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Outside view: Kerry can clobber Bush

By CLIFF SCHECTER, A UPI Outside View commentary

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- Karl Rove Political Ops Inc. has apparently never heard the phrase: "Be careful what you wish for ... "

Rove learned to play his electoral patriot games from former mentor, the late Lee Atwater, who was largely responsible for eviscerating 1988 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. He did so by rendering the Massachusetts governor culturally anathema to the flag waving, tough-on-crime, anti-welfare Reagan Democrats and suburban Independents who largely determine the outcome of presidential elections.

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What Rove seems not to have learned is the skill of differentiation. Republicans, most likely at the behest of Rove and the White House, have loudly crowed in light of former Vice President Al Gore's non-run that they would love to face Sen. John Kerry as the Democratic presidential nominee. Another Massachusetts liberal they say, they will pick his record apart as fast as you can say Willie Horton.

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This prediction, however, holds about as much water as Rove's prognostication that President George W. Bush would win 320 electoral votes in the 2000 election.

Kerry, for three very important reasons, should be the Bush administration's worst nightmare. First, and most importantly, he did not share Vice President Dick Cheney's "other priorities" during Vietnam, nor log time with Bush in the Texas Air National Guard. No, Kerry, a man born of privilege who could have easily avoided a potential one-way sojourn to Southeast Asia, volunteered to serve his country, earning a variety of honors in the process.

Yes, he may have been lieutenant governor of Massachusetts under Dukakis. However, unlike the former governor, he looks quite comfortable in a tank.

In addition, Kerry has further burnished his foreign policy credentials as a three-term senator and long-standing member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. And he presciently penned a book in the late 1990s that foreshadowed our currently troubled times. His tome, warning of the terrorist threat in confronting us, is called "The New War."

They still will attack him for the fact that he protested the Vietnam War when he returned home, and for his liberal positions on social issues, having a similar voting record to his fellow Massachusetts Democrat, Sen. Ted Kennedy. But that brings us to his second strength. Unlike so many Democrats today who seem satisfied to be defined in the most negative terms by Republican operatives, elected officials and an increasingly caustic conservative media machine, Kerry has proven since election 2000 that he relishes the fight like no other Democrat since somebody named Clinton.

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Bill Clinton won in 1992 because he was determined to answer every charge that Dukakis didn't, and lob a couple of grenades himself. Kerry, in a similar vein, was one of the only Democrats to possess the gall during the 2000 campaign to claim that Bush had some explaining to do when it came to persistent rumors that he spent a year on the lam while he was supposed to be flying planes for the National Guard.

Kerry also led a group of senators/veterans who came to Sen. John McCain's defense when the Bushies questioned the Arizona Republican's patriotism during the South Carolina Republican Primary.

And during this past campaign cycle, Kerry stood up to be counted again. When Republicans decided to demonize then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, calling him everything from an obstructionist to El Diablo, and questioning this war veteran's commitment to country (see a pattern here?), Kerry was one of the first to stand up and remind us that talk is cheap. He reminded us that Republican leaders Tom Delay of Texas in the House of Representatives and Trent Lott of Mississippi in the Senate had not had to "endure Vietnam."

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Finally, when they do attack him, I will give you 500 to 800 other reasons why they will be sorry. That would be the fortune that Kerry's wife, Theresa Heinz, is worth in millions of dollars. She has said that she is willing to "dip into it if her husband is personally attacked."

So when they call him a leftist from Massachusetts, or whatever the slur du jour, Kerry will be able to go around the free media to highlight his support of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act, as well as his votes in support of President George Herbert Walker Bush over Panama in 1989 and Clinton in Bosnia. If necessary, he will also have the money to remind Americans of now-President Bush's very imperfect past, and some would say, equally questionable present.

This is not to say that the task won't be difficult. Many see Bush as a national leader now, and overlook many policies that poll after poll shows the American public disagrees with, to support a wartime president. In addition, the right-wing "axis of evil" -- talk radio, conservative punditry, and columnists-cum-reporters from the New York Post to the National Review -- will certainly go on about how Kerry never smiles, or some other unimportant minutia when attempting to choose the leader of the Free World. Lest we forget, think about the psychoanalysis applied to Gore's various sighs and suits.

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Yet, consider the fact that Bush's 2002 midterm victory has largely been attributed to his incredible fundraising prowess, a strategy to hammer Democrats as week on national defense and the lack of a coherent Democratic response. Kerry may be the perfect antidote to this electoral potion cooked up by the Mayberry Machiavellis currently working at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.


(Cliff Schecter is a Democratic operative and public affairs consultant. He is a frequent guest commentator on the FoxNews Channel. Outside View commentaries are written for UPI by outside writers who specialize in subjects of public interest.)

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