- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 11, 2004

Why did the Republicans get a “bounce” after their convention but the Democrats did not?

Many pundits certainly expected a Democratic bounce. The Los Angeles Times’ Ronald Brownstein, before the convention said Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry “is likely to receive the traditional ‘bounce’ from the convention if he can use the opportunity to impress voters.”

According to political strategists, Mr. Brownstein said, “if Kerry and his aides can shape the convention to serve [his] goals… then the event will be a success — and the bounce will follow.”

But, no bounce. Why? The Republicans successfully attacked Mr. Kerry for flip-flopping on Iraq, and Mr. Kerry’s convention speech little clarified what he would do in Iraq and how he would wage the war on terror differently than President Bush.

CBS News’ “60 Minutes” asked Mr. Kerry whether — if he knew then what he knows now — he would still vote for the presidential authority to go to war in Iraq. Mr. Kerry said, “What I voted for was an authority for the president to go to war as a last resort if Saddam Hussein did not disarm and we needed to go to war. I think the way he went to war was a mistake.”

Mr. Kerry said, however, he didn’t regret his vote, “I believe, based on the information we have, it was the correct vote.” Only days ago, Mr. Kerry offered another perspective, “it’s the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.”

At the Republican Convention, Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, rattled off weapons Mr. Kerry voted against. Vice President Dick Cheney said, “Sen. Kerry is campaigning for the position of commander in chief. Yet he does not seem to understand the first obligation of a commander in chief, and that is to support American troops in combat.”

President George W. Bush, in accepting his party’s nomination for a second term, emphasized national security, while reiterating broad goals to reform the tax code, make the tax cuts permanent, and to allow younger workers to invest part of their Social Security taxes.

But not one hour after President Bush’s Thursday night address at the Republican Convention, a panicked John Kerry held a midnight Ohio campaign rally. (How many working families did Mr. Kerry keep up past their bedtime?) Mr. Kerry falsely accused Mr. Cheney of calling him “unfit for office.”

Actually, Mr. Cheney cited Mr. Kerry’s flip-flopping, his “wrong call on national security,” his inadequate support of our troops and his voting record against major weapons programs. A clearly irritated Mr. Kerry said, “I guess I’ll leave it up to the voters whether five deferments makes someone more qualified to defend this nation than two tours of duty.”

Hm-mm. Does this apply to Mr. Kerry’s running-mate John Edwards? Since Mr. Kerry now seems to attack Vietnam-era men who could have served, what about Mr. Edwards?

After shaking up his top advisers, Mr. Kerry apparently intends to focus on the economy. Here again, Mr. Kerry faces trouble.

He criticizes the Bush administration for “inheriting a surplus and turning it into a deficit.” But the National Taxpayers’ Union added up Mr. Kerry’s spending proposals: more than $2.26 trillion over a 10 years. To “pay for” the spending, Mr. Kerry intends to repeal Mr. Bush’s “tax cuts for the rich.”

Mr. Bush’s critics reject the argument tax cuts improve the economy, thus increasing tax revenues. They claim the tax cut “cost” the Treasury about $100 billion a year. Still, this does not close the deficit. Mr. Kerry claims to be strong on national security, and does not intend to reduce spending on national security and homeland defense. So who pays?

So let’s sum up. The Democrats offer a candidate fuzzy on the war in Iraq, and who infuriated more than 2.5 million Vietnam vets by accusing them of engaging in widespread atrocities. He criticizes Mr. Bush for excessive spending — record deficit — while offering even bigger spending proposals.

Mr. Kerry talks down an economy with 12 consecutive months of job growth and an unemployment rate of 5.4 percent, roughly the same as when Bill Clinton was re-elected in 1996.

Democratic Convention passion was high on the anti-Bush quotient and low on pro-Kerry sentiment. Republicans, on the other hand, salute Mr. Bush as a principled, unpretentious, likable man with an intense love for his wife and family. First lady Laura Bush is the epitome of class, dignity and grace.

Some pundits expect the race to tighten again, and suggest the upcoming debates as race-changing variables. Perhaps. But, above all, Americans want a leader they trust and whose positions they know, even when they don’t agree.

Good luck, Mr. Kerry. You’ll need it.

Larry Elder is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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