Thursday, September 02, 2004

Message? I Don't Need a Message. I Was in 'Nam

I didn't see W's speech. I was driving and only managed to catch a bit on AM radio. (I'll catch the webcast tomorrow and post my invaluable thoughts.) By the time I got home Kerry had responded. The Fall campaign has begun.

I had some time driving to think about Kerry's problem. He can't present his message in a simple direct manner. W has a clear message. I'm surprised that the Dems don't get this. You have to treat the American voters like executives in a corporation: their time is valuable, they are busy and will only give you a limited amount of time to make your case. I think of the campaign message as an executive summary - a bulleted series of high-level issues.

Think of Clinton's "It's the economy, stupid." It was brilliant. It was concise and memorable. It declared Clinton's focus and implied that Bush 41 was out of touch.

W is clearly the pro-war candidate. Kerry has only a few choices:

1.) He can be the non-war candidate - he can downplay the importance of the war compared to a larger, more important issue. Clinton did this in '92. He had no foreign policy experience and Bush 41 had decades of it. Bush 41 spent much of his term dealing with foreign policy issues (remember vomitting in Japan? remember the Madrid Conference?). So Clinton ignored foreign affairs, dodged Bush 41's strength and hit him with a larger issue that more people cared about, the economy. Kerry can't really use this tactic since the War in Iraq and the larger War Against Jihad are so prominent in our lives and the economy simply isn't that bad.

2). He can be more pro-war than W. For example, he could pledge more troops in Afghanistan. He could criticize W for letting Sadr get away, for not taking Fallujah, for not capturing Zarqawi the beheading serial killer. Kerry could attack W for not closing the Syrian border, for allowing Syria to interfer in Iraqi society. Kerry could attack W as soft on Iran's nuke program and promise sanctions or other 'serious measures' to deter an Iranian Bomb. He could say W was waffling and weak when facing North Korea. On and on. But Kerry can't do this without being eaten alive by the left wing of the Democratic party.

3). Kerry could be the anti-war candidate. This has the appeal of being simple and clear. It fits on a bumper sticker. It has an aura of moral superiority. It is easily exploited for sentimental value. The Left would love it. But Kerry already voted for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Whoops.

That's about it for options. What he can't be is the "Somewhat pro-war but in a different manner candidate." No one knows what the hell that means. If your message requires further explanation then it isn't a message. The explanation is. But if it's two pages of long conditional sentences then you have failed.

Instead of an executive summary think of a campaign as the concept for a film. It has to 'fit in your hand.' It has to contain all the essential elements but it can't be too detailed. W's concept is an epic film. "After a devastating surprise attack, a determined president rallies the nation to take the fight to the bad guys." What is Kerry's concept? "A war hero forges a broader coalition against shadowy enemies." Not quite the same is it?

"Stronger at Home, Respected in the World" is a flop. Notice it's not Strong but Stronger. The first word of his Plan For American is a comparative. That's his problem in a nutshell.

If W's says "I'm strong and decisive," what does Kerry say? "I have some medals and I speak French."


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