Nasty As They Wanna Be
In case you're wondering why the Bush-Cheney campaign has gotten so down-and-dirty, consider their options.
They can't crow too much about the administration's accomplishments, other than the absence, so far, of any further terrorist attacks on the U.S.
They don't want the President to be measured by the promises he made in 2000, such as "changing the tone in Washington," extending prosperity to the forgotten corners of America, or introducing humility into our foreign policy.
They sure as hell can't suggest that voters ask themselves if they are better off than they were four years ago.
And having staked his re-election campaign to an effort to get conservatives all whipped up into a hate frenzy, they can't abandon their habit of pandering to the Right by repositioning their guy towards the political center.
So: they're pretty much stuck with the strategy of pushing John Kerry out of the center by (1) claiming he's even more of an extremist than the incumbent, and (2) raising every conceivable doubt about Kerry's character and credibility. And that's the strategy they've very consistently pursued now for months.
There is, of course, a bit of an internal logical problem in claiming that Kerry is a godless, flag-hating, tofu-munching lefty who has no principles. But it's no more of a stretch than the standard Republican claim that the way to achieve fiscal responsibility is to run the largest possible budget deficits.
The Republican Convention will offer interesting evidence about exactly how negative the Bush-Cheney campaign intends to get, and the precise extent to which the GOP is willing to identify the President and Vice President of the United States with the defamation of John Kerry, as opposed to letting semi-anonymous thugs like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth carry their dirty water. Four years ago in Philadelphia, puzzled delegates spent two full days listening to happy talk from every black, brown, and/or moderate figure the GOP could find to drag to the podium, before Dick Cheney finally gave the protein-starved assemblage their first taste of Clinton-hating red meat. They may let slip the dogs of war a bit earlier in New York.