The Family, Kitty Kelley's Bush-bashing book published on Sept. 14, seems on its way to best-sellerdom despite some of the most implausible accusations since Dan Rather announced that poor forgeries of National Guard documents were the real thing.
Here's a typical KK charge: W did cocaine at Yale in the mid-'60s. Hey, I studied (more or less) there in the late '60s and marijuana was the thing among folks Bush didn't like. Liquor was quicker among those he hung with. Cocaine didn't come in for another decade.
So let's forget her gossipy book. The more important question is: Why is the Kerry campaign floundering so badly? My suggestion: Neither John Kerry nor his handlers appear to understand the importance of pivotal moments in national and personal life.
Franklin Roosevelt understood the significance of nationally pivotal moments. He said, after Pearl Harbor, that "Dr. New Deal" had become "Dr. Win the War." Sen. Kerry wants to campaign on the economy, but 9/11 changed everything: Now, more Americans want a "Dr. Win the War" president.
Many Americans understand the importance of pivotal moments in individual lives. The United States is a country of second chances. That's why the Rocky movies struck such a chord: A loser becomes a winner. Rocky IV concludes with the boxer's announcement, "If I can change, and you can change, everybody can change."
Candidate Kerry is trying to project an image of first in war, first in anti-war, first in understanding the nuances now. That leaves him last in the American league. Because Christianity, the religion of the second chance, is so important in this country, George W. Bush's declaration of a marred past and mid-life change resonates well.
That's why the dispute about the Kerry military record is more important than the dispute about the president's. John Kerry received his party's nomination because of his youthful activities; George W. Bush was elected despite his.
If liberals listened to conservative talk radio rather than decrying it, they would understand better the public respect for pivotal moments. Sample from one hour: A woman disclosed that she was a stripper at age 15 and noted that her past should not be held against her because she changed. A man said that once, when he was doing drugs and drinking heavily, he didn't notice that his little daughter had wrapped a rubber band around her wrist that was cutting off her circulation. That became a pivotal moment, and he changed.
John Kerry and his media allies are mad that the Swift Boat vets messed up his image. They see the Bush National Guard records as tit for the vets' tattling, yet they don't understand that a candidate of the pivotal moment like President Bush receives different treatment from the public than a candidate like too-good-to-be-true Kerry.
The media giants are now chomping at each other: ABC on Sept. 14 reported that CBS ignored warnings from two document experts who said the memos were fakes, and CBS is apparently mad that ABC broke ranks with it. But the irony of CBS's rush to accept forged documents is that even if the documents were real they wouldn't have made much difference.
The Los Angeles Times on Sept. 15 asked, "Why did the network fall for it?" and then complained, "The brouhaha all but managed to place Bush's Vietnam-era service off-limits as a campaign issue." And yet, concerns about the early Bush record didn't gain traction in 2000 and would not have been a winner this year either.
Is that unfair? Is Sen. Kerry being held to a higher standard? Maybe so, but he set that bar himself. Plus, a bit of the senator's problem is the pomposity he can't seem to escape, even by wind-surfing. Maybe he has an excuse: He could say, "Some call me pompous, but in Massachusetts we call that talking." (Hey, I grew up there and cheer for the Red Sox.)
The crucial difference, though, is a pivotal moment. George Bush's came when he stopped drinking and came to Christ. I obviously have no knowledge of the state of John Kerry's soul, but I've looked over the evidence concerning his beliefs-his own statements and the statements of those who know him-and can't find anything that parallels the Bush experience of and emphasis on God's grace.
And it's that experience and emphasis that resonate with lots of voters around the country, since so many of us have had similar experiences. If those with immaculate lives vote for John Kerry and those who messed up but are now doing better vote for George W. Bush, it will be a GOP landslide.