I originally wrote this for Polipundit in July, but I thought it was too important to leave stranded in an archive...
As the election heats up again, so does the rhetoric. June 30, the scheduled handover of Sovereignty back to an Interim Government in Iraq, always held special significance for the War in Iraq, as well as the War on Terrorism. Naturally, it has occurred to players and pundits no both sides of the fence, that because the War in Iraq (WI) is a campaign issue, the handover is a point of great value. Or rather, if you have a certain political flavor, it is a point which value must be diluted, diminished, or thwarted as much as possible.
There are two main topics which have risen from the handover of Sovereignty back to Iraq; the return of the Liberal Myth Chant, and the political impact of this tactic. Here, I am discussing the political impact I see from these claims. There are many myths flying around, but for here, I will simply address the top 12 I have heard, or the Dirty Dozen as I see them:
Liberal Myths About Iraq
1. "George W. Bush did not really win the Presidency"
Well over 90% of voters (including Democrats) believe Bush won the 2000 election. This argument cannot win even a single swing voter for Kerry. But if Kerry lets this argument (and its inherent bitterness) get started again, this claim can drive some in the middle to Bush.
2. "Iraq is a country with several racial and religious groups. Giving them their freedom will just lead to civil war, it will just collapse back into another dictatorship"
This claim walks a very thin tightrope. On the one hand, it is true that many people, including Republicans, are wary about assuming the war in Iraq is won or will be stable anytime soon. After all, the first Gulf War to free Kuwait started very well, but did not ultimately resolve the Iraqi question. On the other hand, there are a lot of military people in the United States as well as pro-military supporters, who will see this sort of claim as a tactic used to play on people's fears. Kerry already has a reputation for a negative perspective on the military side of things, and a sour look here could hurt Kerry in a number of key states.
3. "The handover was only symbolic, Iraq is just a puppet of the US"
A growing number of Bush's critics are pushing this argument now, but it's not a good thing for Kerry. First off, it's clearly a negative attack, and Kerry has made a big point of accusing the GOP of using negative tactics, so he can't afford to get connected to this attack, or he'll just look like a hypocrite. Next, it is defeatist-sounding, and the closer the election comes, the more vital it will be to Kerry to appear Presidential.
4. "There were no WMD, and Bush lied to get us into Iraq"
As more WMD evidence is found, and Kerry tries to focus on his image as a positive leader, it will become impossible for Kerry to use these sorts of tactics, except through surrogates like Michael Moore, et al. But even the use of stand-in attacks will likely drop off by the middle of the summer, because the last thing Kerry wants, is to call attention to a policy where people may revisit their decision and decide President Bush was right after all.
5. "The US just wants to rape Iraq's resources"
This one's already D.O.A., folks. Yes, we're starting to see it again, but it's a sign of desperation more than anything else. While gas prices are high, anyone trying to claim that the Bush Administration went into this war to keep oil flowing is going to look like the tinfoil-hat merchant of your choice. And as gas prices come back down, there is still zero chance that this claim could gain traction.
6. "Iraqis are not celebrating the handover, they know nothing has changed"
You'll read and hear this a lot this week, but not for very long. Already, the average Iraqi is beginning to sense the changes taking place. Saddam is in Iraqi custody now, scheduled elections for the National Assembly are already in the works, and the last two polls from Iraq show a growing optimism. Kerry would be well-advised to leave this topic alone, as it can only benefit President Bush.
7. "The Interim government is no more legitimate than Saddam Hussein was"
Saddam Hussein is quickly becoming as absurd a model for comparison, as Hitler was a few months back. It's actually fun to see that claim in print, because (as before), it really shows the level of desperation some have shown as the news in Iraq gets better and better.
8. "Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and Iran are much greater threats than Iraq ever was"
Most people are able to understand the difference between these countries, and the threat each presented. More, most of us are well enough aware of Saddam Hussein, to understand that if Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and Iran are to be considered unstable, then we would have to coin a completely new word, to properly describe the level of danger and hostility that Hussein's regime posed to the region, and to the United States. Anyone who wants to discount the threat posed by Iraq, is likely to face a skeptical audience. Politically, expect Kerry to carefully rephrase this attack, to suggest that there are additional countries of concern, while backing away from this assertion. It may well be, however, that his supporters will be slower to catch the drift.
9. "Conservatives are unfairly attacking Liberals, just for not agreeing with them"
At first blush, my response would be that we seem to have struck a nerve, if the Left reacts so hotly to a few selected ads, pointing out , well, deficiencies in Kerry's performance as a Senator. Not at all a personal attack, and certainly nothing in the league of the absolute vitriol one can find at the Democratic Underground , or say, the CBS Nightly News with Dan Rather. It has its political value, of course, especially if your counterpart obliges with an uncivil response. This is one reason why in the past, the incumbent has generally waited until mid-summer to make any sort of response to the challenger; don't give the opposition any ammunition. However, a review of past elections also shows that the challenger can set the stage by making charges which are not answered early on, which in recent days has forced both sides to reply to the other, and to raise the stakes. That, I think, has had the effect of turning the public away from much of the debate, producing results which sometimes benefits neither side. In this case, the claims by the Left are unlikely to gain any traction on their own, but if the President can be made to seem defensive on controversial policies, the Left can present his responses as negative. Of course, it is also true that when the President can present himself as optimistic and positive, such tactics by the Left will likely backfire, which recent polls support.
