#15 - Jujitsu
Rhetoric for Kerry
The Republicans have brilliantly painted John Kerry into a rhetorical corner. If he attacks Bush, he is somehow unpatriotic. If he does not attack Bush, there's no reason to elect him instead of Bush. If he tries to articulate a more complex, nuanced position, he "flip-flops."
Kerry needs to take a rhetorical leap out of this corner. I think the only way out is to flip the "flip-flop" on Bush. "W is for wrong" is wrong. Not merely because of the silent letter problem, but because it positions Bush as definitive. Wrong, but definitive. And definitive is what Americans now seem to equate with strength, with safety, and with the masculine power that they think will protect them from "the terrorists."
What Kerry might do is turn the "flip-flop" tag on Bush at the debates. Bush has "flipped" and "flopped" so many times on so many issues, his trustworthiness is questionable at best.
With Iraq, Bush claims elections will happen on schedule on the same day that his Secretary of Defense testifies before Congress that elections won't take place in all parts of the country. Elections for all of Iraq, or not? Stop flip-flopping on the issue. With the war on terror, first he says Iran and North Korea are part of an "axis of evil," then he does nothing about them. What's the position? With 9/11, first he says we shouldn't have an investigative commission, then claims he's glad he met with them. On the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, first his administration says we shouldn't have an intelligence chief, then he agrees to have one. With education, he supports a bill, "No Child Left Behind," then cuts funding for education. With the environment, he supports the "Clear Skies Initiative," while his administration guts environmental protection policy. With trade, he claims to support free trade, then he raises steel tariffs.
"Compassionate conservatism" is itself a "flip-flop" in that it is a pairing of philosophies in contradiction with each other. Either one believes we should reach out and help others, which makes him or her a liberal, or he or she thinks we should not, which makes him or her a conservative. And so on and so forth. In fact, Kerry might say that Bush has "flip-flopped" so many times, he comes close to dishonesty in his dealings with the American people. What kind of "freedom" is that? To be slaves to a false freedom? "Flip-flopping" once again.
On the DNC website, the Democrats have actually flipped the "flip-flop" on Bush with regard to his contradictory, confusing positions regarding the 9/11 Commission, but Kerry has not made "flip-flopping" the central talking point of his soundbites.
Perhaps this is the sort of rhetoric Kerry has to use in order to slip the trap into which he has been cornered. If he can get out of there, he's got some room to paint his own alternative to four more years of Bush. Certainly, if Kerry cannot find a way to leap out of this rhetorical corner, he will probably lose the upcoming election.
24 September 2004