A conservatory of Ldotter blogs.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Now comes the hard part. . .

. . .for the Kerry campaign. Despite its obviously giddy facade, there has to be some concern about where to go from here. The bare fact at this moment is that they have just won a foreign policy debate on style points -- not substance. They accomplished this after four years of Democrats maintaining the position that Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Rumsfeld handled foreign policy and simply handed the President the notes after the fact. So, essentially, they're doing cartwheels over the idea that they managed to defeat a "foreign policy dunce" with a four-term sitting senator with a number of years on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.

Now comes the problem of the next debate, which will be on domestic policy. This is where a sitting senator ought to be able to point to some record of accomplishment -- some piece of legislation he worked to pass that has made a difference in the lives of people. But, he can't. And it won't be easy to squeeze his Vietnam experience into a discussion on school funding or healthcare premiums.

And this is where Kerry will really fall short -- the personal touch. When it comes to domestic policy, people want a sense that the person in charge actually likes them, and cares about them. Kerry's style in the foreign policy debate will go over like a lead balloon. What seems like an air of credibility in discussing international relations will come across as animatronic and condescending in the context of domestic issues.

And Kerry has already made the mistake of pitting wartime spending against domestic spending when he stated that the $200 billion used to fight the war in Iraq should have been spent here at home, on domestic issues.

What Kerry doesn't understand is that people who support the war, whether Democrat or Republican, see it as a matter in which you spend whatever you have to to get the job done -- but get it done. On domestic issues, voters aren't outraged at the lack of money being spent on this program, or that. What they're outraged about is the way in which the money is spent. In the eyes of most voters, the government gets plenty of money to deal with social issues, but simply has no clue as to how to go about using it to an effective end. That's the argument Kerry has used against the President in the conduct of the war -- at least it was at one time.

So, now, Kerry has committed himself to two things: (1) spending whatever it takes to win the war in Iraq and establish Democracy, and (2) spending whatever it takes to deal with education, healthcare, and all the social programs that are supposedly being starved of their rightful slice of the fiscal pie. That means defending either going further into the deficit that Democrats seem to only care about in time of war, or raising taxes.

And, he's going to have to pull off all of this while appearing to have an actual soul -- not an easy thing for Kerry to pull off -- and a set of convictions.

Bush, on the other hand, has a natural ability to connect with people. And the next debate will be held in a "townhall" format, which is conducive to the "personal-is-political" advantage that the President holds. Kerry, like Gore, suffers from a personality deficit and will have to pull off an almost lycanthropic transformation to outperform the President in this setting. The problem with that is that Kerry hasn't managed to cultivate Gore's "People Over the Powerful" populist image, and it's too late for him to do so. Plus, it would be utterly counter to the polished, authoritative, analytical figure he struck in the previous debate. To even attempt it would ring as hollow as his medical files.

So, between now and the next debate, Kerry will have to somehow grow a personality without anyone noticing. If he doesn't do something to improve his overall image, he will lose the debate on style points -- not to mention the substantial difficulty of pointing to a record of accomplishment. If he does try to come off as more warm and personable, he runs the risk of doing it poorly and confirming the Bush campaign's assertions that he becomes a different man with every sunrise.

Kerry is firmly boxed in, if the President will use the opportunity to drive in the nails.

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