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Shrum and Shrummer

Jul
29
2004

Posted by Bill Whalen
As the token Republican in these parts, it won’t shock you to read that I was less than impressed by Kerry’s performance.
By my count, he blew through his address in 47 minutes. Aides had predicted 55 minutes. Maybe he was panicked about blowing the top-of-the-hour cutoff. I think it was that – and he was nervous. He rushed his delivery, didn’t bathe in the applause. Rhetoric’s not his strong suit. But he’s lucky in that he has a reputation as a good debater, and that’s where this contest will be decided.
And the humor? Al Franken, Chevy Chase, Harry Shearer, and Lord knows how many other SNL alums were on the premises all week. Where were the jokes? (“I left my NASA sperm suit at home . . .”)


As for the content, it was what we’ve come to expect of Kerry the past several months and the party this last week. He talked tough about the military, promising more troops to be recruited and hunting down anyone who attacks us. He promised middle-class tax relief by sticking it to the wealthy (some of the readers of this site will be surprised to know that Kerry’s idea of super-wealthy is $200,000 a year).
Where I did think he scored points: stem-cell research. Maybe I’ve become too NorCal in my ten years here in Ahnuld’s Cal-ee-fornia, but my guts tells me that this is a problem for the GOP. Kerry summed it up well: trust science. Unlike Ron Reagan, he didn’t oversell the promise.
And, to his credit, he didn’t come across as wanting to be wet-nursed by Kofi Annan. This is a big gamble on the Democrats’ part. Kerry and Edwards can talk like hawks and promise they won’t cave in internationalists, but at the end of the day they’re at the mercy of their product’s brand. And a lousy brand it is. It will take a voters’ leap of faith to believe that Kerry will be as much of a first-strike/retaliatory-strike hard-ass as Bush. It’s like trying to unload a Yugo, even though it might have a BMW engine: a hard sell, based on stereotypes.
Having written speeches in previous political lives, I’m always curious about who all’s fingerprints are on the final draft. Specifically, I want to know how much of this was the work of Bob Shrum, Kerry’s chief strategist and a legend in political wordsmithing circles.
That’s the same Bob Shrum who was a lead engineer on the Al Checci trainwreck here in California in 1998. The same Bob Shrum who told Al Gore to go to the left in 2000. The same Bob Shrum who told Chris Lehane to go easy on George Bush’s qualifications that same year. Mr. Shrum writes pretty words. But, at times, his advice can be pretty bad.
I caught one tell-tale sign that Kerry’s speech was Shrum-ified. It was the string of anecdotes of folks Kerry met in Iowa and Pennsylvania. Just average folks – struggling to get by and getting screwed by the man. Lots and lots of stories about real people, real names, real stories. Gore did this ad nauseum during the last election – and it cost him. Remember when “Saturday Night Live” spoofed him (“She tells me that she spends $40 million a month on prescription drugs, and some months she can’t even afford it”)? Kerry needs to be careful not to go down the same path.
In this regard, this year’s Democratic National Convention wasn’t so much Ted Kennedy’s last hurrah as it may one day be remembered as the last hurrah for Kennedy-style politics should Kerry lose on Nov. 2. Shrum is the power behind the throne of the Kerry campaign. He’s outlasted a slew of Kerry aides – the senator’s first campaign manager, a media consultant and a speechwriter – who didn’t see things Shrum’s way. Shrum was most likely pivotal in putting John Edwards on the ticket (Edwards being a Shrum client in his 1998 Senate race). If Kerry loses this fall, maybe the dream doesn’t die. But the dream of Ted Kennedy pulling strings in the executive branch, from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, does take a fatal hit.
It’s the Republican’s Hobson’s Choice: Defeat John Kerry and Ted Kennedy doesn’t get to run HHS. But defeat John Kerry and here comes Hillary ’08.
- – -
Most people read aloud at a rate of 100 words a minute. That means Kerry’s speech was close to 5,000 words. Yet I didn’t hear seven simple words that would have changed this elections equation by cutting into the Nader vote: “the war in Iraq was a mistake.” Or seven words that would play well in culturally conservatively Ohio: “Michael Moore is a big fat fraud.” Kerry didn’t go to either the left or the right. Can he stay on the highwire for another 13 weeks?
It’s not as if Kerry hasn’t been pressured before to deviate from the cautious middle. Lesley Stahl tried to get him to go anti-war on “60 Minutes interview”. All the nominee would admit is he differs with the manner in which President Bush took the nation to war. In other words, he’s hung up on process when voters are looking for something a little more heartfelt.
The last JFK was the last presidential candidate to go straight from Congress to the Oval Office. Since then, Congress (the Senate in particular) has been a graveyard for president ambitions. Why? Because legislators aren’t executives. They talk about process, not action. Such was Bob Dole’s problem in 1996. Ask him about health care and he’d go into legi-speak about committee hearings and mark-up bills. Voters hate process; they want vision.
On Iraq, Kerry suffers from the same malady. Iraq merits a yes-or-no answer. Republicans sense this and began hitting on it earlier today in a memo distributed to convention media; watch for the GOP convention to continue the theme of Kerry as a waffler on Iraq, hoping to force him to take sides as a pro-war or anti-war candidate.
Tonight in Boston, John F. Kerry hoped to emerge from his convention as this century’s battle-tested JFK, with Republicans trying to goad him into becoming a more dovish RFK. The visuals did a good job of conveying the toughness theme; polls over the next few days will tell us if voters are buying it.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 9:18 PM | Permalink

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