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A Loss, Not a Theft

Dec
31
2004

Political bloggers the nation over have gotten themselves in a lather about a recent Washington Post story detailing how Democrats lost the election.
Slate’s Mickey Kaus was particularly frothy (and he calls Andrew Sullivan “excitable”?) writing about how the Post story indicated that 527 – that’s slang for the independent organizations that collect and spend money on behalf of candidates – might really work as intended. The guys over at RedState were particularly gleeful since they like anything that boosts their raison d’etre: Democrats are misguided dummies.


In the end, the Post story doesn’t say much that hasn’t been suspected or said. It does, however, put it all in one place and it gets Republican strategists to talk about how they ran the campaign. That’s an eye-opener if you’re a someone who thinks this election was somehow stolen. And for a real, 360-degree look at the campaign, read Mark Danner’s “How Bush Really Won,” in The New York Review of Books.
In their separate ways, the stories show how that Republican National Committee had a good, sound strategy and they spent money and time making sure it worked, worked well and was executed beautifully. Republican’s understanding of how on-line communications work and how polling can be used to get insights into voter preferences is top-notch. Why did it work so well? Because it’s wasn’t sentimental.
Democrats on the other hand, didn’t have a strategy which they blame on the primaries (gee, what’s the Democratic National Committee supposed to do? Maybe take the long view, handicap the winners, keep the squabbling down to a dull roar off the stump and think about the November election?). Party leaders tell the Post they were hamstrung because they couldn’t co-ordinate their message – which they blame on laws that bar the DNC from working with 527′s — and by its need to rely on those same, independent organizations to carry its message. That’s nonsense. There was plenty of talk within the party about the roles the 527s would play early on in the campaign and there was plenty of talk between the organizations – mostly through freelance consultants — once things got rolling. Everyone had their general roles and obligations worked out. The problem was that as it got closer to Election Day, Democratic 527s and PACs began freelancing, doing what they thought was best which was, for the most part, running ads bashing Bush because that’s’ what made their members – their donors – happy. Anti-Bush sentiment triumphed over cold political calculation.
But here’s the jaw dropper:
Harold Ickes, who ran the Media Fund, a 527 organization that raised about $59 million in support of Kerry, said the federal election law prohibiting communication with the Kerry campaign created insurmountable obstacles in crafting effective, accurate responses to anti-Kerry ads. Ickes said he regretted not responding to the Swift Boat Veterans’ attacks, but at the time he thought they seemed “a matter so personal to Senator Kerry, so much within his knowledge. Who knew what the facts were?”
Who knew what the facts were? And this guy thinks he should run the DNC? Good Lord. With this quote, I think it’s safe to say that Ickes has kissed that opportunity goodbye. Who knew what the facts were?
Here’s why it’s stupid. First of all, Democrats – as Republican guest writer Bill Whalen pointedly and accurately observed when he wrote about the Democratic Convention on this site – wrapped themselves in Vietnam for their four-day infomercial about their nominee, Kerry. So you’d think that that someone – anyone who called themselves a Democratic strategist — might have done the smart thing. And that’s research Kerry’s war record looking for dirt, looking for possible openings, looking for the disgruntled, the unhappy, the jealous or the dissatisfied. The Swift Boat veterans weren’t, as we now know, too hard to find. Hell, they were in Doug Brinkley’s hagiography of Kerry’s Vietnam service– the one that appeared on the cover of The Atlantic Monthly which is published in Boston, Mass., Kerry’s hometown. And the vets were pissed about the coverage they got from Brinkley.
That’s not all, of course. That’s why Mark Danner’s story in The NYRBooks is so important. Danner does a good job of demonstrating just why and how Bush won. This is an important read for all you Democrats out there who say BigMedia should be harder on Bush or that it’s the stupid or genetically deficient who are supporting the president or that folks who comment favorably on Bush’s ability as a campaigner are sucking up to authority. The NYRB is old-school Liberal Commie Central, the home of Bush’s harshest critics. So, probably out of a sense of elitist curiosity, it sent Danner to Florida (and not just Miami) where he went to a couple of Bush rallies. He found smart, caring people supporting Bush’s candidacy. People he clearly liked and respected.
And he went to a few Kerry rallies, too. Here’s what he found among Kerry supporters.
What I didn’t find was any sense of strong support for John Kerry as a politician or a leader, or even a feeling of familiarity with him. The personality of Bush seemed vivid among voters, whether they admired him or hated him; the personality of Kerry was faint, indistinct, and where I found its mark most strongly was among those Bush voters who saw the Massachusetts senator, or the depiction of him that the Bush campaign had succeeded in creating, as a threat to their security. To counteract this Kerry would have had to become a known quality, trusted, familiar; but even after the hundreds of millions spent on advertising and his strong performance in the debates, for most voters he seemed a distant figure. He never entered that great stock company of celebrities—the “Oprah touring company”—that ordinary Americans welcome into their living rooms and believe they have somehow come to know. Love him or hate him, the President had long since taken his place as a recognizable, powerful personality in that company; John Kerry never did.
One more time, with feeling: Republicans didn’t steal the 2004 election. The Democrats lost it.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 11:50 AM | Permalink

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