Election Diary

Click to follow
The Independent US

It says something about the take-no-prisoners tactics of the White House that George Bush made a keynote address to the National Guard Association in the week that accusations about his own National Guard experience have been all over the media. The White House turned down an invitation to address the association, presumably because no one wanted to draw attention to the gaps in Mr Bush's service record. But his strategist, Karl Rove, reversed course as soon as he discovered that John Kerry would be putting in an appearance. Mr Rove's policy is: if a road bump is coming up, don't avoid it; drive at it head on. They couldn't have known that CBS would shoot itself in both feet. The network claimed to have obtained memorandums showing that National Guard officials were forced to "sugar-coat" the account of Bush's time in the guard, but serious doubts have surfaced about their authenticity.

It says something about the take-no-prisoners tactics of the White House that George Bush made a keynote address to the National Guard Association in the week that accusations about his own National Guard experience have been all over the media. The White House turned down an invitation to address the association, presumably because no one wanted to draw attention to the gaps in Mr Bush's service record. But his strategist, Karl Rove, reversed course as soon as he discovered that John Kerry would be putting in an appearance. Mr Rove's policy is: if a road bump is coming up, don't avoid it; drive at it head on. They couldn't have known that CBS would shoot itself in both feet. The network claimed to have obtained memorandums showing that National Guard officials were forced to "sugar-coat" the account of Bush's time in the guard, but serious doubts have surfaced about their authenticity.

To talk to some Democrats, you might think the race was already lost. One blamed it on the fact that Mr Kerry's top aides used to work for others, such as Teddy Kennedy, Bill Clinton and even Michael Dukakis. Mr Rove, by contrast, has been at Bush's side throughout his political career. The last successful Democrat, my source points out, purposely avoided veterans of past campaigns. Bill Clinton engineered his 1992 victory by staying in Little Rock and recruiting his own Wunderkind team, like George Stephanopoulos and James Carville, who then owed everything to him.

"It's no surprise that Kerry's behind in the polls," my Democrat told me sourly. "Most of his team only know how to lose."

George Bush doesn't mangle his autocue as much as he used to, but he still produces the occasional gob-stopping one-liner. Complaining about the problem of medical malpractice lawsuits, he declared that too many obstetricians "are unable to practise their love with women all across the country". Maybe he thought there wasn't enough medical malpractice going on. Though Bush is supposed to be the candidate with a knotted tongue, the White House is adept at keeping the spotlight on his opponent. John Kerry made a rare slip by calling the home of the Green Bay Packers, the famous American football team, "Lambert Field" instead of "Lambeau Field". A small slip, but Mr Rove has made sure no one forgets it in Wisconsin, the home of the Packers. A few days after the fluff, Bush made a point of mentioning Lambeau Field to a crowd of Wisconsinites. Then Dick Cheney turned up at a fundraiser in Green Bay and said: "I thought after John Kerry's visit here, I'd visit Lambeau Field." The next time Kerry appeared in the area, Republicans turned out with signs saying: "It's Lambeau, Stupid!" Of course, George Bush's record is as full of inconsistencies and mishaps as Kerry's. But the Rove playbook of attack-and-attack-again is successfully obscuring that.

Tom Carver is the Washington correspondent for BBC2's 'Newsnight'

Comments