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Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Advice for Kerry 

Now, one of the reasons I've been posting so infrequently lately is that I'm really just sick of the campaign. Mainly, two aspects of it: the immorality of the Bush campaign and the defeatism I'm hearing from so many Democrats. Nevertheless, I just read this piece by Mark Schmit, and it's pretty good:
If I were running the issues department of the Kerry campaign, or any campaign, the sign above my desk would not be James Carville's "It's the Economy Stupid": my sign would say, "It's not what you say about the issues, it's what the issues say about you." That is, as a candidate, you must choose to emphasize issues not because they poll well or are objectively our biggest problems, but because they best show the kind of person you are, and not just how you would deal with that particular issue, but others yet to rear their heads. The best illustration of that is John McCain. The most admired political figure achieved his status in large part by his crusade for campaign finance reform. I've seen all the polls on this for seven or eight years, and "campaign finance reform," as an issue, is of interest to at most 5% of the public. I'd like for it to be otherwise, but it's not. And yet, for McCain, campaign finance reform is the perfect issue. It's tells a story about his independence, and his persistence, and it gives him a populist message without having to embrace more liberal economic policies. Clinton's much-derided "micro-initiatives" of the mid-1990s likewise sent a message about who he was: responsible, not extreme, neither a lover of government for its own sake nor a nihilist like Newt Gingrich. The insignificance of his gestures was a potent message in itself, and saved his presidency.

I don't think the problem with Kerry is that he talks about issues when he should be talking about character. That was Al Gore's problem. I think the problem is that the Kerry brain has split into an issues half, and a character half, and the two sides aren't communicating. The character half controlled the convention, and focused on Vietnam. Fine, but what did that say about how he would deal with Iraq? And the issues half has plans -- entirely good ones, even for Iraq. But those proposals don't reinforce any sense of the kind of person Kerry is, and how he would cope in a crisis.
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