CNN grabbed a pair and ran Kerry's whole American Legion speech today. Watching it, I noticed that Kerry forcefully used a lot of Bush's words against him. Particularly, the "miscalculation," "catastrophic success," and "I don't think you can win" the war on terror flubs of the past few days.
Now, I got into an argument (again) with a hard-core Republican yesterday, and I brought up the fact that it seemed Bush was the man who was most off message this week. He responded to the "you can't win the war on terror" thing by saying "Well, he meant blah blah blah, you know what he means, you won't have an ending date, blah blah blah."
And you know what? He's kind of right. I've been saying for years that a war on terror is ridiculous, it's a war on a concept, it's like, as David Cross has put it, "saying you're going to fight a war on jealousy."
But that doesn't mean it becomes unusable as a sledgehammer for our side. Here's why:
1) A man who's built his entire campaign on strength and resolve suddenly says something completely contrary to his entire plan on terrorism for 3-plus years. In other words, call him what you want, but he's NOT a flip-flopper. "I say what I mean, and I mean what I say" is Bush's mantra. This runs totally counter to it.
2) Republicans are making an issue out of John Kerry's flip-flops, we cannot allow a classic one to fly by.
And most important...
3) THIS IS WHAT THEY DO. They take a quote out of context, and use it against you. The time of principled resistance ended the moment those Swift Boat Vets came crawling out of the slop. Anytime a Rethug tries to rationally explain the "I don't think you can win the War on Terror" line, all you have to do is say "OK, give me the exact same amount of time to explain Kerry's $87B vote." Of course they won't.
Through inaction and the invocation of the moral high ground, we have allowed American politics to basically become a race to the gutter. It's a great game of who can get their soundbites out on cable, who can out-talking point the other, who can slam the other the fastest. Maybe once the Kerry White House gets its footing that can change. But right now it'd take a sea change to bring politics back the other way.
So we have to be as stupid as they are. "First he said you can't win it, then he said you can!" In a way, we are helped by the GOoPers own paranoia with their own base, because they'll end up making the problem worse (like going on Limbaugh and changing your tune). But it's just a matter of saying the same damn thing over and over and over. That's how we won in '92. That's how we'll win in '04.
Kerry and Edwards have used this model in recent days. But to win, the words "miscalculation," "catastrophic success," and "I don't think you can win" must become as ubiquitous as "flip-flopper," "most liberal member of the Senate" and "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth."
It can happen. Just keep talking.