Sunday, September 19, 2004

Trust Your Gut

NY Times
September 19, 2004

Trust Your Gut

Washington — As a seasoned and experienced public servant, Senator John Kerry has known perilous times when his political future looked bleak. For some mystical reasons that can be explained only by dissecting his political DNA, Mr. Kerry is like the prize-winning horse Seabiscuit - he runs best from behind.

Now that he is behind - by as much as 13 points in one poll - he appears to be running harder, faster, bolder and stronger. After weeks of being on the receiving end of a mountain of unsolicited advice from Senate colleagues, party insiders and activists on the street, Mr. Kerry now appears to be listening to his most trusted and reliable adviser: his gut.

This is welcome news not only for Democrats and those who support Mr. Kerry, but also for anyone who is interested in an honest debate about the failures of the Bush administration. And while Mr. Kerry is campaigning with a renewed passion and delivering his speeches with greater urgency, he may still be able to benefit from a pointer or two.

Many party activists who send me e-mail messages would like to see Mr. Kerry paint a better picture of Mr. Bush as a stubborn man wedded to ideology, oblivious to any facts that contradict his worldview. He places personal loyalty above performance. No faithful aide, Cabinet member or government employee is ever held accountable for any mistakes, no matter how grave. Time and again, for example, before and after the invasion of Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld overrode objections of military leaders so he could follow his own minimalist blueprint for victory.

But victory remains elusive. In the final weeks of this campaign, Mr. Kerry should take a page from the playbook of Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political strategist. Mr. Rove often advises his clients to attack their opponents on the very issue they perceive as their own greatest strength.

In President Bush's case, that issue is his prosecution of the war on terrorism and the war on Iraq. Every day until Election Day, Mr. Kerry should remind voters that the Bush administration is making America less secure. As Mr. Kerry began pointing out last week, the president's handling of the two wars - and they are distinct - has been an unmitigated disaster.

Both Mr. Kerry and his running mate, John Edwards, need to reiterate this message to regain the momentum they had at the end of the Democratic convention. Mr. Kerry should also outline what changes he is prepared to make in the future.

This race is still winnable for John Kerry. Now that the dust has settled from the Republicans' rambunctious convention and the president is in his sights, Mr. Kerry must keep running - fast and with passion.

Donna Brazile, campaign manager for Al Gore in 2000 and the author of "Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pots in American Politics," is chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee's Voting Rights Institute.