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“Win the war, lead the world”: That’s my suggestion for the Bush-Cheney 2004 slogan. It summarizes the key message of the coming campaign and contrasts nicely with John Kyoto Kerry’s view of the globe.

Josh Marshall and some other pundits think the president’s interview on “Meet the Press” was a mistake, which is why Josh and his colleagues are scribblers and not running campaigns. Most people haven’t even seen the interview, but they have heard its key messages: “I am a war president,” “I did the right thing in Iraq” and “I have been hearing the National Guard nonsense since I first ran for governor, and it is a bogus charge. I showed up. I was honorably discharged.”

The first two are the defining messages of 2004, the latter just one that needed to get out once from the president. The cranks won’t be satisfied, but who cares. Not the president – he’s running a war.

Walter Shapiro gets it: “The Democratic candidates, who have been speaking mostly to audiences filled with partisans, have fostered the notion that Bush is incapable of defending his record as president. But in the Russert interview, Bush once again exceeded the low expectations of his partisan critics. Not only did the Oval Office setting underscore the power of incumbency, but Bush, for all the obvious tension in the room, came across as likable and presidential.” Game, set, match.

Kerry’s problem is that he is campaigning on a premise that the war is either over or that it never began – that terrorism’s threat has been exaggerated. I think a healthy majority of Americans disagree with Kerry’s assessment and that they won’t trust him to wage war with a ferocity they expect against an enemy that has already killed thousands of Americans. Kerry’s consistent record is of misunderstanding the nature of threats to the United States and of underestimating the necessary resolve and the necessary tactics and weaponry to meet those threats.

Kerry also misunderstands the essential dynamic of this campaign when he intones “Bring it on.” The president won’t “bring it on.” He’s the incumbent. Kerry has to “bring it” to the president, and the only way to do it is for Kerry to continue to criticize the conduct of the war which, again, a strong majority of Americans approve of. Perhaps he’ll attack the polices that led to the disarmament of Libya next? Or advocate for a return to the golden era of U.S.-North Korean relations under Clinton-Albright?

Kerry seems set on a strangely nostalgic course: An anti-war campaign by a senator who voted for the war. Which is a bit like the war-hero who came back from war only to testify – falsely – to the war crimes he and his colleagues committed. I get the sad sense that Kerry’s going to be campaigning against himself for the next nine months – the sort of self-indulgent psychodrama that the self-absorbed among the boomers love, but which the rest of us view as narcissism.

I think most of the voters will conclude we really can’t afford Hamlet as president and thus will reject Kerry decisively. We are in a war. The war goes on. Win the war. Lead the world. Vote Bush-Cheney in 2004.

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