted cocaine at Camp David. So though the cocaine
charge is probably the most dangerous one for Mr Bush--he insisted
during the last campaign that he had not taken drugs in the past 25
years--Ms Kelley's only proof that it ever happened is the word of a
Bush relation who has since retracted the accusation. 

 Mr Bush could still be knocked off-course by a scandal. In a new book,
"Chain of Command: the Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib" (HarperCollins),
Seymour Hersh argues that the White House was repeatedly warned, in
2002 and 2003, that prisoners in military custody were being abused,
but did nothing to stop it. This is far more serious than tittle-tattle
about cocaine. But Mr Bush has one big thing going for him: most
Americans--67% in a NEWSWEEK poll--say that they like him personally.
This ensures that much of the mud that is thrown at him, however
justifiably, will fail to stick. 

See this article with graphics and related items at http://www.economist.com/research/articlesBySubject/displayStory.cfm?story_id=3203230&subjectID=1527355&emailauth=%2527%2523%2540%255F%255EKH%255B%255D%255FP%2520%2520%250A

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