The Kerry people have got to stop whining about the attacks from the Republican convention podium againt the Democratic nominee. The fact is, the Democrats made a terrible mistake by not having a Zell Miller-type speech that really tried to tear the skin off the president. Repeat after me--you are RUNNING AGAINST AN INCUMBENT. The dominant issue, therefore, is his record. You have to remind the American people of the following things:
a) The Bush administration blew the conduct of the war on Iraq. Not that the war itself was a mistake (I continue to believe, hesitantly perhaps, that it was justified) , but that by ignoring all the planning that had been done for what to do after the war, by ignoring the advice from the senior Pentagon staff that you needed more troops, the president engangered American soldiers and helped to create the chaos that we have been gradually trying to dig ourselves out of. That is, the issue is whether we can trust these people to do the job in the future. Leave out the "coalition" stuff, which just sounds wimpy (and is, in fact, wimpy), and stick to what WE (not our supposed allies) ought to have done, and should have done better.
b) The way this administration has given unprecedented access to business in the policy-making process. You have to remind the American people of the Haliburton, Enron, etc. connections of this administration, and argue that this was not aberrant, but par for the course, and this pattern has been repeated on issue after issue. The argument is to "clean the stables" in order to permit serious, reasonable policy-making. Remind them of the criticisms of Paul O'Neill and Joh DiIulio, who should have been used over and over again, since these were the administration's own appointees.
c) Remind the American people that the administration blew a hole in the nation's finances by handing out huge tax cuts to the wealthy, and that if elected they will start privatizing Social Security.
d) The administration, in large part because of the tax cuts, has not invested anywhere near the resources that are necessary in homeland security, and that this is setting us up for real vulnerability in the future.
All in all, Kerry and the Democratic party need to argue, in short, that this is NOT a "moderate" Republican party, but a party of determined ideologues, and that if elected, the Democrats will govern from the center (I have to admit that, good DLC-er that I am, that this is a hope rather than a prediction), pointing out their policies on health care, homeland security, etc. and arguing that none of them will come to pass with this administration. The one thing the Kerry campaign has not done is what the Republicans have done so well, which is, as I argued in a previous post, to make the Republicans look weird. This is what swing voters are most worried about--they want someone they can trust, someone who won't go off half-cocked on ideological vendettas. The Republicans have effectively argue that Kerry is, in fact, weird--that he is a man who you should worry cannot be trusted to defend America, who is averse to force and a strong military, etc. I'm not sure this attack can be answered directly--the best way to do it is to play offense, rather than simply defending yourself against the attack.
In short, Kerry needs to go negative--immediately, relentlessly, and in a focused way on just a few fronts so that it breaks through the public's mental filters. If he doesn't do this, as I also argued earlier, he will lose this election, and this whole campaign will look like a carbon copy of 1988.