Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Art & science of politics - 1 -- The Big Dog can still bring it

Conversation Snips -- from Tacitus blog

Review of Clinton speech at DNC by Nadezhda -- July 26, 2004

Since I've been writing movie reviews this week, I'm in the performance analysis mode. It was awfully nice to be reminded what a truly gifted politician can do. Optimistic, self-deprecatingly funny, everything about the future in the affirmative, cutting criticism of the opponent mostly delivered with a smile and a wink, calls to our better selves, and the cadence of a black preacher, with its repetitions and rising pitch and volume, that engages the crowd and makes the appeal feel uplifting. Audience comes away with a smile, energized, and feeling good about themselves and the world in general.

He wove the Convention's "unifying themes" of strength at home, respected abroad, through the entire speech, but avoided sounding like a mantra. He made it concrete and personal to Kerry rather than abstract. Not an easy thing to do. Also not easy to do, take complex ideas and express them in a very accessible fashion but still keep at least a suggestion of the important complexities.

Some of the themes and vocabulary that people will remember and also stand a chance of changing the way some of the debates are framed by the media (and also in Dem ads and talking points) in favor of the Democrats:

Converting the "tax cuts for the rich" criticism from a "class warfare" outrage into sending a thank you note to the Republicans for taking care of him once he left office! And the cost of greater border inspection just $5000 from each of the rich folks' tax cuts. Quite brilliant.

Not a fight between good and bad people, but between strongly held beliefs about how to achieve shared goals -- and if you like their ideas, well send them back to Washington. Not original, but well executed.

Americas want to be united, not divided. They need America divided, we want America united. (Take that, Karl Rove and "energize your base" strategy. Also, refreshing to hear in the year of red and blue states.)

Reserving his only pointed criticism of Bush personally when he got edgy about Bush not taking advantage of 9/11 to unify at home and abroad. That wasn't a partisan shot by Clinton -- he really believes Bush tragically missed the boat. So it was delivered more in sorrow than anger and came across well because sincere. (Always Reagan's strong point as well -- reserved the drama for the stuff he totally believed.)

Praise of Kerry very effective damning of Bush (especially insatiable curiosity and listening to those who disagree -- strength and wisdom aren't incompatible).

The most important word throughout was "choice" used in different ways. And it was "choice" in a nuanced sense, not a choice between black or white. The two most important usages were vis a vis foreign policy -- that it's not just a stark difference between "my way or the highway" or "weak on terrorism;" and the voter's choice, again asking for thoughtful consideration, not chosing good vs evil.

Definitely triangulating like mad, and quite effectively I thought.

Clinton should have defused a lot of fretting about his role this year. In any event, after tonight's speech it would be hard to keep him on the sidelines, but he's carved out a role for himself (at least initially) as cheerleader of the troops, not leader of the party.

Reminded the crowd he was president for 8 years, yet still just Bill, most enthusiastic Democratic volunteer and policy wonk, not "elder statesman."

Turned himself into the biggest cheerleader of all for Kerry -- "Send me!"

Lowered expectations of Kerry as a stage performer compared to Clinton and made that a virtue -- emphasis on seriousness, thoughtfulness, wisdom.

The big problem for the Democrats remains -- Kerry in fact is not a great performer, and it will be hard for him to follow Clinton (though mercifully there will be 2 nights in between) and Edwards may also be a hard act to follow. But Edwards will be there to get the cheers going when Kerry enters the auditorium, so a high energy performance can help Kerry if they play it right. For Kerry's sake, just hope somebody like Edwards edits the acceptance speech.

I'll be following with interest whether other speakers or talkingpoints pick up on some of Clinton's themes. The important folks don't waste their time listening to speeches, but none of them missed the Big Dog, and even the most egomaniacal political consultant still knows Clinton's the one with the best ear for what sells and how to package it.


Reply by alk -- July 26, 2004

Converting the "tax cuts for the rich" criticism from a "class warfare" outrage into sending a thank you note to the Republicans for taking care of him once he left office!

Not a fight between good and bad people, but between strongly held beliefs about how to achieve shared goals -- and if you like their ideas, well send them back to Washington. Not original, but well executed.

It might not be original, but it is very rare to find problems framed in terms of alternative solutions that do not derive their validity or worth from the identity politics of race and ethnicity and/or class distinctions. The sooner the `geniuses' who run the campaigns understand that the American electorate can no longer be approached with the transparent and often insulting psychological wrapping that now passes for political strategy, the sooner we will begin to attract and elect representatives who understand that their purpose is to solve problems, with or without the `stuff it, f^ck it' side show that remains as an unfortunate remnant of a once fine journalistic profession.

