Now, maybe that’s just post-convention bounce. The campaign is really just getting started. Kerry had that rough window between the conventions when he couldn’t match Bush’s ad spending. And so on.
But maybe it’s real. Maybe this is the middle portion of the electorate, having watched both candidates at their conventions, deciding that, when you get right down to it, they like Bush better.
Publius of the Legal Fiction weblog offers his take: Quick thoughts on the convention.
While I think that Democrats are (as usual) hitting the panic button a little too quickly, there’s no denying that Bush is in a very strong position to win in the fall. You know, I could go through and analyze the speech and talk about the lack of specifics, the cheap sentimentality, and all that. But none of it really matters. It all comes down to a pretty simple truth – Bush is more likeable than Kerry, in terms of perceived personalities. Yes, one’s personality has exactly zero relevance to policy and the challenges we face, but it’s what many people base their vote on in the TV age.
Bush’s speech was thus effective in that sense. The vagueness and amnesia are irrelevant. Bush gave a speech that made people like him, and projected a personality that people associate with “strong leader” – even though the projection, again, has almost zero relation to the real world. He spoke of his family, his children, and praised the military. He peppered his speech with folksy sayings and warm smiles. He played to people’s emotions. From a strictly politial perspective, it was good stuff. And by good, I mean that it appealed to people’s juvenile, irrational bases for voting for one candidate over another.
Let’s face it – Kerry simply is not a great candidate for the TV age. He would be one million times better as a president in terms of domestic and foreign policy, but he’s not considered “warm.” Yes, that’s absurd and insane, but unfortunately, it’s reality. And I simply have no idea how Kerry’s advisors can get around it. People like Bush. People liked Reagan and Clinton – and they won. People didn’t like Daddy Bush and Gore – and they lost. I suppose I’m simplifying things, but I don’t think modern politics is much more than getting people to like you personally. That’s what the culture wars and the Swift Boat Vets ads were all about – making you dislike someone – or some party – on a personal level.
For some time now I’ve been fairly confident that the electorate, faced with Bush’s record of serial failure in every area, but especially in Iraq, would decide to switch horses. But for the last day or so that faith has been shaken.
It really is quite early in the contest to be losing hope. But two months from now I’ll be living in an America that has delivered its judgement. What story will I be telling myself about that judgement? Will it be:
- You can fool some of the people some of the time, but even in the age of televsion, there’s a point beyond which you can’t successfully bullshit your way to victory. The American electorate, given time and facts, has the common sense to know when it’s being lied to.
Or will it be:
- The Democrats screwed up when they torpedoed the “too hot for TV” Howard Dean in favor of the “safe, electable” John Kerry. Connecting with voters on a personal level is what matters in the age of TV. Dean was able to do that, because his commonsense delivery of the facts about Bush came across as being heartfelt and true. On TV, Kerry feels like a cautious, calculating politician. And it turns out that that’s just not good enough.
If that latter lesson is the one I end up learning, I’m not sure where it will take me. I really don’t want to think about Four More Years. I don’t want to think what it means about the future of my country that someone so destructive of democratic principles could game the country into electing him — even after he’d amply demonstrated his incompetence. I don’t want to think about how much worse things could actually get, or what shreds of compensation there might be in a second Bush term (better material for the Daily Show! Yeah!).
I don’t want to think those things. But that’s what I’m thinking.