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July 01, 2004
Getting It Wrong

I see an awful lot of coverage lately of the various, "anyone but Bush" groups working toward the November election and I find it a bit disturbing.

(Of course, there's a fair amount of "Bush at all costs" campaigning going on, as well, but the desirability of that is "their" problem.)

It's not that I don't agree we need to get Bush & Gang out of the White House, because naturally I do. And I do understand the idea that we need a simple rallying point. The majority of the population isn't going to think long and hard about all the issues so the Left needs to present a quick and snappy, clear-cut choice to get those votes.

Some might think, "anyone but Bush" is a sufficient message for that kind of voter, but it's not. We're getting it wrong. Running "against" isn't good enough. We have to be for something. I mean…after we elect Kerry on November 2, what happens next?

If we want Kerry to do the things we want him to do, we have to pay attention to what he says he's going to do and give him feedback now. If we want education to be a priority, we have to make that clear now. If we want corporate reform to be of the first importance, we have to say so now. If we want protection for the environment, we have to speak up now.

He can't do what we want him to do if we don't tell him what we want him to do, can he? He's a politician, not a mind-reader.

He probably has a position on each of the major issues that voters care about. It's up to us to help advertise those positions. If enough voters agree with him, he'll get the White House. That's the way it works.

Also? By all accounts, John Kerry is a serious politician/elected official, with intelligent ideas about how to run this country. I say, it's about time the Motivated Left stopped mourning the loss of Dean's explosive campaign style, entertaining as it was, and started listening to Kerry.

We need to help advertise what it is he stands for and what it is he wants to do once he's in office. He's about more than, "anyone but Bush." He's not running on that as a platform, which tells us he has more to say, he has some ideas he wants to share, and we need to be listening. Listening and repeating.

The media isn't interested in Kerry…they're polite about him, but that's all. And that's not because of any lack in Kerry necessarily…we're not all cut out for rabble-rousing speeches, after all. If you actually listen to the man, he speaks very well.

It's because of a lack of enthusiasm from us about Kerry. The media is there to sell newspapers or magazines or to get us to turn on their channel to view the nightly news. They're going to cover anything they think we'll come to them to read or to watch. If we're enthusiastic about Kerry, they'll be enthusiastic. If we talk about what he's saying, they're going to report what he's saying. (And they have the resources and the ambition to dig into the facts and figures and give us some context for what he's saying.)

I was complaining myself the other day about Kerry's lack of 'passion' when he's campaigning and I'm a bit embarrassed to remember that now. How shallow of me.

Yes, I'd like to feel some emotion coming from him. It quickens the pulse and adds excitement to the campaign…but then suddenly I'm remembering that a campaign isn't about excitement.

This isn't Reality TV, folks. It's reality. This is about electing someone with the brains and experience to do the job and someone whose beliefs and goals are close enough to ours to reassure us they want to live in the same kind of 'democracy' we want to live in.

Also? A campaign doesn't exist in a vacuum. A political campaign isn't like an ad campaign for snack crackers. You're not meant to be a passive consumer, you're meant to be a part of the process. (You're either part of the problem, or you're part of the solution. In politics, sitting on the sidelines eating popcorn and complaining that the sound-bites are boring makes you part of the problem.) Instead of watching with an expectation that we're going to be force-fed some entertainment, we need join in. If we want passion, if we want enthusiasm, we're responsible for creating them.

The man is flying and driving all over the country, speaking to every group he can fit into his schedule, working hard to get people to listen to him. If we're not hearing his 'message' and talking about it among ourselves, it's our own fault. A politician isn't a circus clown and he shouldn't be required to juggle chainsaws, breathe fire, and dance a little jig at the same time in order to get our votes.

(If we don't get many serious, honest, intelligent people to run for office, maybe it's because we don't treat candidates for office as serious, honest, intelligent people.)

Those of you who have blogs and brains (the two aren't necessarily synonymous) might think about picking out whatever issue or issues interest you, researching Kerry's stand on it and discussing it with the world via your blog.

You're going to be blogging anyhow. You might as well be making a substantive contribution while you're at it.

(I know, I know. I've barely acknowledged Kerry's campaign in this blog and I'm aware of the fact. I have 'projects' going on, okay? I'm trying to understand what's wrong with the South. I'm re-reading a foot-tall stack of books about democracy, trying to figure out what I actually believe and how to articulate it. I'm doing some casual research on international mass murder and attempted genocide in the past hundred years. Also, I have this more-than-full-time job thing going on, and a reasonably active social life to be managed. My days are just packed.)

I'm going to start paying attention to what Kerry is saying and then I'm going to think about it and talk about it here. I don't anticipate I'll agree with everything he believes or that I'll agree with everything he wants to do, but that's okay. (I tend toward the impractical sometimes, so anyone who agrees with me 100% would not be a good elected official.) The point is that I'm voting for this man in November, and I don't want to be sitting here next July, whining because I didn't know what we was going to do with the White House once we gave it to him.

Now all I need is four more hours in every day, to give me time to fulfill this resolution. At the moment, though, I'm fielding tech calls every two minutes because no one in the tech department has shown up yet except the one guy who isn't trained yet.

Me. Doing tech support. This place is in real trouble now.

Posted by AnneZook at 07:45 AM


Getting information about Kerry from any place other than his official site is almost impossible. There are short references that he is giving a speech at a specific place, but nothing about the content of the speech.

I realize that watching the pResident talk is always good for a laugh, but it would be nice to have something more than a sound bite.

I've seen good coverage of Clinton and Gore recently, but people seem to overlook Kerry unless he has a sporting accident.

Posted by: Bryan at July 1, 2004 06:46 PM

Anne: I love your rants. And you're right, though I think I'm going to focus a bit more on writing letters to print publications, which get more readership than my blog....

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at July 1, 2004 09:44 PM

Bryan - I hear a little about Kerry's speeches on NPR but you're right, he's not getting anything like the coverage the presumptive Democratic candidate should be getting. No wonder he's a 'fuzzy' picture in the public's mind.

Jonathan - A couple of points:

#1 - Thank you, she said, blushing.
#2 - Based on the referrals I get from HNN, I'd say your blog gets decent readership, but the intent is more than just readers we can reach directly. (I'm not racking up readers in the hundreds of thousands or anything, after all.) It's the ripple effect.

One or two people talk about something, a couple more people mention it to friends, and before you know it, everyone knows all about the subject under discussion. (I've learned an astonishing amount about an amazing variety of things from that blogosphere effect.)

But letters are good, too. :) Of course.

Posted by: Anne at July 2, 2004 08:51 AM

Running "against" isn't good enough. We have to be for something.

Okay, here's how I see it. We're trying to capture the pyromaniacs who've set fire to our ship of state. Right now we just need the fire put out, and that might take awhile (four years, even!). After that we can worry about what type of wood to use in repairing it.

Posted by: Elayne Riggs at July 5, 2004 02:57 PM

And that's certainly worth doing, Elayne, but I stand by what I said. In four years, we could be sitting here complaining that Kerry didn't do what we want but we're only justified in taking that stance if we tell him what we want now, before he's in office.

Really, it's nothing more than common sense and common manners. You wouldn't 'hire' the lowliest employee without giving them a clear idea of what results you expected, would you? I certainly think a candidate for the presidency is entitled to at least that much.

I mean, it's all very well to shove the man into the Oval Office and say, "Fix it!" but exactly what do we mean by that?

Do we leave Iraq, regardless of the consequences and what about those permanent military bases we hoped to establish? Waht is our real need for such things in the Middle East and is there more behind that need than guaranteeing our ongoing access to oil?

And what about Afghanistan? We've created a nice mess there, too, you know. Do we give the desperate and begging interim government real support, real muscle to finish the job? And how do we do it? Alone or though the UN?

When do we want USofA military force used in the world? Under what circumstances are we willing to intervene in another country's affairs? (If Darfur breaks into all-out genocide, do we want to step in or are we okay with the UN's usual 2,000 or so troops? If a real military force is needed, is this country up to a third war or are wec content with whatever action the UN does or doesn't take?)

(What about the UN? Just how serious is the USofA about having a real forum for monitoring matters of international interest around the world? The UN, as it stands today, is far from perfect, but are we justified in bypassing it and trying to make NATO the real international power in the world? And if we say, 'yes' are USofA citizens committed to paying attention to what the USofA and its NATO allies are up to in the same way we should take responsibility for what our government does domestically?)

How much of USofA military force is to be used to support USofA corporate moves into other countries? And how much of the CIA's efforts are to be directed toward helping USofA corporations be successful in other countries? (Do you even know how much has been allocated in the past?)

What about oil? How much of our efforts in the next eight years should be put toward developing internal sources of fossil fuels and how much toward alternative fuel sources and if alternative, what about your lifestyle are you willing to give up to support this endeavor?

What about those billions of dollars allocated for "reconstruction" in Iraq that haven't been spent? Should that money still go toward Iraq, should we spend it elsewhere in the world, or should we spend it on domestic programs and if so, which ones?

What about education, unemployement, Medicare, Social Security, and the environment? What do we want from Kerry on those fronts?

I posted before (no time to look for the link now) in a book review that a survey of campaign promises made and kept by presidents since WWII proves that presidents make serious attempts to keep the campaign promises that get them into office.

We have to stop abdicating responsibility for how this country is run, what's done with our armed forces, and where the money is spent, and the right time to make our wants clear is when politicians are campaigning for office.

Posted by: Anne at July 5, 2004 10:26 PM

Anne, if we're serious about giving Kerry marching orders, we're going to have to make sure he has troops: Congress. Most of Bill Clinton's term was spent vetoing really bad Republican initiatives, for which I was always grateful, but which didn't add up to much in the way of leadership or momentum or a legacy.

The high incumbency reelection rate of Congress (98% last time I saw numbers, highest in the industrialized world) makes it difficult to envision rapid change, but there have been quick shifts before, and the Senate, in particular, is a pretty close thing. No, I don't have a strategy, just a problem.

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at July 5, 2004 11:08 PM

Anne - If Kerry would make you an assistant secretary of (energy, state, defense), I'd consider voting for him. I'm still on the fence and that would push me his way!

