Monday, September 06, 2004

Fight or Flight

John Kerry had a lousy August, as even his friends seem to admit. But that's good for the election. Because now he'll know (I hope) that it's not enough to be "not George Bush." I used to think he was running a Greg Gross candidacy. Gross was a utility player for the Philadelphia Phillies when I lived down there and saw a lot of games. He was a great protect-the-plate pinch hitter. Kerry wasn't looking for a victory in November, he was looking for a base on balls.

But now, thanks to that mean ol' Zell Miller and Kerry's fellow veterans, that's not going to work. He's got to come out and fight. I don't care for Bush's negative campaigning, per se (though I think the Swifties are Kerry's own chickens coming home to roost). But the ruthless political attacks will have the effect of showing us if John Kerry can, or will, fight back. Nowadays, that's something I'd like to know in advance.

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. has nicely described this:

If Kerry cannot effectively defend himself in a campaign, the country might well have reason to doubt his ability to defend the rest of us upon taking office. But if Kerry can face down a withering attack from Bush, the very act of campaigning becomes a way of passing the toughness test that Bush has put before him.

The alternative is the word that Dionne dares not utter, the word that a liberal Kerry backer must shun even more utterly than the phrase "Islamist terrorist." But it's the word that whispers in the wind that gusts through the bunting on their stump speech platforms in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania: