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An Exclamation Point Vs. A Question Mark

Patrick J. Buchanan

September 6  2004

A man who believes in something, even if wrong, will always defeat the man who believes in nothing. That is the lesson of the conventions. The exclamation point beats the question mark.

Even if one has concluded that George Bush made a historic blunder in going to war to occupy a nation that had neither the intent nor the capacity to gravely wound America, clearly, Bush believes he did the right thing. The man exudes moral certitude.

But does anyone really know what John Kerry believes about this war? His public stands call to mind Churchill's remark: "Take away this pudding. It has no theme."

In October 2002, Kerry voted to give the president a blank check to invade. Facing the challenge of Howard Dean, Kerry then voted to deny our troops what they needed to defend themselves and consolidate victory. A month ago, Kerry the Hawk returned. Sounding like a protege of Richard Perle, he declared that he would have voted to authorize Bush to launch an invasion, even had he known Iraq had no ties to Al Qaeda and no WMD.

Came then Kerry's Boston convention. With his party sundered and himself conflicted, Kerry dressed up as hawk or dove depending on the audience he was addressing.

In Boston, Democrats were impassioned on two issues: revulsion of Bush and hatred of the war. But that convention offered not one major speaker in primetime to lay out an indictment of Bush for having blundered us into one of the great foreign policy disasters of the era.

Sensing the divide in Kerry's soul as well as his party, the boys of Madison Square drove straight at it. Ignoring Big Media warnings to be kinder and gentler if they hoped to win the soccer moms, they sent to the podium a roster of macho hard-liners, all of whom hailed the president for courageous leadership in the war on terror and the war on Iraq, and almost all of whom painted Kerry in pastels as a waffler and girly man who could not be trusted to keep America secure.

Result? Kerry got a baby bounce from his convention. George W. Bush, in both Time and Newsweek polls, has just opened up an 11-point lead with only 3 percent to 4 percent undecided. For the first time since the primaries, Bush has put real estate between himself and John Kerry.

Going into Labor Day, Bush has a lead over Kerry that is larger than the lead his father had over Michael Dukakis on Labor Day 1988. Bush 41 never lost that lead.

The Madison Square Garden Republicans and their barn-burning Democratic ally Zell Miller are now under fire for the brutality with which they treated Kerry, draping around his neck, like a flaming tire filled with gasoline, 30-year-old Kerry quotes and 20-year-old Kerry votes that painted him as an unreconstructed Massachusetts liberal and twin to Teddy Kennedy.

Unlike 1992, where Bush 41 got twice the bounce from his Houston convention as the son did out of New York, but ran away from his convention and the issues it raised, the son is not running away. Indeed, if he wins, it will have been won for him by this convention, and by his speech there, which began as a bore but ended with a spectacular flourish.

Kerry was set up for the kill at Madison Square by the attacks in August on his principal asset: that he had been a hero of Vietnam while Bush hid out in the Texas National Guard and Cheney of the five deferments had "other priorities."

The gunners of August who may have cost Kerry the presidency for which he has planned his whole life are the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth. These men of the Mekong -- many decorated for wartime wounds and valor, several of them admirals and POWs -- returned, after 33 years, to settle accounts, to tell the truth about Kerry's wartime service and postwar misconduct, and to cast a dark shadow of disbelief over his medals, ribbons, credibility, character and honor.

If Bush wins this election, he will have won it as his father did it in 1988, by defying Big Media attacks on him for the politics of hate, and by running the kind of focused ruthless campaign Republicans seemed to have forgotten in the "kinder, gentler" decade of the 1990s. Bush's advantage over his father is that he was raised in Midland-Odessa, not Connecticut.

Agree or disagree with what they are saying, what the Swiftboat vets, Zell Miller and George Bush have is authenticity and certitude. Even fence-straddlers prefer that to the Hamlet windsurfing off Nantucket Island.

2004 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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