A Kerry Christmas! Candidate’s Big Week Stokes Up Confidence

Santa’s a little freaked this year.

All the Homeland Security Department’s talk of putting off the election in the event of what Tom Ridge’s been warning us about and warning us about and warning us about has gotten him spooked that Christmas may be next. So, just to be on the safe side, last week Santa and life partner Mrs. Claus hitched up Rudolph and the gang for a special early delivery to all the Democratic boys and girls. Things were so rushed, the “naughty or nice” rule had to be waived (including for Florida felons); and the elves didn’t have time to make much of anything for the Republican kids. But when-or if-the election’s held, Santa promises to get around to them right afterward, since he knows G.O.P. moms and dads will really and truly need cheering up then.

Anyway, that’s one explanation for why John Kerry found such piles of presents at the feet of his Boston, Sun Valley and Pittsburgh estate chimneys last week-all so beautifully wrapped, it’s hard to decide which to open first.

Al D’Amato’s call for his President to dump Dick Cheney (whose approval rating is now in the 30’s) is awfully tempting. But then, so is Dubya’s old friend Ken Lay finally getting indicted. As, for that matter, is The Washington Post ‘s nailing Tom DeLay apparently shaking down the company Kenny Boy ran into the ground for a secret hundred grand to finance the gerrymandering of Texas-a seemingly illegal bit of legerdemain that could have the majority leader of the House worrying about dropping the soap in the Huntsville shower. And while we’re rooting through doings Lone Star-wasn’t it coincidence that, out of the millions of miles of microfilm in Pentagon archives, Don Rumsfeld’s crew just happened to destroy the strip containing the missing service records of a certain former first lieutenant in the Texas Air National Guard? Well, accidents happen.

But, goodness gracious, as Rummy would say, don’t let this mishap mar the holiday spirit-because there’s plenty more goodies.

Like the announcement that Ron Reagan Jr. will be addressing the Democratic National Convention in prime time on the subject of stem-cell research. Or the fury of Mr. Bush’s base that he’s allowing the Republican convention to grant the same exposure to social-issue heretics Rudy Guiliani, Arnold Schwarzenegger and John McCain. “If the President is embarrassed to be seen with conservatives at the convention,” true-faith-keeper Paul Weyrich warned in The New York Times Monday, “maybe conservatives will be embarrassed to be seen with the President on election day.” Contrast this with the liberal reaction to John Kerry’s announcement last week that, from here on, he’s going after conservative votes: Not a peep.

Then there’s the aforementioned Florida felons, most of whom happen to be black, which is to say, Democratic. In 2000, you’ll recall, they were prohibited from casting ballots, which potentially cost Al Gore upward of 28,000 votes, way more than enough to keep Antonin Scalia and brethren from deciding who’d be President. Now, it appears they’re going to be re-enfranchised. Why? The administration of First Brother Jeb got nabbed keeping their Hispanic counterparts (most of whom are Cuban Republicans) off the no-voter list. According to Jeb, it was another one of those accidents.

Don’t color the Sunshine State blue just yet, however-because Jeb’s got another trick up his sleeve called “touch-screen” voting. Instituted to fix “butterfly ballot” and “hanging chad” nightmares, the way it works is that you register your choice by tapping a computer monitor. Catch No. 1 is that computers can be hacked into by any prepubescent nerd with a modem. Catch No. 2 is that the machines leave no paper trail to be examined in the event of quarrel, like the thousands of nice Jewish bubbes who mistakenly voted for Pat Buchanan the last time round. Catch No. 3, according to the Florida Sun-Sentinel ‘s analysis of the machines’ performance in the March 9 Democratic Presidential primary, is that touch screens don’t record 1 percent of votes-eight times the error rate of paper ballots. And where do you suppose most of these new gizmos have been put in place? Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties-where the Democrats live.

In frat-boy parlance, this is called “rat-fucking,” and it’s a sport at which the Bush boys have excelled since the 1988 Presidential election, when their guide was Lee Atwater, deviser of the Willie Horton ads. Mr. Atwater’s long since deceased (he apologized before expiring, apparently in hopes of improving his Pearly Gates chances), but rat-fucking lives on, not only in Florida, but Pakistan (where, The New Republic reports, the government is alternately being threatened and bribed to produce Osama’s scalp the first three days of the Democratic convention), and-of all places-the Nader campaign, whose staggering quest to get on ballots is drawing succor from the friendly folks who brought us George W. Bush. In Michigan, Bush/Cheney ’04 volunteers are circulating Nader nominating petitions. In Oregon (which went for Gore by a whisker in 2000, and is currently a toss-up), phone banks are being manned-in alleged contravention of state law-by a pair of Bush-supporting conservative groups, one of which ordinarily devotes its time to producing a “Christian Voter Guide” and opposing same-sex marriage and abortion rights. And where’s the money to finance Mr. Nader coming from? According to the San Francisco Chronicle ‘s examination of federal records, nearly one in 10 checks for $1,000 or more are being written by Bush backers.

Even the Green Party, which is substantially to the left of Mr. Nader (who carried their endorsement while dooming Al Gore), is going out of its way not to queer Mr. Kerry’s chances, by having its Presidential candidate, David Cobb, refrain from campaigning in swing states. Not Ralph, who daily less resembles Don Quixote and more Rocinante’s rear end.

