"Searching" and "Windsurfing" were produced for the Bush campaign by Maverick Media. To watch the ads on the Bush campaign Web site, click here. To read the script of "Searching," click here. To read the script of "Windsurfing," click here.
From: William Saletan
To: Jacob Weisberg
Jake, the ads are coming so fast and furious, I can barely keep up with them. I bet viewers are having the same problem. Basically, there are too many commercials making too few points. Let's take Topics A and B—Iraq and terrorism—and examine what the candidates are saying about them. First we'll look at Bush's ads. Next time we'll look at Kerry's.
Bush's ads, "Searching" and "Windsurfing," paint Kerry as a flip-flopper. (The major conservative 527 group, Progress for America Voter Fund, is running a similar ad, but we can skip that one, since it's just a bad version of "Windsurfing.") For my money, "Windsurfing" is the best ad of the year. It shows Kerry windsurfing to the camera's right, then left, then right, etc. With each tack, the announcer mocks Kerry for taking one position, then another.
But Kerry isn't really tacking. His infamous windsurfing vacation has been spliced to make it look as though he jerks back and forth. The same trick could be done with videotape of you walking to lunch and back. They'd run a snippet of you walking to lunch, then a snippet of you walking back, then the same snippet of you walking to lunch, etc. It would create the false appearance that you can't figure out which way to walk.
The narration accompanying the spliced footage of Kerry windsurfing is equally, fittingly false. "Kerry voted for the Iraq war, opposed it, supported it, and now opposes it again," says the announcer. Untrue. Kerry never "voted for the Iraq war." He voted for a resolution that Bush advertised as leverage to avoid war. And the kind of war Kerry supported (multilateral, last resort, preceded by sound planning for the postwar) isn't the kind of war Kerry opposed. The difference between the war Kerry supported and the one he opposed is the difference between the war Bush promised and the one he delivered.
We've already talked about the $87 billion. Kerry voted for the appropriation as long as it was paid for by rolling back the high end of Bush's tax cuts, instead of by running up the deficit. There was no contradiction between Kerry's votes.
"Searching" is a more thorough collection of Kerry's alleged flips and flops on Iraq. Still, not thorough enough. Again, crucial context is spliced out. One of Kerry's supposedly pro-war comments—"The winning of the war was brilliant"—is about the military's fast takedown of the regime. The ad misrepresents this as broad support for Bush's prewar and postwar planning. A putative antiwar statement by Kerry—"I don't believe the president took us to war as he should have"—is a classic Kerry tightrope walk: He supported going to war, but not the way Bush did it. "I have always said we may yet even find weapons of mass destruction" is an old quote, predating reports that the search has been completed and no such weapons have been found.
I think two of the Kerry quotes in "Searching" are fair game. "It's the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time" can't be squared with Kerry's more supportive comments about the war, because it isn't Kerry's position. His position, to be precise, is that Bush's Iraq war was the right war, in the wrong way, in the right place, at the wrong time. Of course, if Kerry had put it that precisely, I'd be mocking him for splitting hairs.
The other quote that's fair game—"It was the right decision to disarm Saddam Hussein, and when the president made the decision, I supported him"—plainly can't be squared with Kerry's "wrong war" comment. By saying he supported Bush "when the president made the decision" to disarm Saddam, Kerry plainly endorsed the war as Bush conducted it. That was May 3, 2003, in the glory days after the fall of Baghdad. Kerry has never again uttered such an unconditional endorsement of the war. But he did say it, and I'm sure he did so for the same reason I said such things back then: That's the way the wind was blowing.
From: Jacob Weisberg
To: William Saletan
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