Out of touch with Americans

Major political parties need to get serious about some real, live issues

Posted: Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Here are two examples of how out-of-touch and silly the two major parties' presidential campaigns have become already.

First, the Democrats. For the last week or so, party leaders have fueled constant debate about whether President Bush fulfilled his military obligation to the National Guard in the early 1970s. The White House has been forced to release all types of records and even produce a former officer who says Bush was present and accounted for.

The truth is that no one but hard-core political insiders cares one way or the other. We all know John Kerry is a war hero and that he will lord that fact over Bush during the fall campaign. But instead of coolly reminding voters of his Vietnam heroics at the appropriate time, the Democrats seem determined to pound their chests to excess by belittling Bush's own military service.

They are barking up the wrong tree. For all of his alleged or actual weaknesses as president, Bush will continue to be viewed as a brave "soldier" who stood up to terrorists and international despots, often with little or no support from other nations.

In endlessly stoking the flames of this issue, the media and the Democrats are starting to make Bush look worthy of sympathy something that once seemed impossible. George W. Bush, who has irritated even many conservative voters with what they deem his cocky swagger, now appears to be the victim of a petty campaign dredged up by nitpickers willing to do anything to make the commander in chief look like the one thing he clearly isn't a coward.

But this dreary drama trudges on into sordidness. Former Sen. Max Cleland is suggesting Bush was AWOL, which has prompted a counterattack from conservative columnist Ann Coulter. She questions whether Cleland, a Vietnam triple amputee, lost his limbs in combat or under less heroic circumstances. Here's a hint, Ann: It's not necessary to pick on a man in a wheelchair, especially one who was turned out of office just last year. The voters already took care of him.

I thought most Democrats opposed the Vietnam (or any other) war. If so, why is John Kerry's heroic military career so important? And why does it matter if President Bush took ever so much as a practice shot as he flew combat aircraft? Keep it up, Democrats. Yours is a wonderful way of looking petty and misguided.

This is Exhibit One in the kind of politics as usual that means nothing to average Americans.

Now for the Republicans. A few weeks ago, President Bush left many of us scratching our heads as we listened to his State of the Union address. Among all the other weighty topics he touched on the budget, war in Iraq, terrorism why did he insert rhetoric about subjects that were totally out of place in a speech so momentous, such as the use of steroids by athletes?

The answer came some weeks later, when Attorney General John Ashcroft appeared on TV to announce a major, federal bust of distributors of steroids to big-name professional athletes. What a shock!

Just as shocking, in fact, as discovering cork in a bat or grease on a baseball. A problem, maybe. An issue rigged for the president, definitely.

It should be up to the various professional sports leagues to regulate and police the use of performance-enhancing drugs. But when jobs are flowing out of the United States and you can't board an airplane without being stripped to your underwear, steroid use is suddenly a top concern of the White House.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Both major political parties get these silly strategic ideas from insulated policy wonks who spend their time conferring with one another instead of taking the public's pulse. Most Americans don't have the time or interest to play private investigator on what the president did when he was young. Nor do they want their law enforcement agencies making steroid use a higher priority than young Americans dying overseas and unidentified assailants shooting at cars in Ohio.

Someone had better get serious about some real, live issues. My guess is the first candidate or party to do so may well just sweep the 2004 elections.

Matt Towery is chair of InsiderAdvantage, which works in conjunction with The Marketing Workshop to conduct polls for his syndicated column. He is based in Jacksonville, Fla.

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