Jewish World Review May 14, 2004/ 23 Iyar, 5764

Wesley Pruden

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A little night music in the heartland | Bill Clinton and his pals, true to their boomer pedigree, looked to the noise of high-decibel boomer music for inspiration. Fleetwood Mac's "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow" became the elevator music of their campaign. (Boomers thrive in noisy elevators.)

There's boomer noise for John Kerry, too. Over these past few days, in the wake of the worst month any president has had since Jimmy Carter (pick any month), you could almost hear Monsieur Kerry humming along with the Rolling Stones: "I can't get no satisfaction."

The news from the banks of the Euphrates, as doled out in the dominant media culture, has been grim indeed, with unrelenting tales of car bombs, firefights, retreat under fire from Fallujah, making nice with the Ba'athist thugs we said would never have lunch in their town again, massacre and mutilation of American civilians, torture-and-sex in the prisons and a beheading by al Qaeda. (Whatever happened to the argument that no one has demonstrated a connection between al Qaeda and Iraq?). On some days The Washington Post and the New York Times didn't have room on their front pages for anything else. When the Boston Globe ran out of authentic photographs from Abu Ghraib Prison they used fakes filched from a porno Web site. Debbie, bored with Dallas, finally does Boston.

This should have been enough to sink any president. But it didn't. The public-opinion polls show that George W. Bush is listing neither to port or starboard. One of the latest such polls, taken for the Christian Science Monitor, shows George W. ahead of Monsieur Kerry by 47 percent to 44 percent, and performing even better with Ralph Nader in the mix, by 46 percent to 41 percent. The man from Gloom picks up 5 percent. This poll is in line with the others taken over the past fortnight.

A further examination of the numbers is even more encouraging for the president. His bus tour through the so-called battleground states — Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan, decided by paper-thin margins four years ago — appear to have moved from squishy to almost solid for Mr. Bush. His margins have typically expanded from three to nine points. These are "snapshots," as all poll findings are, and subject to change several times before November, but the shift occurred after the bus tour. When the president hits the road his numbers go up. Further, in these states 68 percent of the Bush voters told the pollsters that they "strongly" support the president; only 38 percent of Monsieur Kerry's voters say they "strongly" support him. This indicates that events will have to go much worse in Iraq (even in Abu Ghraib Prison) to chip these voters away from the president. In Monsieur Kerry's case we can presume that a lot of souffles must fall to move the 38 percent.

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But the polarization of the electorate, demonstrated so eloquently in 2000, appears not to have softened much, if at all. This news is not so great for Mr. Bush, but it massages the ego of voters in small states. Monsieur Kerry went to Arkansas yesterday for the second time, following George W.'s fourth visit there this year. Dick Cheney has been there twice, and all for the grand total of six electoral votes. The president spent much of yesterday in West Virginia, a frequent presidential destination, which has only five electoral votes. Both states, nominally Democratic, tilted Republican four years ago, barely. Both candidates must campaign for nickels and dimes in states they could once ignore, lavishing attention that was once the exclusive preserve of the states with big electoral-vote payoffs.

Nickel-and-dime campaigns naturally make candidates cautious. Monsieur Kerry, who has said some reckless things over the past months, has been very careful not to exploit — or to be seen exploiting — events at Abu Ghraib Prison. Like the rest of us, he sees the first indications that the senators from hysteria overplayed their hand. The public understands what the likes of Teddy Kennedy, Carl Levin, John Warner and Lindsey Graham apparently do not, that as bad as the American behavior at Abu Ghraib Prison was, and as much fun as the senators' close-ups for the cameras may have been, the misbehavior of the Americans at Abu Ghraib pales against the routine Islamist crimes that "le Anglo-Saxons" went to Baghdad to avenge. The war is more important than the scandal. Monsieur Kerry already has a reputation for recklessly denouncing crimes, real and imagined, of American soldiers. He knows he has said enough.

Wesley Clark introduced Monsieur Kerry yesterday in Little Rock, and mocked George W. for wasting his earlier years running a baseball team. (He could have been doing something useful, like marrying rich widows.) These guys never listen to the music of America. "Take me out to the ball game" trumps a rolling stone every time.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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