by Jay Levin
Jay was the founder of the LA Weekly, currently president of the Share With The Other LA Campaign, and a lifetime activist.
After a long and fruitful conversation on the subject "what is the Kerry campaign not doing" , Jay was pressed to write down his comments.
1. Class economics. Kevin Phillips the former Republican strategist had a piece in the Nation mag last month that laid out what it would take to restore a Democratic majority and White House. He is profoundly on the money, as is Tom Frank in his new book on why Kansas votes Republican, and those of us who have studied political economics could not have asked for a more succinct and right-on presentation. Phillips ought be made a consultant to the campaign and heeded. Economics and exposure of the class-warfare as practiced by Bush have to be far more strongly at the forefront of the campaign and certainly of the debates. The positive spin of course it to set an economics course that works for all Americans, but the case has to be clearly made in the way Phillips suggests. This is by far the most important thing Kerry could do. Overwhelmingly important to reframe the terms of debate to take the government back from the Republicans. While I think all the other points below are winning ones and desperately need to be made because Bush and his character must also become the focus of the election as the Repubs are seeking to make Kerry's the focus, the Phillips analysis is a major one, not only because it is a winner, but because the country must be turned around economically for the people in the lower-earning two-thirds of the economy. Bush's cutbacks on poverty programs that people support strongly -- housing, head start, education opportunities, etc., - is a sub-theme within this context.
2. Sale of the Government. The economic theme is also the best lead-in to the theme first well-enunciated by Al Gore that Bush has sold the government to his campaign backers and they are running rife with all the agencies, all the rule making and all the legislation. Enron and Cheney's secret Energy Task Force and Halliburton are the tip of the iceberg. Does Kerry even know that literally every single oversight role in government has been turned over to the industry being regulated, with literally hundreds of appointments throughout the bureaucracy of industry lobbyists and officials placed in key positions to change government policy and citizen protection against the egregious acts of their industries. There is nothing the campaign donors want they don't get. This is government by and for Bush's campaign donors. Gore's "government for sale" theme is an excellent one and I also liked his approach re Bush: he made it an issue of Bush courage. "The President does not have the courage to stand up to the big money people. Instead, he works for them rather than for the American public." was his theme. I will come back to this in a moment.
I would encourage the campaign to put together a list of 2000 or 3000 egregious examples and post it on a separate web site that is kept secret until the first debate. Many non-profits have this info at hand. Kerry would then make prominent reference to "what Americans need to know that is under the media radar" about how this government is really being run" during the debate and challenge Bush's supporters to look at the web site. This would have a big impact on many Christian conservatives who are uncomfortable with the marriage to corporate power of the Republican party.
It can also be tied into Rummy and Cheney's earlier biz dealings with Iraq under Hussein, both as private individuals and as Govt. officials, though given the general competence of the Kerry campaign, one wonders if they even know the details on this.
3. "Dangerous incompetence" as a theme is a big one and segues with the sale of government to campaign donors theme and Phillips class warfare theme. It is amazing to me that while Kerry is pushing himself as better on security than Bush, he is tone deaf to events and I suspect ignorant of much of the case against Bush on national security, so he is actually coming off weaker and more irrelevant than he need be. His theme that he will be better on national security sorely needs proof and should be amped by his pointing out that this is a "dangerously incompetent" (exactly the right language) and corrupt administration on national security - far more interested in image and ideology and taking care of its donors than substance. Why, for example, isn't Kerry hammering on the fact that while billions are being spent on plush Iraq-rebuild contracts to Bush's campaign contributors, Iraqis are massively jobless and therefore turning on the administration and supporting Sadr? In fact, much of the funds voted by Congress hasn't been spent. Instead, Iraqi oil money is going to the contractors and they are doing a piss poor job of restoring Iraqi basic services. It is one immense scam and rip-off for the campaign donors. Also, if you look at the "rules" left behind by the departed American consul, they basically turn all Iraqi assets over to foreigners, including notably Bush campaign contributors; put Americans covertly in charge of all departments, and even set the tax rules. Iraqis know this rip-off is underway and it fuels the rebellion. It is rank occupying power bullshit.
All this of course supports Phillips core theme of economic politics being up front for the Dems. Whether it is the common people here or in Iraq, the same rules apply. If you take care of the Republican party or are wealthy, you get taken care of at the expense of all else, including American security. Meanwhile, here is Kerry floundering around to distinguish himself on Iraq and trying to get the public to believe he will do better with the French while the core winning issues are right smack in his face. Iraq is a corporate scam and he ought be demanding an end to the economic decrees and an end to the foreigners and contracts, with all work except the highly specialized that they can't do going to Iraqis.
Dangerous incompetence: Kerry ought be walking around with and waving the State Dept study on how to manage the transition after the war - the one completely ignored by the protected Rumsfeld (nobody gets fired in this dangerously incompetent administration). It laid out exactly how not to run the occupation and how to do it right. Defense and the pro-consul did everything State said they should not do. They did nothing State said should be done...and thus the mess...(Doug Fife, the Def. undersecratary who General Tommy Franks called the stupidest person in govt., told Atlanta mag that Rumsfeld does not believe in plans because events overtake them.) Fits in with Bush not even consulting Powell on going to war.. (He could win the campaign on the revelations in Woodward's last book on Bush and his dangerous incompetence. Kerry also ought to look at the film Uncovered which details how Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld bent the CIA out of shape to get the results he wanted on Iraq, with great interviews of prominent figures in the defense and intelligence communities. )
Dangerous incompetence: It is lack of leadership on Kerry's part that he did not pounce on the news that the Pakis and Brits were furious at the administration's leak of the terrorist name and arrest two weeks ago, ending a roll up campaign of terrorists. Or on the report that the Pakis were pushed into making the first announcement of the arrest on the day of Kerry's speech at the Dem convention. He could have linked this to the leak of Valerie Palme's name. She was not only a CIA agent, she was in charge of undercover operations against terrorists, and Kerry is not speaking about this. To show leadership, he should also be all over the Goss CIA appointment under the "politics before safety" theme. This guy is a major blunderer who had oversight for the CIA during the years it was failing on 9/11 and covered up for Bush on both 9/11 and on the Iraq war bullshit. He is a lackey. His covering for Bush reached a new low when Bush needed a report blaming only the CIA for WMD crap. Goss produced one. Kerry needs to show leadership on this and make it safe for other Dems to stop this awful appointment, not "play it safe." Play it safe is a losing hand. Kerry says he will do better without showing the mettle and gumption that would allow people to trust he will do better. He should be pointing out that Goss is the last person who can be trusted to give independent and truthful info to the President, or to manage the CIA in a way that supports truth coming forward, and has shown he will do anything the President wants.
Dangerous incompetence: This month the administration is encouraging the Navy to conduct its largest ever peacetime war maneuvers - seven carriers worth - off Taiwan. Although the media, which is also dangerously incompetent, hasn't pushed the story, the Chinese are furious. They have already ordered their navy and air force on a crash course to be able to defeat a seven-carrier force within five years, and they are going to beef up nuclear missiles as well. This is all macho posturing on the part of the administration, with no rhyme nor reason, and Kerry ought to be all over it - and tie it to the incompetence on Korea. This is not walk softly and carry a big stick competence. This is over the top macho belligerent neo-con stuff and Kerry does not look like a leader for letting this stupid provocation pass unremarked. Historian Chalmers Johnson should be consulted on this.
Dangerous Incompetence: A man who consults with God only and not his secty of state or defense before going to war, or his very experienced father, is he going to be told next by God to invade Iran or N. Korea? Or France? Why isn't Bush's management style the issue?
Dangerous incompetence: Before Bush, 80% of the Muslim country of Indonesia supported the US and its policies in the world. That figure is now 10%. It is common to see kids in Indonesia streets wearing Bin Laden T-shirts. We are all less safe. (Kerry has hit this alienation theme well but there is a lot more that could be said.)
4. Why not make some early cabinet announcements. Look like he is a President in action. Say he wants the people to know who will be in charge rather than the incompetents and servants of the campaign donors now in office. He badly needs somebody to be sure the African American vote gets out there. You can speak to the Latino vote better than I. He also might pick some figures who will help in key states and be campaigning in them. Like announce a key good job for the retired Sen. Bob Graham from Florida who ran in the primaries against him. A role of Gephardt - secty of Labor? -might help carry Missouri. Who is respected in Ohio?
5. The Endless Lying. Gore has been great on this as well, as has been Ron Reagan. The Misleader, as Move-on's earlier campaign had him. The day after Kerry's floor speech, Bush addressed a crowd and announced that Kerry was going to raise their taxes. Not a word from Kerry. Because the Dems have been so weak on challenging Bush's overall credibility - he lies about or distorts everything - and focused just on WMDs, they have missed a tremendous opportunity to destroy this guy's credibility with his base. Kerry should have called Bush on the taxes statement immediately, and should make a sub-theme that Bush's campaign is based on Mass Deception and challenge the media to cover it more. This would help on the Vietnam front with the right-wing Swift boat ads as well. Since the campaign wants to go positive and Bush is not going to go positive, the validity of every negative statement the Repubs make should be challenged in the context of "these people mislead the public about everything and are clearly not going to stop about Kerry." Move-on as you know puts out a Daily Mislead but there is four years of evidence on virtually every major issue before the public.
Were I running the campaign, I would put together a second web site with thousands of Bush's lies and distortions and also reveal its existence during the debates. There's a great line from the old 60s TV series Maverick that Kerry could co-opt. "You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time - and them there are pretty good odds. This is the approach of the President and his administration to the American people. And if you doubt it, go to this web site and look at the dismaying details. You will find thousands of examples there. This is a President we simply cannot trust, either to campaign honestly on a vision for America, honestly about my record, or honestly about the nature and acts of this administration. Instead it misleads to cover up its incompetence and its sale of the government and Iraq to campaign donors."
6. The King George theme. Sits alone and makes decisions, talking only to God. Arrogant with allies. Claims the power to arrest whomever he wants without due process. Set the stage for and winked on torture and then - typically - lies about it. Brought the greatest shame on America in our lifetimes. Makes out-of-session appointments he can't get thru Congress. Changes administration rules on health, safety and environmental policies at behest of donors. This segues with other themes: What is he competent at? Not the war on terror. Not the economy. He is extremely competent at selling the government to his country club buddies and campaign contributors, at misleading the American people and at playing King with our rights, treaties constitutional processes. Again this should be part of the response campaign to Bush's attacks on Kerry, so it is seen in the light of undermining Bush's credibility with the public even while Kerry himself focuses dominantly though certainly not exclusively (as outlined above) on the positive thrust of his campaign.
7. There was an excellent piece in the LA Times op-ed page last week written by a pro-life expert on how Kerry could win with the abortion issue. I hope the campaign saw it. It basically says Kerry announces he will make a major government effort to help people financially and with education, so they have an alternative to abortion. Makes a big deal of this in the campaign. This would help with those young Latinas we discussed.