I was on the Circle Line boat to Ellis Island from Brooklyn’s Army terminal when I was overcome with a strange sense of hopefulness and optimism; unlike any I had felt throughout this entire campaign season up to that point.
En route to the short ceremony welcoming Vice President Dick Cheney to New York City on the Sunday before the start of the Republican National Convention, amongst all the spirited election year banter being tossed about by the nearly two hundred George Bush supporters on board, I was struck by how little I actually heard the name of John Kerry mentioned. In fact, when his name did come up, it was merely in passing or as an aside.
These people, braving near-90 degree temperatures and stifling humidity to hear Vice President Cheney speak along with Governor George Pataki and former mayor-Rudy Giuliani, didn’t much care what was happening with the Democratic nominee.
Rather, they wanted to focus on President George W. Bush and his re-election bid. They wanted to discuss (and reinforce), with like-minded people, why they felt it was necessary to give the President four more years in office. Not once did I hear the words “flip-flop,” “swift boat” or “Viet Nam” spoken. Never did the terms “botox,” “atrocities” or “Lurch” come into play. Instead, the folks I encountered talked up the President’s record during his first term in office, citing everything from tax cuts to his handling of the war on terror.
Circling toward Ellis Island, with the majesty of New York harbor all around us, it was an incredibly buoyant and uplifting experience – both figuratively and literally. There wasn’t an inkling of anything anti-Kerry anywhere to be found. Instead, it was all about George W. Bush. It was incredibly positive. One gentleman from Staten Island I spoke with said, “I’m voting for Bush because I believe he’s the right man for the job. Plain and simple. It doesn’t matter who he’s running against.” Another said, “This is about voting for someone. Not against someone. I’m voting Bush, and that’s that.” There were American flags everywhere, pro-Bush buttons, chants of “four more years” and not a word spoken about the other guy, because it didn’t matter who that other guy was.
The Bush campaign may be hitting a decidedly positive turn that could carry them onward to a return venue at the White House. Recent polls are showing that Bush’s numbers are not only getting better, but that he has actually taken the lead in some key battleground states that were quite recently in the “toss up” column. While that is certainly welcome news to the Bush camp, perhaps more relevant is what’s happening at the grassroots level. Indeed, it is always a tremendously positive sign when the base supporters no longer focus on why NOT to go for the other guy, but start pushing the positives of their own.
The boat trip to Ellis Island was a perfect paradigm of this.
When the core is finally singing a candidate’s praises and pushing forth his strengths as the primary reason to vote for him, it is only then that those on the fence who have yet to make up their minds can come over. Kerry’s camp is nowhere near that point yet, and it may be getting too late.
Obviously, it’s natural to contrast and compare candidates, weighing the positives and negatives of each. But there comes a point where the finger pointing and mud slinging give way to an appreciation of the facts, whatever they may be. Whereas a couple of weeks ago, Bush supporters I spoke with often touched upon the shortcomings of John Kerry as part of the discussion as to why President Bush should be re-elected, the Ellis Island jaunt painted a different picture. At least in New York, the shift seems to be underway.
Meanwhile, in Democrat land, it is abundantly clear to me that an overwhelmingly large percentage of John Kerry’s “supporters” couldn’t give two coconuts what Mr. Kerry stands for, what he is promising or even what he is saying. (Granted, all three have yet to be defined). Indeed, these people are not voting for John F. Kerry but against George W. Bush.
In July, an attempt was made by the Kerry camp to trigger that shift by focusing on Kerry’s military service in Vietnam at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Not only was the attempt woefully unsuccessful, both Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards, realizing that their plan of action had backfired, resorted to attacking the President personally on everything from the so-called “seven minutes” of inactivity after the attacks on the World Trade Center to not denouncing the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth advertisements enough.
How do you expect an electorate to refrain from silly personal attacks when the candidate themselves cannot?
John Kerry, by not giving his core supporters anything else besides four months in Vietnam to use to qualify his candidacy for President, left them dangling in the political wind with nothing else but well-worn anti-Bush rhetoric. Attacks can only get you so far. The Kerry campaign now seems to be in a slight state of confusion. They cannot point to the accomplishments of their own candidate, so they look to the other side for things to say. Albeit negative, the dull hum of the Democratic mantra is: Bush, Bush, Bush.
If the Republicans aren’t talking about Kerry and the Democrats aren’t talking about Kerry, what does that tell you?
Not even a week ago, one young gal approached me on Broadway between 79th and 80th Street in Manhattan with the line, “Do you want to register to vote to help get rid of the President?” I stopped, turned to her very nicely, and asked her directly, “Why should I vote for John Kerry?” Her reply: “We’ve got to get rid of Bush.”
Oh, well why didn’t you say so? Slam dunk. Well thought out. No wonder you hate him so.
There is obviously some time to go between now and the November election. So much can happen during that window. However, in my every day travels in and around the city of New York, I have a feeling that I may continue to see more of this shift among Bush supporters. Meanwhile, the Kerry people, the pundits and the protestors are still modeling their anti-Bush summer wardrobe. Increasingly, as fall approaches, those who are supporting the President will find that they don’t need to push Kerry’s negatives anymore. They only need to look at the President’s record. Unfortunately the Kerry people are doing the same thing.