George Bush's Kerry act

By Tim Grieve
Published August 26, 2004 11:28PM (EDT)

In the early days of the campaign season, George W. Bush liked to say that the 2004 election would present a "clear choice" between starkly different visions of America. He's not saying that anymore. With the Swift Boat Veterans' ads apparently making a dent in voters' perceptions of Kerry's personal qualities, the Republicans seem to be taking a new tack: Why take a chance on a new guy if his policies are the same as the president's anyway?

Earlier this month, Bush goaded Kerry into acknowledging -- as he had several times before -- that he still thinks he was right to vote in favor of the October 2002 resolution that gave Bush authority to invade Iraq. Bush then spun Kerry's statement into something else entirely: "He now agrees it was the right decision to go into Iraq." Message: No matter how much you think I bungled Iraq, remember that John Kerry would have gone to war there, too.

It's not the only instance in which the Bush-Cheney campaign has tried to narrow the distance between the parties' views. Earlier this week, Vice President Dick Cheney completed a full flip-flop-flip on gay marriage in order to bring his position in line with John Kerry's. Cheney said in 2000, that this issue of gay marriage should be left to the states; he said earlier this year that he would support Bush's call for a federal constitutional amendment banning any state from recognizing gay marriages; and then he said this week that states ought to be free to make their own decisions after all.

Yesterday, the administration made a move to close the gap between the candidates on environmental issues. After Bush himself dismissed earlier warnings about greenhouse gases as something "put out by the bureaucracy," the administration now says that emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases from smoke stacks and tailpipes are the only likely explanation for global warming.

In the new version of his stump speech, Bush makes little mention of the policy differences that divide the parties. Although he warns that Kerry will raise taxes and take the side of trial lawyers, Bush spends most of his speech talking about how "we've got more to do" -- on education, on health care, on jobs, on energy. In the process, he sounds more like a challenger -- more like his challenger -- than anything else.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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