Meanwhile, gifts postmarked “Iraq” continue to cascade in on Mr. Kerry. Deaths among the rapidly fraying “coalition of the willing” topped the 1,000 mark last week; the ignominiously abandoned Falluja is now counted Disneyland for resistance fighters (who turn out to be four times more numerous than originally advertised); the Army’s vice chief of staff has informed Congress that, thanks to Mr. Bush’s war, his service is stretched to the breaking point; and-shiniest present of all-the Senate Intelligence Committee’s unanimously agreed-to report says that Mr. Bush’s C.I.A. is utterly clueless, his W.M.D. and Al Qaeda rationales for going to war so much horse poo.

The Iraq tidings are so beneficial for Mr. Kerry’s purposes, one wishes Mr. Bush would stretch their delivery out some, rather than hand them over in one McMansion-sized package. But fear not. The nice thing about the Bush administration is that it’s the gift that keeps on giving. By the end of the month, we’ll have the 9/11 commission’s report to peruse. Seymour Hersh, who’s been ominously quiet the last few weeks, will doubtless be serving up new scandals between now and Election Day. An ambitious Congressional committee chairman-aren’t they all?-will sooner or later conduct hearings into whatever happened to the $34 billion or so in reconstruction aid that didn’t go to reconstruction, and find that L. Paul Bremer blew it before hanging up his desert combat boots. (Jerry has a villa on the Côte Basque, if you’d like to drop by and ask him yourself.) And if the press ever bestirs itself, it will discover that our new man in Baghdad, John Negroponte, did a credible impersonation of being a war criminal while serving as ambassador to Honduras, which during his tenure was for the contras what big chunks of Afghanistan still are for the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

How’s all this impacting voters? Depends on which poll you read. According to the ABC News/ Washington Post survey, Mr. Bush’s approval rating on Iraq is 44 percent-down three points from February. More significantly, his handling-terrorism rating has fallen to 50 percent-14 points down since February. NBC News/ Wall Street Journal posed different questions, but reached more or less the same conclusion, with 47 percent believing that Mr. Bush “deliberately misled” in making the case for Iraq, versus 44 percent who think he did the best he could, given the dopes he appointed to run the nation’s intelligence services. As for whether knocking off Saddam made Americans feel more safe from terrorism, 51 percent answered quite the contrary, only 14 percent “yes.” Gallup put the nervous number even higher, 55 percent saying that invading Iraq had given them more to lose sleep about, not less. Over at the Pew Research Center, 44 percent were saying that Iraq has hurt the war on terrorism-double the percentage when flight-suited Dubya was declaring “Mission Accomplished” in May 2003.

The findings apparently made an impression on Karl Rove, who used to list his boss’ skill at fighting terrorism the prime reason he’d be re-elected. Not any more. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Mr. Rove put the burgeoning economy top of the list, and terrorism down there with “values.” Barely was the new priority list out of Mr. Rove’s mouth, however, than the economy wasn’t so burgeoning, with job creation falling off (particularly for those who lost theirs a long time ago); inflation and interest rates nudging up; and the G.D.P. growth not as rosy as it had been only months before.

So what’s first now? Values-otherwise known as appeasing the insatiable Christian right. This is accomplished by blocking the attendance at the recent AIDS summit by anyone suspected of having condoms on the brain; calling for a constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage (never mind everyone knowing it won’t pass); Dubya turning down an invitation to speak to the notoriously licentious NAACP (the first time a President hasn’t addressed the nation’s oldest civil-rights organization since the 30’s); calling Whoopi Goldberg a hate-monger for telling bad dirty jokes at Radio City Music Hall; and blasting John Kerry, who personally opposes abortion, for not locking up fetus-killers, as Jesus would have done. Leaving no tree uprooted, Mr. Bush’s Interior Department this week also overturned President Clinton’s ban on carving up the National Park system with logging roads, which has biblical sanction, too.

And that’s just the last seven days.

Mr. Rove has been a busy little beaver. Whether his dam-building’s been well-advised is another story. For awhile he was frantically shoring up Mr. Bush’s base (which wouldn’t vote for John Kerry if hell froze over), he was also mightily offending untold Republican conservationists (they’re the folks who started the Environmental Protection Agency during the Nixon administration); a growing number of African-Americans who’ve been registering Republican in recent years; a goodly slice of the American Medical Association (whose members might be tempted to take a second look at the perceived perfidy of trial lawyer John Edwards); lots of non-knuckle-dragging G.O.P. suburbanites who don’t buy into the Rapture rap; and conservative gays like Andrew Sullivan, whose blog has become one long lament at what his ideological pals are up to. Interesting thing about gays: Mr. Bush assiduously courted them in 2000 and got 25 percent of their vote, which works out to be 1.1 million ballots cast. This year, the gay vote is expected to be even higher, sufficient to be decisive in a close contest. Odds of Mr. Bush duplicating his 2000 feat? Zero.

All in all, it’s been a great week for John Kerry. So stellar that in the preceding 1,962 words, your correspondent hasn’t once felt the need to mention how cute John Edwards’ kids are. So here goes: They’re adorable; their mom and dad are awfully attractive, too; and so far, the whole kit and caboodle, John and Teresa included, seem to be getting along swell. Indeed, perhaps it’s coincidence, but since hooking up with Mr. Edwards, John Kerry’s been behaving like the John Kerry Democrats liked so much during the primaries.

As for Dubya, you almost gotta feel for him: Everything he tries just seems to get him in deeper. Word of the latest fiasco comes from a friend who went to Andover with him and recently attended their 40th reunion. George wasn’t there, but 40 of his classmates were, nearly all upper-income bracketed-natural Bush voters, in other words. My friend says that a straw poll was taken to see how many would be voting for their fellow alum in November.

Wanna know how many Dubya got?

Six.