Thursday, March 11, 2004

Kerrying it to far II

I suspect I am a minority on this point but I stand by my previous assertion that Kerry's comment about his critics being "crooks" and "liars" was a tactical mistake. It was a mistake for two related reasons:

  1. By being to general in his criticism, Kerry sounds like he is labeling all Republicans as crooks and liars. His comments, in context, were obviously in reference to some of the more seamy members of the Bush cabal (David Bossie anyone?), but by not being specific enough in his criticism he comes off sounding a bit like a raving loonie.
  2. Furthermore, when you make a blanket comment about a non-specific group of individuals, the casual observer will judge the comment in terms of a member of that group who they don't think matches the description. When Kerry makes a blanket comment that can be interpreted as criticizing all Republicans as crooks and liars (I've already seen headlines on MSNBC that paint his comment in that light) then the fence-sitter whose kindly old grandfather happens to be a Republican will be offended. It's even worse if the fence-sitter happens to be a Republican.

The same is true with respect to Bush. By his comments, Kerry has compelled some fence-sitters to come to Bush's defense. That is not the result you want.

When you criticize someone you need to do it in a way that sounds reasonable. Then people will consider your criticism on the merits. Kerry has done a good job up till now (for example, his comment about Bush devoting more time to visiting a rodeo than he was willing to give to the 9/11 commission were spot on). This is his first serious stumble.

I know it makes a lot of us feel good to see a Democrat taking Bush to the mat. But we don't just need a fighter. We need a smart fighter.

Kerry's comment was not smart.

Update: A commenter to my previous post compared Kerry's casual comment to Bush's "major league asshole" incident from 2000. I think there is one significant difference: Bush's comment was about a specific individual (Adam Clymer) while Kerry's can easily be (mis-)interpreted as a comment about all Republicans. Not many people felt the need to defend Clymer while many will feel the need to defend Republican friends and family.

The fact that, in context, Kerry's comment wasn't about all Republicans is irrelevant. Kerry will probably have to waste time clarifying his comment. When you have to clarify a comment you look weak. It gets you off your game and gives your opponent a chance to regain their composure.

Fortunately, the campaign is only just beginning. If something like this had happened in the final weeks it could have been disastrous. I'm just hoping that Kerry doesn't become gun-shy because of this. He needs to remain feisty. Just smart feisty.


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