Jonah Goldberg

I'm trying to gird my loins - how does one do that by the way? - for the campaign everyone says will get "even nastier" between now and November. Indeed, eight months is a long time to listen to a conversation between George W. Bush, who isn't a great talker, and John Kerry, who isn't either but thinks he is.

But so far, I don't think the campaign has been nasty at all. I think it's been silly - and promises to get even sillier.

Take this unending backlash against Bush's 9/11 ads. On its merits, it's an astonishingly silly controversy. But why, all of a sudden, should merits get in the way? This story was destined to launch because Bush made it clear two years ago that he was going to run on 9/11. Why are we shocked that the Democrats were ready for it?

The story is also perfect for the press, not so much because it hurts Bush - that's gravy - but because it allows the networks to wallow in 9/11 sentimentality for the 800 gajillionth time. Besides it's good ratings. Why else would so many news shows promote their various crossfire debates on the Bush "ad controversy" by showing footage from 9/11? Apparently, it's OK to "exploit" the memory of lost Americans for ratings but not to run for president.

As you've probably heard by now, this story was driven primarily from two quarters: Harold Schaitberger (don't say that fast), the head of the Kerry-supporting firefighters' union, and a group of relatives of 9/11 victims, most of whom are members of a very dovish group called September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.

Now I have no principled objection to the families of 9/11 victims using their status to express their opinions. What offends me is the idea that these families have some kind of veto power over what others can say about 9/11. Their status gives them a megaphone, and that's fine. But their status doesn't automatically make them right anymore than Kerry's status as a Vietnam vet makes him right on national security issues.

If George W. Bush didn't use the events of 9/11 - including their pictures - he would probably be the first U.S. president to abdicate such an issue. Lincoln ran for re-election entirely on his war leadership. FDR invoked Pearl Harbor constantly to his opponents' detriment. Kennedy ran on the "missile gap." Eisenhower exploited Normandy. And John Kerry, according to many, won the early primaries by exploiting Vietnam. Should we trot out families of vets with hurt feelings about that?

Of course, if Bush's ads were in really poor taste, that would be different. But no reasonable person looking at these saccharine, content-less ads can really say they're beyond the pale.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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