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Hugh Hewitt - Principal Contributor

Mr. Hewitt is senior member of the editorial board. [go to Hewitt index]

Wrong Directions
Old media lurches to save Kerry...

[Hugh Hewitt] 9/9/04

"If there is any lesson about this election, conducted in a supercharged atmosphere created by 24-hour news cycles and the chaotic power of the Internet, it is that dynamics and public opinion change fast. Who in December would have predicted that Mr. Kerry would defeat Howard Dean for the Democratic presidential nomination or that he would have gone on to raise almost as much money as Mr. Bush?"

So writes Adam Nagourney in Tuesday's New York Times' booster shot for the Kerry campaign. Read the whole thing, and understand that it is a "chins up!" memo to the left. Nagourney gives the Dems a blueprint for Kerry's recovery:

In the next few weeks, the nation is likely to mark the thousandth death of an American soldier in Iraq, a moment that will probably bring a reappraisal of the war that Mr. Bush advocated. He also faces either two or three debates with Mr. Kerry. Although he proved himself to be an engaging and personal debater against Al Gore in 2000, this time he will be defending a record that even Republicans say is ripe for attack.

Republicans and Democrats say the biggest problem for Mr. Bush is the sense among Americans that the country is headed in the wrong direction.

A couple of points: Who said that fatality number 1,000 was more important that any that went before? This isn't a Hall of Fame homerun watch, and I am amazed that the Times is using military casualties to build a potential toehold for the Kerry campaign.

Next, the president hasn't agreed to any debates – and he doesn't have to – notwithstanding the self-appointed commission, the networks and the desperation on Kerry's side. Kerry is clearly the favorite in any debate, so I don't understand why the president has to accept the challenge, certainly not unless he gets a set of concessions to assure no ridiculous theater-in-the-round stuff, and Brit Hume as moderator.

Finally, the "wrong direction" canard doesn't tell you a thing. That's like saying Florida was headed in the wrong direction last week. We live in a terrible age, as the Russian massacre demonstrated last week. Of course it feels ominous, and that feeling is exactly what will be propelling many 9-11 Democrats to Bush's side on Nov. 2.

Nagourney mentioned the "chaotic power" of the Internet. Are there no editors on duty during long weekends? What does that mean, except perhaps the annoying presence of cyber fact-checkers and nonsense-spotters?

Look. This campaign is about the war, period. Sen. Kerry flip-flopped again on Monday, and President Bush remained resolved. As I wrote Monday at, it is a debate between resolve and retreat:

Sen. John Kerry and President Bush clashed repeatedly over Iraq on Monday, with Mr. Kerry branding it "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time" and saying he wanted all American troops home within four years, while Mr. Bush defended the war as "right for America then and it's right for America now."

Memo to Fallujah terrorists: If Kerry wins, all you have to do is endure at most four years, then you can have another Afghanistan. If Bush wins, you will die in Fallujah or give up your war.

Could Kerry have done anything more stupid than to telegraph to terrorists everywhere that there is a party of retreat in the United States? I don't think so. But he brought on board a bunch of new campaign staffers yesterday, for whom nothing matters more than improvement in the polls, and they must think the Americans are weary already of a conflict that won't go away.

Which brings us to Russia. The massacre in Beslan should be leading every newscast in the United States. It is not another Chechen insurgency story, as Israel's response demonstrates. The goal is sophisticated: to create regional instability into which jihadists can plunge. From Tuesday morning's Washington Post:

"It appears to be a deliberate provocation to reignite the conflict between Ingushetia and North Ossetia, to extend the range of the chaos," said Fiona Hill, a scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "It's very easy to stir up the region if you want to, and somebody wants to. This is a wake-up call. The whole of the Caucasus is going to go up at this rate."

Putin raised the specter of the region breaking apart from Moscow during a meeting with Hill and other visiting Westerners late Monday. "There's a Yugoslavia variant here," he said, according to notes taken by Eileen O'Connor, a participant. "It would be difficult to imagine the consequences for the rest of the world. Bear in mind Russia is a nuclear power."

"A Yugoslavia variant." That's a phrase that sticks, and one which ought to shake up even more voters considering their choice in November. Do you want Sandy "Socks" Berger and Madeline Albright back at the wheel under these circumstances? The storm gathered for eight years under their idle watch, and their response was to clink glasses with North Korea's nutcase. Now Kerry-Edwards want a pullback from the front lines, and to sell nuclear fuel to the mullahs of Iran in exchange for paper promises. What is there to debate, after all. CAFE standards really don't matter much under these circumstances.

Brendan Miniter gives a half-dozen reasons to believe in a sizeable Bush win in November, and they are all spot on. But the real reason is that most Americans really do understand the scope of the war and the nature of the enemy. They will be unwilling to risk seriousness of purpose and have a fling at appeasement because the New York Times thinks it worth a try.

There are still holdouts among old media elites who believe Bush is in serious trouble with the public on the war. E.J. Dionne plays his always useful role of summarizing the most other-worldly thinking from the left with yesterday's column on how Kerry could fight back. Nowhere does Dionne suggest that Kerry has a big problem on the war, or even that the war needs fighting. Instead:

So Kerry has three battles to wage. He has to fight Bush and his attacks. After all that was said about him at the Republican convention, you would think that Kerry has all the incentives he needs. He has to show voters what he is fighting for. And he has to reassure an anxious party that he has a plan to be back in the thick of things by the beginning of October.

All tactics, in other words, no substance. Which is why Dionne is increasingly dismissed as a columnist – much less as a campaign strategist. Kerry will lose in November because a majority of voters believe he will cut and run in the war on terror, and they believe it because Kerry has said he would in fact cut and run.

Over at ElectionProjection, the Blogging Caesar has Bush with 288 electoral votes this week, and he's making a daily briefing available for only $40, which I will be signing up for once I get a moment. He's a very good watcher of the state polling, and keeps his board with scrupulous accuracy. I recommend you take up his offer. Combine that with RealClearPolitics and you will be on top of the facts, incapable of being spun.

At the risk of exhausting your reading patience, I think we also have to start thinking about the effect of Kerry's campaign on the Senate races. Kerry combines with Michael Moore to alert the national electorate to the fact that the Democrats are not serious about national security. Three names immediately leap out as ideological clones of Kerry: Daschle in South Dakota, Murray in Washington state, and Boxer in California.

Now, the states of Washington and California are center-left states to be sure, but they are even more vulnerable states with long coastlines, borders and harbors. It is only a matter of time until the war hits the West Coast.

Murray famously announced that Osama was beloved because he built roads and schools, and Boxer called the Madrid bombings a "rail accident." Boxer's misstatement was just her famous denseness showing through again, but both of these lightweights need retiring if the war is going to get serious oversight in the Senate.

And Daschle needs to go as a message that obstructionism will not work in this era. In short, the next 60 days should be a debate about the war – and little else – in every Senate and House race and certainly in the contest for the presidency.

The Fourth Rail gets it. The Belmont Club gets it. Silly editorial writers with tenure don't get it. I am betting the American electorate does get it. Big-time, as the vice president likes to say.CRO

§ Principal Contributor Hugh Hewitt is an author, television commentator and syndicated talk-show host of the Salem Radio Network's Hugh Hewitt Show, heard in over 40 markets around the country. He blogs regularly at and he frequently contributes opinion pieces to the Weekly Standard.

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