Thursday, April 29, 2004

How Will We Know When John Kerry Is Done? 

Stick a fork in him. That's what our hard-working-to-the-point-of-suicidal-exhaustion, meritocratic media stars say *.

On the basis of two polls last week that still showed the presidential race as essentially even, and very little change for Kerry in the swing states, punditistas across the pundit spectrum, from putative liberals like Noam Schieber at TNR, to salt-of-the-earth centrist Kerry bashiros like Mickey Kaus, to genuine wingers like Bay Buchanan, who informed us recently on CNN that John Kerry's numbers are flat because he has been rejected as a credible alternative to George Bush, a consensus has been emerging that Kerry's campaign has stalled upon take-off, and is hovering in its airspace, struggling against the force of gravity. Punditistas were particularly struck that the period the poll sampled came after a spate of bad news for the Bush administration, and still, Americans cleaved to their President, leading some of the wiggier wags to propose the possibility that the worse things go for this country overseas, the more will Americans rally round the flag and the man who appears to be holding it.

Now we have a new poll, from the NYTimes and CBS that suggests a rather different picture.

Support for War Is Down Sharply, Poll Concludes

Support for the war in Iraq has eroded substantially over the past several months, and Americans are increasingly critical of the way President Bush is handling the conflict, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.

After initially expressing robust backing for the war, the public is now evenly divided over whether the United States military should stay for as long as it takes to stabilize Iraq or pull out as soon as possible, the poll showed.

Asked whether the United States had done the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, 47 percent of respondents said it had, down from 58 percent a month earlier and 63 percent in December, just after American forces captured Saddam Hussein. Forty-six percent said the United States should have stayed out of Iraq, up from 37 percent last month and 31 percent in December.

The diminished public support for the war did not translate into any significant advantage for Mr. Bush's Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. The poll showed the two men remaining in a statistical dead heat, both in a head-to-head matchup and in a three-way race that included Ralph Nader.

Support for Mr. Bush is stronger in other areas vital to his re-election, including his handling of the threat from terrorism, which won the approval of 60 percent of respondents.

Even so, just short of a year after Mr. Bush stood on the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln last May 1 and proclaimed the end to major combat operations under a banner reading "Mission Accomplished," his approval rating has slid from the high levels it reached during the war.

Here's what part of this new poll you'll hear talked about the most:

The survey held hints of trouble for Mr. Kerry as he seeks to introduce himself to an electorate that knows relatively little about him. While 55 percent of Mr. Bush's supporters said they strongly favored the president, only 32 percent of Mr. Kerry's supporters strongly favored their candidate.

Sixty-one percent of voters said Mr. Kerry says what he thinks people want to hear, versus 29 percent who said he says what he believes. The Bush campaign has attacked Mr. Kerry for months on that score, portraying him as a flip-flopper with no convictions.

On the same question, 43 percent said Mr. Bush says what people want to hear and 53 percent said he says what he believes

It's amazing, really, and somewhat depressing, I have to admit, that this administration has successfully launched that particular meme against John Kerry, of the man who can never take a stand, never talk straight, and even more amazing that they then kept it afloat by using, in particular, aspects of John Kerry's service to America in a war, usually referred to in other contexts as being a war hero, as well as his principled public stance against the war upon his return to this country, which was not something that most Americans wanted to hear from returning veterans, and certainly not Richard Nixon and his hitman, Charles Colson.

More to come on what the real problems of the Kerry campaign are, and how some of us on the left may be making them worse.

You can read the rest of the information on the poll here.

* By the end of today, I promise this reference will be made clear.

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