I want to be clear on this, so that there’s no confusion. If John Kerry cannot beat George W. Bush in this election, he should be taken out and beaten to death with his own shoes. How can any major party candidate not beat a sitting president who is the first since Hoover to have the economy lose jobs on his watch? How can any candidate not beat a sitting president whose economic policies took the federal budget from massive surpluses to massive deficits in such an alarmingly short time? How can any candidate not beat a sitting president whose rationales for a war of choice have been shown over and over again to be false and reckless — and because of that 1000 members of the US armed forces have no better reason for their mortal sacrifice than “presidential misadventure”? How can any candidate lose to the most incompetent man in living memory to hold the office of president?
Don’t talk to me about the Republican smear machine, or stupid voters, or a complicit media. This is a candidate’s job, to make his case to the American voters. John Kerry has been blessed with an opponent who makes Warren Harding look like a sharp tack, whose major policies have uniformly been one fat disgusting disaster after another, and who by most polls has lead the country in what most Americans view to be in the wrong direction. And here it is, 25 days before election day, and Bush and Kerry are still more or less statistically tied; Kerry’s up today, but not enough that he won’t be behind tomorrow if he doesn’t ace tonight’s debate.
This is appalling. It is unfathomable to me that at this late date in the campaign that Kerry is not more than a percentage point or two — at best — beyond the statistical error of the polls. I am reasonably confident that Kerry will be a perfectly acceptable president, certainly by comparison to his predecessor if nothing else. But as a candidate, he gives me the smacky shakes. I understand that this is his modus operandi in campaigns: to come up fast in the final quarter, just like he did in his senate campaign against William Weld in 1996. But look, Dubya ain’t no William Weld. Bush doesn’t have the 70% approval ratings Weld had. Dubya doesn’t have the successful executive track record Weld had. That race deserved to be close. This one doesn’t.
And let’s also be clear on this: Kerry needs to win outside the margin of error. Bush got into the White House in 2000 because Gore, that stupid, stupid man, let the race get close; he lost his own home state, for God’s sake, and then it all came down to Florida, where Dubya’s brother was governor, and then got kicked upstairs to the Supreme Court. If it all comes down to Florida again, there will be riots and Disney World will burn, baby, burn, but it’ll go to Bush again. Or what if it comes down to Ohio, home of Diebold and a Republican Secretary of State who attempted to disallow voter registration cards because of the weight of the paper until he was shamed into backing up? Come on, people. Do you really think if it’s close that the Republicans will let it get away? When it comes to elections, you don’t let the GOP get close. Letting them get close just means you can’t see where they’re planning to jam in the knife.
And you know what — I totally respect that. In 2000, I enraged a rabidly liberal friend of mine by saying, basically, that the reason Bush was in the White House was quite simply that the GOP wanted it more. The Florida recount was a dirty business all the way around, and the GOP, rabid little powermongers that they were, were like the poor schmucks at a radio contest who were willing to dive headfirst into a vat of pig shit to get the sparkly prize, while the Democrats were only willing to get in to their knees and half-heartedly pick around, and complain that they shouldn’t have to wallow in pork crap in the first place. Well, you know. That was the game at that point. If it comes to that again, you know the GOP has got the snorkels at ready.
This is why Kerry needs two have a two or three state margin (at least!) at the end of the day. This election needs to be incontestable; on election night, Dubya and the GOP have to look at the tally board and know that short of a military coup they’ve only got a few more weeks to enjoy the use of the Air Force One snack bar. Otherwise it will never end. I have entirely too much respect for the GOP’s ability to pull an electoral rabbit out of the hat to be anything less than totally paranoid if Kerry continues to let Bush and his buddies keep it close.
And what if — as is entirely possible — Bush actually wins? Not by leaning on Jeb or his pals at Diebold, but definitively, by two or three states worth of electoral votes? Ach, the reckoning there will be then, my friends. Because then the only thing that Bush and the GOP will have learned from all of this is that competence simply doesn’t matter, and if it doesn’t matter, then why bother. As for the Democrats, the best they can hope for is that they manage to get 50 seats in the Senate and hold on for dear life until 2008, and I wouldn’t count on either. And while the rest of us don’t necessarily have to start stocking dry goods in the cellar, we should at the very least know where we can get our hands on a 55-gallon drum of beans when the time comes.
As for Kerry, I imagine he’ll become one of the most reviled men in the country. He’s already reviled by the folks on the right, simply as a reflex, so that much is taken care of. But the ones in the left and in the center will revile him too, because he couldn’t close the deal against the manifestly worst sitting president in decades. And as I’ve said before, yes, George Bush is an utter incompetent. But think how much more incompetent you have to be to lose to him. Death by his own shoes would not be too fine a punishment for such an act.