You're asking good questions, but Dr. Dresner is also right. Bill Clinton had a majority in the house for the first 2 years and barely got anything passed (Family Leave) and the whole health care fiasco didn't help him either.

Although there won't be any real ability to override vetoes either.

However, what also matters are the political appointees, especially at the 2d and 3rd tier (I would swing to Bush if he promised Ashcroft would be gone in Jan 05). I can already see at least on the defense and state side some of those Clinton era folks now hanging out on K street or in think tanks starting to come out of hiding with the possibility he might just win.

I'd also add what his is view of the role of the Fed and monetary policy. Where does he come down in the unemploymnet versus inflation debate?

Posted by: Col Steve at July 6, 2004 12:57 AM

Jonathan - That's very true, and certainly for all of the energy the On-Line Left is putting out in terms of the Presidential vote, few of us are talking about the necessity of electing a Congress Kerry can work with.

Col Steve - It's not nice to mock people. :)

Seriously, it's no good to "vote for a Democrat" in the vague belief that whatever they do will be more or less what I want done.

First, without some kind of consensus, or majority opinion, about which issues are most important, how is any candidate supposed to actually understand what the voters (not "the money" but the actual voters) want from them?

Second, if I don't tell my candidate what I want, how do I measure how much effort they put into delivering it?

Posted by: Anne at July 6, 2004 12:48 PM

Anne- I wasn't mocking, really.

I'm on the fence (although I vote absentee in a state that will go to Kerry anway) - but my wife votes in a swing state and she's undecided as well - she's going to watch both convention speeches and decide (and maybe the debates).

I think you are asking good questions that don't get addressed here inside the beltway, but it is often not the top folks, it's the second/third level managers that can block or push agendas.

Those slots are often handed out as rewards for supporting the right candidate (or as patronage to the folks who have supported the party). While the majority are often decent people, they either bring a personal agenda not in line necessarily with the President's view or have to learn how to negotiate the bureaucracy that they're not very effective for sometime.

I also think a President can generally only get a handful of things done so while long laundry lists of positions may have some value, I'd like to see both candidates publish a Top 5 list that will be the priority for their time and proposed resource allocation for the next 4 years.

Posted by: Col Steve at July 6, 2004 02:56 PM

I don't mind someone having a "personal agenda" since that's something none of us are without. Naturally I object to political agendas that don't agree with my positions :) but in truth, what I expect from middle-tier appointees is that they should implement the policies of the Administration that appointed them.

Yes, that means even when, as now, the Administration is one I'm firmly opposed to. If you can't support your boss, find a different job, okay? (f people of conscience refused to lend their aid to organizations or their support to people they don't believe in....)

I agree, yes, a President can only get a handful of things done in four years, but those can be significant things of vast scope. I support your idea of candidates providing a list of their "Top 5" priorities, together with some actual, sensible suggestions for how to implement their stated goals.

With such lists, everyone could easily have seen, before November, 2000, that Bush's idea of "preserving public lands" involved 'preserving' them for corporate development, for instance. So it's not just the list of priorities that matters. It's how the candidate intends to implement that's the real key.

You can create a lot of nice sound-bites around "preserving our heritage" but if you're forced into details, even large-scale details, the truth will come out.

Posted by: Anne at July 7, 2004 09:42 AM

P.S. I'd make a terrible Secretary of Defense because I'm sort of of the opinion that killing people is pretty much always wrong. If I felt a war was absolutely necessary and unavoidable, I wouldn't be able to send anyone to fight it unless I went too.

I'd make a horrible Secretary of State because I understand that 'diplomacy' is largely about under-the-table deals and bluffing and I tend to be dismissive of time-wasting strategies that prove little more than how clever I am.

And I'd make a lousy Secretary of Energy because I think the oil companies should be smacked in the head and sent to bed without any dinner.

Common sense says that a significant development on their part into alternative energy sources would be good both for the long-term health of the companies and the planet, but they don't seem to see that.

I can't stand selfish stupidity.

Anyhow, it's worth noting that I'm asking questions, but not providing answers. :) People actually appointed to office should have some answers, don't you think?

Posted by: Anne at July 7, 2004 09:49 AM

I don't mind someone having a "personal agenda" since that's something none of us are without. Naturally I object to political agendas that don't agree with my positions :) but in truth, what I expect from middle-tier appointees is that they should implement the policies of the Administration that appointed them.

Anne- that's the problem though. Seen it in both administrations at Defense, State, and the NSC...and with some of the career civil servants, most of whom are good, intelligent people, but know if they don't like a policy from a "turf' perspective, they can often wait out an administration. I know candidates can't in advance list their cabinet picks, but I'd sure like them to talk about how they'd change the culture and processes. Both CP and DR have started this at State and Defense, but it's hard to do.

"I'd make a terrible Secretary of Defense because I'm sort of of the opinion that killing people is pretty much always wrong. If I felt a war was absolutely necessary and unavoidable, I wouldn't be able to send anyone to fight it unless I went too."

That would be a slight problem in your confirmation hearing..

Posted by: Col Steve at July 8, 2004 02:05 PM