Kerry gave a great speech at NYU today [other blog comments: Kos, Atrios, Drum; newspaper coverage: Washington Post, NYT LA Times, AP, Reuters, AFP; CSPAN video] . He hits Bush on all of the facts. Unfortunately, he doesn't go the next step, the step that is the entirety of the GOP strategy: personalizing the message, moving it from questions of fact to questions of character.
Kerry calls for an "honest debate" on Iraq, then argues that Iraq is a distraction from AQ and the war on terror. 1000 American deaths, an "American burden." Troops good, sacrificing, "owe them the truth." Bush panglossian despite facts he should know. Facts on ground are bad. Traded dictator for chaos that has left us less secure. Bush's "lack of candor" wrecked trust in America at home and abroad. "failure to tell the truth to us before the war has been exceeded by fundamental errors of judgment during and after the war," "colossal failures of judgment," "This President was in denial," "long litany of misjudgments with terrible consequences," "over-promised and under-performed," "plagued by a lack of planning, an absence of candor, arrogance and outright incompetence," "held no one accountable, including himself," "stubborn incompetence," "Presidents policy in Iraq has not strengthened our national security. It has weakened it."
The speech is great. The last ten paragraphs or so sum it up incredibly well. It is hard hitting, honest, and focused on the important questions. "Fact" shows up seven times in Kerry's speech. "Truth" shows up twelve times.
Unfortunately, it is not going to be particularly effective. Bush's blithe accusations of pessimism will work, undecideds won't bother to inform themselves, and partisans won't change their minds. Why? Because Kerry never linked it to Bush the person. I like "out of touch, irresponsible, and unconcerned," but somehow, Bush's serial incompetence, dishonesty, and malice needs to be tied to his character. The real question is WHY Bush is such a goddamned bumbling liar - what about him personally makes it impossible to believe he can do a good job? That he has lied and misled in the past is an important data point, but inadequate without a prospective argument.
Kerry doesn't need to do this, and I'm not criticizing his campaign. He shouldn't necessarily be the person to spearhead the effort to hold Bush personally accountable - it could come off as mean and unduly negative. It should happen through proxies and allies, television pundits, Party officials, op-ed writers and bloggers.