Mr. President, It's Time to Take the Gloves Off

It appears that Senator Kerry has stopped his bleeding for now and even opened a couple of wounds on President Bush. And this is just on foreign policy issues — supposedly the president’s strong suit. What now?

I said before the first debate — on foreign policy — that the best way for Kerry to increase his chances in the debate and the election itself would be to shift the focus from his own record and inconsistent positions on Iraq to President Bush. With the help of Old Media warhorse Jim Lehrer, Kerry was able to do just that.

I’ve reviewed the transcript of the debate to confirm my sense that Jim Lehrer, in his questions both to President Bush and Senator Kerry, mostly made the situation in Iraq the focus. He did give President Bush a couple of openings to make the case that Kerry’s record is a gigantic red flag waving fervently against the prospect of Kerry becoming commander in chief, but President Bush politely declined the invitation.

The president must not make that mistake again. John Kerry is playing for keeps, and the president better take the gloves off. The public can’t be expected to believe the foreign policy differences between President Bush and John Kerry matter that much if President Bush doesn’t say so, passionately and without reserve.

But for now there seems to have been a significant momentum shift in the campaign toward Senator Kerry. And the Kerry folks aren’t the only ones with a bounce in their step following the debate. The Old Media are positively giddy.

From ABC’s “The Note” to the New York Times, the Old Media is palpably re-energized at the prospects that Kerry might just have turned this thing around even against their expectations. And some of them are going to continue their pro-active participation in swaying the election in Kerry’s favor.

The New York Times on Sunday splashed its front page with the beginning of a 10,000-word story suggesting the Bush administration willfully ignored evidence that certain aluminum containers in Iraq were not likely for the production of nuclear weapons.

Conspiracy or not, the Old Media have to be aware that the only chance Kerry has to win is to keep the heat on President Bush and away from John Kerry. It’s like an old western movie with the media crouched behind some barricade shooting at President Bush while John Kerry, with the media’s cover, is free to leave his own barricade and move freely toward domestic issues. As long as the media keep firing on President Bush he will be less likely to refocus the discussion on Kerry’s miserable record and policies — especially on foreign policy.

Don’t get me wrong, economic and social issues are very important, and the economic ones, at least, will get a major airing in the upcoming debates. The president has to be fully prepared to answer Kerry’s largely bogus criticisms on the economy, too. And, as with foreign policy, he needs to expose Kerry’s long and damning record of tax-and-spend liberalism and in the process put the lie to Kerry’s pretense to responsible fiscal stewardship.

That said, nothing will change the fact that we are at war, and the most important thing to be determined by this election is which of the two men is better suited to be commander in chief. It is President Bush’s job, with the help of the New Media, to bring the focus back to the War on Terror.

Don’t let anyone tell you that since Kerry hasn’t been president yet, his record isn’t as relevant as that of President Bush. His record and his positions on the issues matter every bit as much as President Bush’s presidential record. This isn’t merely a referendum on the president’s record. We only have, effectively, two choices, and if the president loses, Kerry is our next president. That’s a very scary thought, and the Bush team must demonstrate just how scary it is.

The Bush campaign’s task over the next month is clear. Beginning with the Cheney-Edwards debate, Team Bush must proudly defend the president’s record and relentlessly showcase Kerry’s record, from his Jane Fonda days, through his two decades of anti-defense in the Senate, to his reckless policy shifts on Iraq and his triumphant global-test-multilateralism today.

I understand President Bush’s desire to be gentlemanly and polite, but he shouldn’t do so at the expense of the public’s edification on the scary Kerry record. As we’ve seen in the past few months, like a vampire, John Kerry can’t stand the light of day. It’s time for the president to pry open Count Kerry’s coffin during daylight hours and let the sun shine in.