Tuesday :: Sep 9, 2003

Message to the Dems: Time to Knock Bush Down Further


by Steve

With his poll numbers declining, and world events spinning away from his already-enfeebled control, Skippy is in a sorry state at this time. No one should shed a tear about this. At a time when polls show that most voters still don’t know much about the Democratic candidates, and with some of those candidates well-financed enough to aggressively hammer Bush, now is the time for the first-tier Democrats to move in for the kill. I know this sounds ludicrous fourteen months out against an incumbent sitting on what will be a $300 million warchest soon. But the best way for one or two of these Democrats to break out the pack and do themselves some good, as well as drive Bush’s numbers down further so that he has to start spending some of that money early is to get out there with aggressive, hard-hitting TV commercials that draw distinctions between the candidate and Bush, using Bush’s own record of ineptitude, incompetence, and sleaze against him.

I am writing this with Kerry in mind, even though both he and Dean have the money to do this. Dean gets his drive and energy from the personal appearances the campaign sets up and manages so well, and from the anti-Bush emotion he has tapped into. Dean’s campaign to me is more of a personality or emotion-driven effort, which according to some hasn’t translated yet into a great TV campaign. As I said, Dean doesn’t have to have great TV yet, because of the unconventional campaign communication and organizing strategy his folks have mastered. But for Kerry, who as I said will never do “anger” as well as Dean, nor should he try, he needs to get back in the game primarily through the conventional route with TV. Kerry’s traditional campaign team has already been outmaneuvered and outsmarted by Dean to a point that trying to copy what Joe Trippi has done will take too long and will not work with a candidate relatively lacking in passion to begin with. However, it doesn’t mean that Kerry cannot get the voters’ attention through TV and introduce himself as a well-qualified leader for troubled times who is comfortable in his own skin who can laugh at himself.

How to do this? I would suggest two series of commercials: one series that would be used to introduce Kerry in parts of the country that may not know much of him yet. These would be the typical background pieces that emphasize Kerry’s broad government experience at all levels and wide knowledge of issues, but I would have Kerry talk to the voters himself in these commercials. He would get the chance to stress to the voters his ability to handle the job, and why he thinks his background makes him the best candidate for the job. Most importantly, it would give Kerry a chance to connect with voters and do so one-on-one to overcome the legitimate perception of being aloof and cool. Kerry of course plays up his Vietnam experience and exploits, and he should be touting this in these introductory spots for certain markets, such as the South and Midwest, using perhaps others in these spots to speak on his behalf. In any event, speaking to the camera from a variety of settings in easy to understand sentences and occasionally with a smile will do Kerry a lot of good as a way to introduce him in certain markets and humanize him.

The second set of commercials are the pieces where Kerry tries to step out from the pack and go for the kill against Bush. These would be issue-based and designed to draw stark contrasts with Bush on a variety of topics, pointedly calling Bush out on his lies, sacrifice of the public interest, mismanagement, and incompetence. These would be run in those areas where Kerry is already known, such as the Northeast, the Rust Belt, and West Coast, and would also be run in areas after the first “introductory” spots are run in the South and Midwest. Again, these would be first-person spots with Kerry talking pointedly about Bush’s failings and lies, and this is no place for Kerry to wimp out. Even though he cannot out-do Dean in the personal appearances and anti-Bush energy that drive Dean’s campaign, he can make up for a large part of that disadvantage with the base by doing level-headed, hard-hitting commercials that tell it straight about Bush and his record, and what Kerry will do differently. He can end each commercial with an appeal to make a change in 2004 for the sake of our futures, and the futures of our children. These commercials could be a rotation of six or several different ones, and they practically write themselves:

On the environment, Kerry can point out the regulatory rollbacks Bush has made and how they benefit his campaign contributors, the broken promises on Kyoto and other issues, and how these actions endanger us and our children. Kerry then can tout his environmental proposals and state how he will never sell out our children’s’ health like Bush has done. Doing this commercial against the backdrop of an emissions-belching industrial facility in the Northeast or in Texas would drive the point home, and would be a sure-fire winner in the Northeast and West Coast.

