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Psyops: How to use Bush's soft spots against him in debate


The first Presidential debate revealed, even to those who had somehow not noticed before, that the incumbent is not the sharpest tool in the shed. That bit of satori has resulted in significant softening of Bush’s support. It also presents an opportunity to his opponent.


W’s stupidity presents a delicate conundrum to John Kerry. For many of us, lack of mental horsepower is one of the most frightening weaknesses a president can have, but intellect is very much out of style in America today. How, then, to exploit this weakness without seeming cruel and (even worse) egg-headed? Psychological Operations, that’s how.

“Psyops” are defined as tactics that are intended to reduce morale and cause fatal hesitation or tactical error. They alter the behavior of an enemy without altering his beliefs. If there is one thing George W. Bush has proven, it is the immunity of his beliefs to alteration — by facts, evidence, reason or common sense. But his behavior is malleable.

One of the keys to getting inside the empty room that is Bush’s head is to understand that while Bush’s mind is a blunt instrument, his emotions are as strong as everyone else’s. So the battle between heart and head is never a fair fight for him. That imbalance makes him putty in the hands of the right interlocutor. All you need is knowledge of his sore spots. And the low-hanging fruit on that score is W’s tortured, Oedipal fixation with his father.

Much has been written about the difficult relationship between father and son — the time a drunken W. challenged his father to a fistfight, the fact that W doesn’t ask his father for advice (preferring the “higher father”), and so on. But the fact that the relationship appears strained does not diminish its psychological significance; if anything, it magnifies it. It is probably not a coincidence that the only justification for the invasion of Iraq that has not been thoroughly discredited is the fact that at one point, as W put it, Saddam “tried to kill my Dad.”

41 left the job in Iraq unfinished. There were good reasons for that, as current experience makes painfully and tragically clear. But a simple mind would see that choice as a failure, and the conquering of Iraq as redemption of the father, and finally, of the son in the father’s eyes. And W is nothing if not a simple mind.

The French, of all people, demonstrated this vulnerability well before the war. A recent book asserts that Jacques Chirac (who was planning to commit 15,000 troops to the Iraq effort before Bush finished alienating them) got under W’s skin by talking with him about his father, and even calling 41 to tell him when Chirac thought 43 did well. W, apparently, was not amused

As a former prosecutor, Kerry has already demonstrated that he knows how to push this button and break down the witness. In the first debate, he threw 41’s book in 43’s face, pointing out that Bush senior said that we would have ended up in a quagmire if Schwartzkopf had marched on Baghdad in 1991. Kerry also pointed out that W’s coalition pales in comparison to the one his father put together. In effect, Kerry rubbed 43’s nose in the soiled newspaper: “you just don’t measure up to your father.” The best a flustered, irritated W could offer in riposte was “He forgot Poland!”

Democrats can help bring out the real, ugly Bush by using 41’s disapproval and superiority against 43 at every turn. Forcing 41 to ride to 43’s rescue with a public endorsement of the Iraq occupation would humiliate him in a way that would make Clinton’s Starr-chamber travails look like summer camp. The beauty of it is that there is nothing inherently dirty or out-of-bounds about this stuff – only a psychologically wounded animal like Bush would be rattled by such innocuous matters. There is some danger in provoking the guy with the launch codes, but what is he going to do – start an unprovoked, unnecessary war?

So if you want to defeat 43, celebrate the brilliance of 41 (whatever you really think of George the First). Show W that you knew George H.W. Bush, that you supported George H.W. Bush, and, to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, “W, you’re no George H.W. Bush.”


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