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Inside Politics
Mark Shields is a nationally known columnist and commentator.

Losers make excuses

WASHINGTON (Creators Syndicate) -- A day is a decade in politics, and a week is a lifetime.

Consider this: Less than three weeks ago, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry's campaign was in -- take your pick -- either chaos or disarray.

The campaign staff was allegedly a civil war in a political leper colony. Veteran Democratic strategist Tony Coelho, who had managed Al Gore's presidential campaign in early 2000, even went public with his version of the Kerry outfit's supposed internal factions: "There is nobody in charge, and you have these two teams that are generally not talking to each other."

Tell me, have you heard or read a single report in the last two weeks about a single Kerry campaign feud? The answer is no. The reason is the three televised debates between Kerry and President George W. Bush.

Gone, as a direct result of Kerry's strong debate showings -- along with Bush's disappearing lead in the national polls -- is any press mention of any harmony-disharmony in the Kerry campaign.

Facing post-debate press questioning about the health of his campaign, the candidate who defensively answered: "The pundits and the spinners, they all have their opinions, but there's only one opinion that matters, and that's the opinion of the American people on Nov. 2" was George W. Bush.

Somewhere in Politics 101 there is written the candidate's generic rebuttal to bad poll numbers: "There is only one poll that counts, and that is the poll on Election Day."

Variations on this theme include, "It's a good thing that Christopher Columbus didn't take a poll before sailing bravely off to find the New World" (or we would have been deprived of Donald Trump's "Apprentice"), and, "Thank God that at Valley Forge George Washington never took a poll ... or today we would still be bowing and curtsying before the Queen."

In fact, some public opinion surveys have become so disturbingly reliable that truth be told, Election Day now serves to simply validate these polls.

Up to now, nobody connected directly or indirectly to the Bush campaign has been overheard boasting that, "We are still confident because the only poll that actually matters at all is the poll after Election Day of the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court."

Losing campaigns do not admit that they are losing because the voters preferred the other party and its candidate. No, the first reaction is almost always to Blame the Candidate.

It was Gore's fault in 2000, just as it was Bob Dole's fault in 1996, and before that George H.W. Bush's fault in 1992, after it had been Michael Dukakis' fault in 1988.

You can be sure that shortly after midnight on Nov. 2, the losing candidate will be blamed for everything from declining Sunday school attendance to an epidemic of ringworm in the Missouri Valley.

After the Blame the Candidate stage, losing politicians go to the most dangerously self-indulgent stage: Blame the Customer. Our defeat was obviously due to the grave defects, intellectual or moral, of the voters.

If George W. Bush loses, at least one Republican analyst will point out that the Bush-Cheney ticket won a majority of straight, married men and women. You get the drift -- that means the Democratic coalition is little more than a dysfunctional collection of the divorced, the single, gays and other assorted irregulars

One fascinating spectacle in this 2004 contest is watching so many of the same conservatives who gave all the credit for the nation's prosperity in the campaign years of of 1984 and 1988 to the inspired economic genius of President Ronald Reagan now tell us, during this jobless recovery, that no president can have any real effect on the behemoth of the nation's economy.

Almost as intriguing is watching Kerry's relentless litany that Bush will be the first American president since the tragic Herbert Hoover to preside over an administration when the nation fail to produce a net job increase.

Why doesn't Kerry ever mention that Hoover's sad record occurred during the first four years of the Great Depression, when the United States' unemployment rate was 25 percent and when the country saw one half of its gross national product simply disappear, in contrast to the George W. Bush job-loss era when American corporate profits have actually increased by 40 percent?

If you want to know who will win on Nov. 2, just listen closely. The winner will not say on the weekend before Election Day that "the only poll that counts, etc., etc., etc." You can bet on it.

Click here for more from Creators Syndicate.

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