On energy, Kerry can talk about the Bush beholdenness to oil companies, how the administration has spent more of their time hiding the workings of the Cheney task force than they have developing a broad-based energy plan for the country that weans us from foreign oil and improves the power delivery system. This can be contrasted with his own proposals, and tied to their economic and environmental benefits. (The first candidate who can get a spot on the air out here in California post-recall that ties the looting of billions of dollars from the state treasury to Bush's energy company buddies while his FERC and GOP congressmen watched will score major points with California voters.)

On the budget and the deficit, the commercial practically writes itself, and Kerry can point out Bush’s lies in selling his tax cuts, how fiscally irresponsible Bush is, how Bush has squandered trillions in surpluses in three short years to pay for tax cuts for his wealthy friends, and how such irresponsibility has left us with no money for homeland security, a Medicare drug benefit, universal health insurance, or a solvent Social Security system. Kerry can cap it off with a reminder of how many jobs have been lost since Bush became president, and can film this in front of a closed-down factory. (The first candidate who can point out that for the money we are spending rebuilding Iraq and losing in GOP-supported offshore tax havens and corporate welfare we could provide a comprehensive, no-holes Medicare drug benefit and aid to the states will also damage Bush severely.)

On national security, Kerry can express anger at how Bush has endangered our troops overseas through his deceptions in selling the war, in the failed alliance against terror, the failing occupation of Iraq with no planning or endgame in sight, the lack of multilateral support, and poor conditions for our troops and their families. He can then tie this to his own experience in combat and the need to never let down the troops, and how we cannot repeat the mistakes of Vietnam. He can even throw in that more voters feel threatened by terror now than they did before Iraq, and that Bush’s incompetence in managing the post war situation has endangered us overseas and at home. Kerry can contrast this poor performance by stating that unlike Bush, he would spend more time as president rebuilding the multinational war on terror and truly investigating the causes of 9/11, instead of redacting the 9/11 report to protect the Saudis and stonewalling the 9/11 Commission. And he can shoot this commercial with the wives of the WTC victims who are fighting with the administration to overcome its stonewalling.

Again, unlike personality pieces, the idea is to tie specific Bush actions, lies, or failures to broken promises, unmet needs here at home, and failed national security, all the while pointing to a better alternative that restores hope and promises a better future. The implicit message behind all of this is one of competence over mismanagement, public interest over private enrichment, truth and accountability instead of lies and graft, and hope instead of fear. And the first candidate who says the line "the American treasury was not meant to be an ATM machine for Bush campaign contributors" wins the prize.

As you can see, thanks to Bush’s record these commercials write themselves. So putting them together and getting them produced is not a problem. The first of two major obstacles is money, since a campaign like this will cost several million for the media buys, but Kerry and Dean alone have this kind of money now, and after the third quarter, both are likely to have the most money on hand. And spending this money and making a front-runner appearance like this will draw more money. The second obstacle is internal to the Kerry campaign itself: campaign manager Jim Jordan needs to discard the cautious style that transformed his candidate from a front-runner to an also-ran. Jordan needs to realize that the recent reemergence of Kerry in a national way has led to increased poll numbers. The message from this to Jordan is to get off his ass and get his candidate into the public eye in a way that plays to Kerry’s limitations (TV) and his strengths (his ample qualifications compared to the rest of the field) and get him viewed as a front-runner again. Hard-hitting media that slams Bush on the issues, which draws contrasts with a well-prepared and occasionally smiling Kerry gives the candidate a chance to connect with the voters and cut into Dean’s support amongst the base.

I acknowledge that for Kerry, doing it this early is risky and costly. Yet he has the money, and sitting on it waiting for Dean to lose steam is a gamble, not to mention a blown opportunity given the falling numbers for Bush. It is also a risk to do nothing since Dean or other candidates may jump in with good TV, as Gephardt and Edwards are now doing, and Kerry can find himself missing another opportunity. Most importantly, the Democrats have a chance right now to go for the kill. The first candidate that reaches for fair, hard-hitting TV which aims to connect with voters’ fears while appealing to their hopes will win this nomination and make it tougher for Rove to misdirect again like he did in 2002.

The time is now. Act like the GOP, get ruthless, set the negatives, and put Bush away. Don't let Bush slip away again.

Steve :: 9:36 PM :: Comments (11) :: Digg It!