This election is all about which party has the most aggrieved victims. Like the TV show "The Biggest Loser," on which contestants win by losing the most weight, biggies for both parties are acting as if the biggest winners will be candidates who convince voters that they are the most maligned.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., gave joy to GOP operatives when he said in Pasadena, Calif., this week: "Education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. And if you don't, you get stuck in Iraq." The GOP responded that Kerry maligned military families.
President Bush called for Kerry to apologize to U.S. troops. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., cried that Kerry had insulted those serving in the military.
Before apologizing, Kerry responded by framing himself as the victim: "This pathetic attempt to distort a botched joke about President Bush is a shameful effort to distract from a botched war." Poor John Kerry, his little joke backfired.
Whatever Kerry may have meant to say, what he did say reflects many Democrats' apparent belief that American grunts aren't all that bright. That's why the Pasadena audience laughed.
The Bushies can't help but appreciate that Kerry's gaffe returns voters' focus to why Kerry lost his bid for the White House in 2004. Americans simply didn't trust Kerry to push for victory in Iraq.
Sure, some Democrats -- such as Sen. Joe Lieberman, who is now running as an independent -- criticize the Bushies because they want U.S. troops to prevail, but there is a snarky element on the left that is flat out rooting for failure. I get e-mails that demonstrate this all the time. An American soldier dies, and they crow, "We told you so."
Fox News' Bill O'Reilly nailed that dirty little secret when he appeared on David Letterman's show last Friday. O'Reilly asked Letterman, "Do you want the United States to win in Iraq?" Letterman mumbled that he wanted Americans to stop dying and stability in Iraq, but he could not simply answer yes. When O'Reilly countered it was a simple question, Letterman retorted, "It's not easy for me because I'm thoughtful."
Try: It is not easy for Letterman because he is rooting for a tail-between-the-legs exit from Iraq before the Iraqi government can fend for itself.
And he calls that thoughtful. If the Kerry gaffe is being a tad overplayed, at least this brouhaha has forced the geniuses at the Republican National Committee to depart from sleazoid mudslinging at Democrats -- the stuff that was plastered all over cable news before Kerry's tripping of the tongue. As in, "Harold, call me" -- the RNC spot that features a blonde bimbo talking about meeting Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., who is running for the Senate, at a Playboy party. Ditto Virginia Sen. George Allen's release of weird quasi-sexual excerpts from rival James Webb's novels.
As GOP consultant Ed Rollins noted over the phone, a candidate is in trouble "when the only thing you can make for your case is the guy wrote some pornographic stuff."'
And, "The thing about negative advertising is, it has to be effective." To be effective, negative ads ought focus on policy issues, such as taxes.
Like many Republicans, I am furious with the recent GOP leadership -- for pork-barrel spending, for jet-setting on convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff's dime and for showing more interest in retaining power than serving the interests of the American people.
Still, I see no remedy in replacing good and bad Republicans with Democrats who want to set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. Democrats argue that a timetable will put pressure on the Iraqi government to perform. I know some voters want to believe that is true. But the one sure result will be to confirm to the followers of Osama bin Laden that bin Laden was right to dismiss America as a "paper tiger" that "after a few blows" runs in defeat.
The 2006 races have featured candidates who compete over who is the biggest victim, but I don't think Americans want to win the "biggest loser" title in the war against terrorists.