Americas want to be united, not divided. They need America divided, we want America united. (Take that, Karl Rove and "energize your base" strategy. Also, refreshing to hear in the year of red and blue states.)

Reserving his only pointed criticism of Bush personally when he got edgy about Bush not taking advantage of 9/11 to unify at home and abroad. That wasn't a partisan shot by Clinton -- he really believes Bush tragically missed the boat. So it was delivered more in sorrow than anger and came across well because sincere.

I happen to agree that Clinton's criticisms are sincere simply because he is too smart to suborn his thinking to a purely partisan venue. Another `Clintonism' is the suggestion that Bush failed to move to the moderate center during the 2002 elections and thereby hurt his chances of expanding support for 2004. The subject is discussed on RedState and it is surprising to me that so many on the Right either refuse or seem constitutionally incapable of absorbing his message that some very large percentage of the American electorate is solidly entrenched in the middle. WRT the suggestion that the Bush administration failed to leverage the post 9/11 good will, it seems to me from my distance that the good will had neither depth nor breadth. I also question along those same lines the false security provided by unity as suggested by traditional rules of gamesmanship. It becomes a caveat to me that the leadership of this country not overweight its international portfolio with unity as the expense of self-reliance.

Praise of Kerry very effective damning of Bush (especially insatiable curiosity and listening to those who disagree -- strength and wisdom aren't incompatible).

Certainly they are not, but the question for me is the depth of the wisdom brought by Kerry and his team. I understand that there is ultimately one candidate who will bring one team of advisors, but my skepticism derives from the Democratic Party itself as an unreliable guardian of the country's security. Again at RedState, comes the observation that the majority of the electoral representatives at the Democratic convention are anti-war, unlike the American population, which compels Kerry and Edwards to maintain a very delicate and, yes, nuanced, position regarding Iraq and the larger WoT. It is not only appropriate but critical to question the extent to which this world view will influence foreign policy under a Kerry administration.

The most important word throughout was "choice" used in different ways. And it was "choice" in a nuanced sense, not a choice between black or white. The two most important usages were vis a vis foreign policy -- that it's not just a stark difference between "my way or the highway" or "weak on terrorism;" and the voter's choice, again asking for thoughtful consideration, not chosing good vs evil. Definitely triangulating like mad, and quite effectively I thought.

Been here so many times before. For some the causus belli was obtained; for others it was not. I am not ashamed to support a candidate who will strike a black and white stand against physical aggression, particularly the kind that emerges, with careful and coordinated planning, after 12 years of diplomatic gamesmanship. I will not support a candidate who extrapolates the harsh dichotomies of good and evil into an overall strategy, not do I believe this is what the Bush administration has done. (I remind those who might need reminding that the magnitude of the threat was not initially acknowledged by the anti-war coalition, yet the position at present seems to be one of, yes, a real threat exists, but how to disable the threat with minimal sacrifice.) The achievement of a democratic Iraq will exert long-term consequences in the ME that will extend far beyond the black and white criticism that now hovers over the Iraq debate.

And I agree completely with Clinton's 'ear' and what sells.


One Quibble -- Reply to alk> by Kimmit-- July 27, 2004

The sooner the `geniuses' who run the campaigns understand that the American electorate can no longer be approached with the transparent and often insulting psychological wrapping that now passes for political strategy,

The geniuses who run campaigns saw Dean crash and burn while Kerry rose; the transparent and often insulting psychological wrapping is extremely effective in this media-driven age.


Only if you believe Dean had a chance -- Reply by alk> -- July 27, 2004

My opinion, of course, but I don't see either party ever electing another 'ousider' who cannot work with the Washington establishment. Clinton survived for two terms on sheer smarts and raw will. I do see it happening in federal and state house and senate seats and I have cautious hope that the next generation will be better, but I am too old to bet much on that horse. The world will soon belong to you. Good luck.


Dean -- Comment by M Aurelius -- July 28, 2004

Dean, or rather his campaign, proved beyond a doubt just how weak the CW campaign geniuses are. Dean's was the case of a home burgler breaking into Fort Knox after finding some basic flaw. Then, surprised by his own success, is unable to take any gold because he never actually planned for the case he might be in reach of it.

This lesson will surely be exploited by better and more preapred candidates in the future. Only strategic fools can dismiss the lessons of Dean phenomenon (which is different from dismissing Dean himself). Probably, the Internet will turn into the basic tool of early "base building", or "core gathering", and as campaigns consolidate they will partly transition to more traditional methods. The bugs of this transition phase have to be worked out, but that's the model.

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