The peripheral stuff (the Zell Miller MSNBC interview, the Purple Heart bandages) is ugly and seems likely to backfire, but I have to disagree with what seems to be the conventional lefty wisdom -- that last night's speeches were a disaster for the GOP. (Andrew Sullivan, to my surprise, feels that way as well.) Although I still think undecided voters want something other than red meat, the Miller and Cheney speeches were, alas, extremely well-prepared red meat. Voters buy the flip-flop line, and the GOP packaging of Kerry's Senate record is fairly skillful. (Kerry really, really needs to do an ad about Bush flip-flops; his best defense against the attacks on his record is to keep reminding people, as he did in his American Legion speech, which candidate in this race has truly endagered America by showing abysmal judgment at critical moments in history.)
I think tonight is going to be a bad night for the Republicans. Juan Williams, the GOP's go-to transmitter of talking points on NPR, said this morning that we'll be getting the nice, domesticated George W. tonight. That means Bush will be manfully trying to suppress his cocksureness and smugness, an effort that often makes him seem dull and zombified. Or the cocksureness will come out -- he'll say things in his signature "If you weren't such a clueless idiot I wouldn't even have to be explaining this" tone.
And the content -- medical savings accounts? "The ownership society"? "If you own something, you have a vital stake in the future of our country," Bush tells audiences -- if he says that tonight, how is that supposed to inspire people who can barely afford the rent?
He'll say we're winning the war on terror. He'll say the economy is turning around. He'll say the No Child Left Behind law is working. He'll say the Medicare prescription-drug plan is working. How on earth is this going to help him with voters who are undecided largely because they don't believe any of this?
Oh, and he'll be introduced by New York's not exactly dynamic governor, George Pataki -- the Droop-A-Long Coyote of American politics. And in a bizarre mismatch, the utterly prosaic governor is getting speechwriting help from Peggy Noonan, usually a purveyor of pseudo-poetic gunk. Noonan is also a social conservative, while Pataki supports abortion rights and gay rights. Hard to imagine that this is going to work.