10. "Fundamentalist Islam is to blame, not some state or leader"
Ahh, the 'religion is evil' card. Not at all surprising, but I really don't see that as working to sway undecideds in favor of Kerry. That is, I understand that the Left is trying to play a subtle game on two levels: To imply that Bush and his Administration do not really understand the nature of the threat they are facing, and also to suggest that religious faith, in a politician, is often changed to something less noble in actual practice. The reasons I don't think that will work are these:
a. First off, the Left marginalizes many Muslims by implying the faith is connected directly to the violence.
b. The Left also fails to grasp that attacking people for their faith is an ill-chosen road. Even when they do not share the particulars of a certain belief, there are a great many people whose personal faith includes dedication to the idea, that everyone else is entitled to their faith, as well. Trying to blame a belief system, rather than the people doing bad things, is likely to result in resistance.
c. Kerry has presented himself, basically, as a secular humanist. Attacking a faith, however foreign, is going to seem to be part of a general assault on religious freedom.
The message is powerful enough, that its effect will be undeniable. It is also subtle enough, that Kerry might not understand what is happening before the damage is done.
11. "Instead of being in Iraq at all, we should first finish the job in Afghanistan"
All that statement really does, is try to divert attention from Iraq. With all Kerry has said in the past about Iraq, if he lets his supporters press this argument, he will merely remind people of how wrong he was in Iraq, and will come across as a man unwilling to admit where he was wrong.
12. "Bush is changing his defense about why we went into Iraq"
Unfortunately, this one has already gotten some traction, ironically because the Democrats have been successful in confusing people about what President Bush said, and what Democrats have said.President Bush and his Administration have always presented a multi-level argument for the War in Iraq. However, because so much controversy was drummed up by the Democrats about WMD, there was an unbalanced presentation of the debate to the public, and many Americans were left with the impression that WMD was the only issue. The facts, available for anyone willing to look them up, show that President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld, early on, reminded Americans about the torture and murder of dissidents, including children, about the treatment of minorities and women in Iraq, about the abuse of the UN Oil-for-Food program, and everything which has been discussed since Baghdad fell to the Coalition. Fortunately, the Left has bungled this opportunity, as well as others they have had. In Michael Moore's slanderama, ‘Fahrenheit 9/11', for example, none of the other valid reasons presented by the Bush Administration is discussed, and the existing presentations are done in such a sneering tone, that unbiased viewers are likely to be disgusted by the attacks, whose slant and malice are clear. No one will be impressed by Moore's film, who did not already hold beliefs to match Moore's own before they saw the film. The same thing happens with MoveOn.org, and so many other groups dedicated to rabid hatred against the President; how many reasonable people will make their decision to vote for the Presidency, on the basis of an argument presented by someone who appears to have overdosed on steroids? The short answer for President Bush, even after enduring so many months of abuse from Kerry's slimier allies, might well be to simply maintain the course, to do as he has done, and let the record speak for itself.
While the success of the Bush Administration will undoubtedly drive many more Liberals to scream even more obscenities, it will also convince many people to stay with a winner. Before concluding, I would like to note the results from some recent polls, especially where the answers from voters have remained consistent. First off, let's review the most recent poll of Iraqis, about Iraq, presented by The Washington Post:
- 68 percent of Iraqis have confidence in their new leaders.
- 73 percent of Iraqis polled approved of Allawi to lead the new government,
- 84 percent approved of President Ghazi Yawar
- almost two-thirds backed the new Cabinet
- Four out of every five Iraqis expected that the new government will “make things better” for Iraq after the handover
- two-thirds of Iraqis believed the first democratic elections for a new national assembly will be free and fair
The last Fox poll shows 75% of Bush's supporters support him 'strongly', only 53% of Kerry's supporters are 'strong'. Bush continues to lead on key questions about who will protect America better from Terrorism (49-28), who is more trustworthy (42-31), and who is expected to win in November (50-30); Bush has always led in these questions, regardless of opponent.
The latest Battleground Poll notes that more respondents are likely to vote against Kerry (42% 'strongly likely') because of what they?ve learned about him, than for him (31% 'strongly likely'). Like Fox, Battleground finds voters trust Bush more to protect against Terrorism (55-36), more likely to say what he really believes (57-34), and more likely to act as a strong leader (54-38).
Gallup also agrees that Bush remains well ahead of Kerry on the issue of the War against Terrorism (54-40). What's worse for Kerry, Gallup observes "despite everything that has happened in American politics over the last five months, the public’s views of the president have remained remarkably consistent".
The CBS/NY Times Poll (you know, the guys whose ratings for Bush are lower than anyone else?s) note 56% of Bush's supporters are 'strong', but only 31% of Kerry's supporters are 'strong', that 58% of the voters say Bush says what he really believes, while only 34% for Kerry. This from a group which admits Democrats were polled more heavily than Republicans, by a 5-to-4 margin! (page 31 of the pdf detail)
NBC notes that although 68% of voters said they knew a lot about Kerry in March, now only 57% say they know a lot about Kerry, showing that some have begun to doubt what they initially heard from Kerry, enough to back away substantially from the man.
The total effect of these myths, when considered, is that the liberals are running scared, apparently scared to death about what Americans will conclude when they find out the facts. Here you see my estimates of the effects of these claims.
UPDATE: Now that it's late September, it's interesting to look at how the race has changed in the less than three months. With six weeks to go, the ride is getting to be real fun, and it looks like the people will make the right choice again.