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THE ARMCHAIR STRATEGIST | DAN PAYNE

Bad news everywhere Bush looks

GEORGE BUSH is captive of real world events -- Iraq and US economy. When-ever he's mishandled them, they've blown up in his face. John Kerry camp smoothly defused potentially explosive union problem, trading no speech to mayors for no union pickets outside Democratic convention.

Bad news from home. Dallas Morning News editorialized: "We backed the war in Iraq. But US troops have found no Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. And the 9/11 panel says there was no working partnership between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

"President Bush presented both WMD and the Al Qaeda/Hussein link as reasons for striking Iraq before it attacks us. The president has a credibility gap here, and he needs to address it right away. Vice President Dick Cheney tried but failed miserably. He said, in effect, `we know more than you and you better trust us.'

"The country did just that when we went to war in Iraq, but things aren't working as promised. The administration needs to respond with specifics, not like members of a secret society with keys to the kingdom." Kaboom!

Bad news in polls. CBS-New York Times poll shows Bush has lowest job approval rating of presidency. But still tied in horse race nationally and in swing states.

Bad news: Whopping 60 percent think Iraq war wasn't worth losses and by 3-1 margin say war made terrorist attacks more likely. Good: Majority say US should stay in Iraq "as long as it takes" to establish stable democracy. (Poll done before handover.)

Bad: NPR poll shows 54 percent say country on wrong track while 40 percent say right track. Cathode rays of hope: Kerry spent $60 million on TV advertising since March and Times poll found almost four in ten Americans can't even rate him.

Kerry hasn't closed sale with voters. Needs national VP candidate, not one-state wonder. Not picking Senator John Edwards would be big story.

Bad news at box office. Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" grossed huge $21.8 million in its first three days. Set record for documentary. As for claim it's propaganda, Moore agrees. Not doing Frederick Wiseman social commentary film; he wants Bush defeated. After seeing film, Bush voters interviewed in Ohio, Florida, and Michigan said their support had been shaken, New York Times found.

Film details longtime chumminess between Bush family and Saudi royal family, confirms bin Laden family airlifted out of US, and exposes stealthy Carlyle Group, which employs likes of presidential adviser James Baker III, Britain's John Major, and Bush's dad to make millions (a la Halliburton) off wars.

Bad language from VP. Cheney posed for group photo on floor of Senate, where vice president is presiding officer. Cheney, who has power to shoot down civilian planes when president is busy reading "My Pet Goat," loses it when he sees Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. Leahy had criticized war-profiteering by Halliburton, Cheney's last employer. Catholic Leahy didn't like Republicans accusing Democrats of being anti-Catholic for blocking some Bush antiabortion judges. Cheney, religious attendee of White House prayer meetings, attacked Leahy with words not found in Scripture. "I expressed myself rather forcefully, felt better after I had done it." In May, man who claims to be president, George W. Bush, declared, "The country's culture is changing from one that has said, 'If it feels good, do it.' "

Bad public behavior. At NATO meeting, Bush is passed note about L. Paul Bremer's premature evacuation. Whispers to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and shakes his hand, gives him frat-boy elbow in ribs. Later does that sloppy, leaning-on-podium thing as he tells world's media about handover; unable to avoid The Smirk.

Apology: I omitted Iraqi deaths in last column. Since March 20, 2003, when United States invaded, frequently cited source says 9,500 to 11,300 Iraqi civilians have been killed.

Ralph's troubles. Nader lost Green Party endorsement; probably didn't help that he skipped their convention. Official Green candidate in 1996 and 2000, Nader now has to work in all 50 states to get on their ballots. In California, needs 150,000 signatures to run as independent. In Arizona, lawsuit challenges three different sets of Nader's own signature on nominating papers. Oregon elections chief said Nader's nominating papers may have errors and margin for error is "extremely thin."

Et tu, Lou? Just learned Lou Dobbs, oracle of business on CNN, is publicly slamming exporting of American jobs. Posts list of corporations on his website. Took on head of US chamber of commerce, saying outsourcing was inexcusable and bad for country. Lou Dobbs for secretary of labor! Would he cross picket line?

Dan Payne is a Boston-based media consultant who worked on John Kerry's Senate campaigns and for Michael Dukakis during the 1988 presidential primaries. His column appears regularly in the Globe.

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