Friday, November 05, 2004

On Message

Some years back, in the alternate universe I knew as a high school sports official, there was a football game with special significance in the District race and Playoff possibilities. As the Back Judge on my crew, one of my duties was to let the head coaches know when it was time to come out for the coin toss. The Linebacker chosen to represent his team as Captain for the coin toss was charged up for the game, enough so that as the team came down the ramp to the field, the head coach was warning him (apparently not for the first time) to not let his emotions get out of hand, to remember how important it was to stay in control.

The two teams walked out onto the field, and the officials led the Captains to the 50-yard line for the toss. As the two Captains shook hands, the linebacker I had seen being cautioned by his coach grasped his opponent's hand firmly, looked him straight in the eye, and in a voice loud enough to be heard at the sidelines, informed him "gonna f--- you up" .

fwip! went the Crew Chief's flag, and out of the corner of my eye I saw the coach drop his jaw and his clipboard. His team got a 15-yard Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty before even the first kickoff, and they simply never recovered from that.

I mention this, not only because it was one of those interesting things I got to experience as a ref, but also because I sense the same sort of blunder by the Democrats. To be it bluntly, they had a really good chance to win the White House, but started off with the wrong message.

The Democrats had an impressive set of advantages and clever tactics for this campaign: The press was distinctly on the side of the Left, to such degree that Dan Rather kept trying to use forged documents to smear the President, even weeks after admitting they were as phony as his claim to objectivity. Michael Moore had managed to sell a slanderous pack of lies to the world as a "documentary", in defiance of all decency and most Federal Election law. George Soros, not even an American citizen, had personally poured anywhere from 30 to 40 million dollars into a boorish attempt to buy the election. Hollywood, never representative of America, did its best to lie about the President's work and personal character to sway the gullible. Several Democrat-supporting groups compared Bush to Hitler and the GOP to Nazis, even as they physically assaulted GOP volunteers, slashing tires of vans to prevent Republicans from voting, and in three documented cases, fired guns into or at Bush campaign offices (Nazis are as Nazis do, you thugs), as well as numerous vandal attacks and break-ins of GOP offices (If it was wrong for Nixon's thugs to do it, why is it OK for Democrats to do it?). And the Democrats had managed to evade any serious discussion of Kerry's qualifications, working hard to make the election solely an attack on the President. Kerry's questionable claim to his medals was ignored, and when decorated veterans brought up the question, Kerry's attack dogs shouted them down and claimed that while it was critical for the President to answer rumors and unsupported allegations about his service in the National Guard, it was unacceptable for hundreds of war veterans to challenge Kerry's fairy-tale accounts. Kerry's treason, by meeting with Viet Cong leaders in Paris while the United States was still at war in Vietnam and Kerry remained a Naval Reserve Officer, was hushed up. Kerry's membership in a group which advocated assassination of U.S. Congressmen was side-stepped. Kerry second-guessed every decision Bush made about the Iraq War, including the ones Kerry supported when Bush made those decisions. And Kerry continued to press the lie about the "bad" economy, long after its recovery was obvious to everyone not a Liberal lawyer with a huge political ego to feed.

With all these advantages, assisted by Bush's clumsy public speaking and difficulty explaining complex decisions in a 90-second or 2-minute span, Kerry edged to a lead, especially in the Midwest, where it became obvious the election would be decided. Yet Kerry lost. How did this happen?

There are 4 major parts to the election chemistry; Money, Image, the Official Message and the Unofficial Message. Somehow Kerry forgot that the message is delivered on more than one level. Bush was careful to decry the 527's, knowing many Americans disliked the ads. He remained aware, of course, that he could not rein in the Swift Boat Vets, as they were a private group with1st Amendment rights, just as was. But Bush, who probably didn't like the negative attacks on Kerry (though he did attack his record, which is not a negative tactic at all, by the way), was careful to make sure the American voter knew that the unofficial message attacking Kerry was not coming from him. Kerry, on the other hand, used profanity in describing the President early on, he specifically called Bush's supporters the "biggest bunch of crooks" - Kerry essentially echoed a lot of the cheap shots, and he never bothered to step away from the hate. That tied Kerry to personal attacks and no-class sniping, and it hurt him when it counted.

Bill Cinton defeated a popular President Bush in 1992, using the Economy issue effectively, but never suggesting publicly that he had anything but great respect for the President. That took the edge off some GOP attacks on Clinton, because clinton looked better than the image they were projecting. In Kerry's case, instead of proving his detractors wrong, over and over again he proved them right. He tripped over a Secret Service man, then blamed the other guy. He went to a Wendy's while his real gourmet meal was being prepared on a bus, and blew that photo op by insulting a group of Marines there because they supported the President. He tried to sell exclusive resorts and expensive sports as evidence he was a regular-guy, and he reminded every living person on the planet about his Vietnam experience, long after it had lost any virtue in supporting his claim to a responsible character.

To be sure, there are honorable aspects to John Kerry. He did serve in Vietnam, and he did see combat, whatever else is said about him. He is very supportive of his wife Tereza, and clearly loves his daughters very much. His long tenure as a Senator shows that the people of Massachusetts have repeatedly found him worthy of their trust. But the message John Kerry sent to America, more than anything else, was that he was not qualified to be President. Like that football Captain at the start of this article, John Kerry was chosen to lead his team, but before the contest even began, he set a tone for sure defeat.

Four years from now, there will be another run for the White House. I hope when that time comes again, the Democrats will think longer and harder about the they want to send to America. Defeatism and cheap shots at the Right (supported by 59 million voters this last time) is just going to hurt them before they even get started.

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