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The Quality of Criticism

October 26th, 2004

It is interesting to note the differences in how the candidates criticize each other. Take, for example, Kerry’s jabs at Bush in a recent speech on improving conditions for women in America:

George Bush’s promise was to protect Social Security. But for four years, he’s raided the Social Security trust fund to pay for tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. And recently, he said that if he was re-elected, he’d “come out strong” to privatize Social Security. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, that means benefit cuts of 25 to 45 percent. But what does it mean for a woman whose only income is a $1100 a month Social Security check? It means cutting more pills in half … it means not being able to buy a birthday gift for a grandchild … it means sitting awake at night, often all alone, worrying about what tomorrow will bring.

George Bush likes to talk about how being President is “hard work.” Mr. President, I’m very happy to relieve you of that hard work. And before the President complains about his job, he ought to come here and spend a day with you. He might learn something about how, day after day, the women of this country juggle so much with such grace and strength. What you do every day – now that’s hard work.

And I think that’s one of the biggest differences between George Bush and us. We believe that the middle class is the backbone of this country – and that hard-working women are the bedrock of our families. We believe that women deserve more than false assurances and empty promises from their President. They deserve a fresh start with a President who’s going to take responsibility, face reality, and make sure that they don’t just get by – they get ahead. If you give me that chance – I will be that President.

In contrast, here are representative jabs at Kerry by Bush in one of latest stump speeches:

THE PRESIDENT: I’m proud of my running mate, Dick Cheney. (Applause.) Now, look, I fully admit he does not have the waviest hair in this race. (Laughter.) But I want to assure you, I didn’t pick him because of his hairdo. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: My opponent takes a different approach. He believes that instead of leading with confidence, America must submit to what he calls a global test.

AUDIENCE: Booo!

THE PRESIDENT: I’m not making that up. (Laughter.) He was standing right about just there when I heard him say it. (Applause.) As far as I can tell — as far as I can tell, that means our country must get permission from foreign capitals before we act in our own self-defense. [He is making that up–ed.]

AUDIENCE: Booo!

THE PRESIDENT: On Iraq, my opponent has a strategy of pessimism and retreat. He has talked about artificial timetables to pull our troops out. He has sent the signal that America’s overriding goal in Iraq would be to leave, even if the job is not done.

AUDIENCE: Booo!

THE PRESIDENT: He voted against many of the weapons systems critical to our defense build-up.

AUDIENCE: Booo!

THE PRESIDENT: Senator Kerry has turned his back on “pay any price,” and “bear any burden.” He’s replaced those commitments with, “wait and see,” and “cut and run.”

AUDIENCE: Booo!

The tone is fundamentally, qualitatively different. Bush’s style includes ad hominen jabs–like implying that Edwards was chosen for the VP slot because of his hair instead of his judgment–and is followed by a litany of distortions: Bush’s “understanding” of Kerry’s words on the global test are patently false (Kerry said the president could act unilaterally and preemptively, and only afterwards his judgment would be tested by international approval); Kerry has always held that the job must be finished in Iraq, the direct opposite of what Bush claims; the tired chestnut of Kerry “voting against” weapons systems is actually based on Kerry agreeing with Cheney’s own cuts; and Kerry has been the one to ask people to pay a price and never to cut and run, while Bush runs up debt as he gets us into quagmires.

Bush’s speech cuts at Kerry with a laundry list of other lies–but note the tone. Sharp, cutting, caustic; you can see the smirk every time he makes a crack or a criticism, you can hear the “heh-heh” he adds when he says these things, and the audience consistently booing reflects his encouragement of negativity.

Compare that with Kerry’s style, not depending on personal jabs or taunts, touching on values common to people in need, using solid figures usually from non-partisan sources–but overall, using a softer, less divisive tone. In fact, go to both web sites and read both speeches in their entirety. The difference is palpable, both in straight rhetoric and their more positive statements, as well as their criticism of each other. It is no mystery why Bush has divided this country more than ever before over the past four years. And it is no mistake to assume that Kerry will be far more the uniter–at least as much as is humanly possible, should the Republicans turn on him viciously and make it their mission to tear him apart as they did with Clinton, instead of working together with him in a bipartisan approach.

At least with Kerry, we have a chance at a more united country, so long as the Republicans extend even half the unity and bipartisanship the Democrats have offered over the past four years.

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  1. October 27th, 2004 at 04:05 | #1

    Nice comment. Very insightful. Yours is becoming one of my favorite sites.

  2. October 27th, 2004 at 04:33 | #2

    If Republicans have been divisive (I agree; they have), it’s because they’ve been able to benefit from that division… they’ve realized that a sharp divide comes just out in their favor above the wide grays.

    I think that’s changing, though.

    I agree with your main observation in this post.

    ~ Connor

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