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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, April 20, 2004

 
Pushn' Polls

Josh and Atrios discuss the new polls showing Kerry falling behind even though Bush has had the worst couple of weeks of his presidency. Quite rightly, Democrats are asking, "what will it take?" Both bloggers ponder the idea that this is because "the president gains as national security and war issues become more salient, even if they are becoming more salient because of what seem to be objectively bad news about his policies."

I think this is essentially correct. People associate war leadership with Bush and when the war is in the news some still feel a rally 'round the president effect. But more importantly, I think it is because John Kerry was becoming a cipher. Without him out there offering a strong rhetorical counter argument, people who don't pay attention to the details get the impression that he's not offering any alternative.

I said a couple of weeks ago:

It's one thing for Kerry to allow Bush to swing in the wind on the pre-9/11 stuff. Let the widows and the whistleblowers take that on. The less partisanship the better. But, Iraq is something else entirely.

Iraq is a crisis and an ongoing problem and it isn't enough for it to be seen blowing up on television. Kerry has got to convince people that Bush is the problem and that he can fix it. Instead, he's acting clueless and disengaged.



A lot of my readers commented that he shouldn't allow himself to get caught up in a specific plan and that his best bet was to lie low. I agree that he needn't offer a specific plan, but I disagreed that he should lie low. I believe that he needs to offer some hot, critical rhetoric about Bush's mistakes and that he should simply say, over and over again, that Bush can't solve the problem because Bush is the problem. I suggested he say (among other things):

"...this crisis untimately requires a political solution and George W. Bush has run out of political options. A new president and a fresh start are what's required to fix this problem. Only then can we rebuild the trust of our allies and go back to the drawing board with all the parties and set a proper course for a free and democratic Iraq."



Not that I have any illusions that his people are reading this blog, but I was nonetheless I gratified to hear him on Russert and quoted in USA Today saying:

More U.S. troops and a new president could be needed to win international support for U.S. efforts in postwar Iraq, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said Sunday.The Massachusetts senator said President Bush has created a "quandary" for the nation by failing to develop a broad coalition to fight the war, to secure Iraq and to let countries that didn't fight participate in rebuilding.

"It may well be that we need a new president, a breath of fresh air, to re-establish our credibility with the rest of the world" and bring other countries into Iraq, Kerry said on NBC's Meet the Press.


If Kerry doesn't make it clear that Bush is the problem, there are enough people out there who are likely to do a rally round the flag bit to swing the election. Saying "I've got a plan" every five seconds isn't going to get the job done. It's about framing the election in terms of Junior's mistakes, which considering the news of the last few weeks shouldn't be all that difficult. And it has to be done with the kind of rhetoric that makes the media focus on Kerry.

Up to now, Kerry's people have been convinced that it wasn't his responsibility:

A Kerry spokesman told Salon on Thursday that it's incumbent on Bush -- not Kerry -- to address the crisis in Iraq. "What has the president said about this?" the Kerry spokesman asked. "He needs to explain what his policy is, what his plan is to address what's going on right now. But he's been down on his ranch in Crawford. The spotlight isn't on John Kerry. The spotlight needs to be on Bush. He's the president, and he's the person who has carved out these policies."



That was the problem. The spotlight is on Bush and unless Kerry sticks his neck out a little bit, Americans don't even know he exists on the issue. People don't have to know what he's going to do in detail --- in fact they don't want to listen to it. But, they must be convinced that Bush has screwed up the War on Terror and that he is now the greatest impediment to fixing it before they will be persuaded to abandon the president in "wartime." It's Kerry's job to make that case and then to persuade them that his experience, his philosophy and his leadership qualities make him the better man to get that job done. The Kerry campaign made a mistake in assuming that the press could do that for them. It appears they are changing course now. We'll see if the polls improve.

Update:

Mistah Kurtz's column explains some of the problem:

When President Bush delivered a routine stump speech to a group of New Mexico homeowners on March 26, CNN and Fox News each carried his appearance for 35 minutes, and MSNBC for 33 minutes.

When John Kerry gave what was billed as a major address on national security at George Washington University on March 17, he was knocked off the screen by a large explosion in Baghdad. CNN and Fox each dropped Kerry (who had been reduced to small box) after three minutes, and MSNBC never picked him up. But as the Iraq coverage continued, all three networks carried Vice President Cheney in California attacking Kerry as weak on national security -- Fox for 28 minutes, MSNBC for 23 and CNN for 13.

In the daily battle for airtime, Bush has drawn more than three times as much live cable coverage as his Democratic challenger, yet another example of the advantages of incumbency.

A review by The Washington Post, using a video monitoring service, finds that the cable news networks have covered more Bush events and stayed with them longer. From March 3, the day after the senator clinched the nomination, through Friday, they have devoted 12 hours and 11 minutes to live appearances by Bush -- including Tuesday's prime-time news conference, which was also carried by NBC, CBS and ABC. Kerry's live cable coverage during this period: 3 hours 47 minutes.

Bush campaign spokesman Terry Holt calls the coverage "a testament to who's making news. . . . We think being on the cable news programs is very important because people who follow politics and cover politics keep a close eye on their TVs during the day."

[...]


MSNBC Vice President Mark Effron says that "we take more of President Bush when he's acting in his legitimate role as president of the United States." Yet even "if he's in a plant talking about the economy, for our world, that's news." Kerry, says Effron, "hasn't exactly been out there grandstanding and making a lot of news." But most of these appearances generate newspaper stories.


Politics is TV with the sound turned off. For many Americans, if you aren't on TV, you don't exist.








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