Why did the Republicans get a "bounce" after their convention, while the Democrats did not?
Many pundits certainly expected a Democratic National Convention bounce. The Los Angeles Times' Ronald Brownstein, before the DNC, argued that Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry "is likely to receive the traditional 'bounce' from the convention if he can use the opportunity to impress voters . . . " According to political strategists, wrote Brownstein, "If Kerry and his aides can shape the convention to serve (his) goals . . . then the event will be a success -- and the bounce will follow."
But, no bounce. Why? The Republicans successfully attacked Kerry for flip-flopping on Iraq, and Kerry's speech at the DNC provided little clarity on what Kerry would do in Iraq and how Kerry would prosecute the War on Terror differently than President Bush.
"60 Minutes" asked Kerry whether -- if he knew then what he knows now -- he would still vote for the presidential authority for war in Iraq. Kerry answered, "What I voted for was an authority for the president to go to war as a last resort if Saddam Hussein did not disarm and we needed to go to war. I think the way he went to war was a mistake." Kerry said, however, he didn't regret his vote, "I believe, based on the information we have, it was the correct vote." Only days ago, Kerry offered another perspective, "it's the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time."
At the RNC, Georgia Sen. Zell Miller (D) rattled off a litany of weapons programs Kerry voted against. Vice President Dick Cheney said, "Sen. Kerry is campaigning for the position of commander in chief. Yet he does not seem to understand the first obligation of a commander in chief -- and that is to support American troops in combat."
President George W. Bush, in accepting his party's nomination for a second term, emphasized national security, while reiterating broad goals to reform the tax code, make the tax cuts permanent, and to allow younger workers to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes.
But not one hour after President Bush's Thursday night address at the RNC, a panicked Kerry held an Ohio campaign rally at midnight. (How many working families did Kerry keep up past their bedtime?) Kerry then falsely accused Vice President Dick Cheney of calling him "unfit for office."
Actually, Cheney cited Kerry's flip-flopping, his "wrong call on national security," his inadequate support of our troops and his record of voting against major weapons programs. A clearly irritated Kerry said, "I guess I'll leave it up to the voters," said Kerry, "whether five deferments makes someone more qualified to defend this nation than two tours of duty." Hm-mm. Does this apply to Kerry's running mate John Edwards? Since Kerry now seems to attack Vietnam-era men who could have served, what about Edwards?
After shaking up his top advisers, Kerry apparently intends to focus on the economy. Here again, Kerry faces trouble. He criticizes the Bush administration for "inheriting a surplus and turning it into a deficit." But the National Taxpayers' Union added up Kerry's spending proposals: more than $2.26 trillion over a 10-year period of time. To "pay for" the spending, Kerry intends to repeal Bush's "tax cuts for the rich."
Bush's critics reject the argument that tax cuts improve the economy, thus increasing tax revenues. They claim the tax cut "cost" the Treasury approximately $100 billion a year. Still, this does not close the deficit. Kerry claims to be strong on national security, and does not intend to reduce spending on national security and homeland defense. So who pays?
So let's sum up. The Democrats offer a candidate fuzzy on the war in Iraq, and who infuriated over two-and-a-half-million Vietnam vets by accusing them of engaging in widespread atrocities. He criticizes Bush for excessive spending -- record deficit! -- while offering even bigger spending proposals. Kerry talks down an economy with 12 consecutive months of job growth, and with an unemployment rate -- 5.4 percent -- roughly the same rate as when Bill Clinton ran for re-election in 1996.
The passion at the DNC registered high on the anti-Bush quotient and low on pro-Kerry sentiment. Republicans, on the other hand, salute President Bush as a principled, unpretentious, likable man with an intense love for his wife and family. First lady Laura Bush stands as the epitome of class, dignity and grace.
Some pundits expect the race to tighten again, and suggest the upcoming debates as race-changing variables. Perhaps. But, above all, Americans want a leader they trust, and whose positions they know, even when they don't agree.
Good luck, Sen. Kerry. You'll need it.