Notes on the Atrocities Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
What do we know about bad news? Repeat after me: it always benefits the Republicans. It doesn't matter who's at fault, bad news means negativity, and negativity is the right wing's bread and butter. Kerry has forgotten this and fallen into the negativity hole. It's hard to blame him, given the bloody horrors of Iraq and dodgy economy. But as I've been saying for over a year now, negativity is a losing proposition, no matter how alluring the siren call.
The problem is that negativity only motivates bases. To the apolitical, it's a poison that keeps them away from voting booths. This inevitably benefits the minority party, who must burn off enough of the electorate before an election so that they have the majority of what remains. (And yes, if you look at policy positions, Bush is definitely in the minority.) It also plays into the strategic platform of the right because it highlights their message: you should be scared and vote from your basest instincts.
Dems need to energize the electorate. People are inclined to participate when they feel they can make positive change, and this means staying positive. Remove that option and they're back to voting from their fear and loathing.
By way of example, Kerry's finding himself behind the eight ball on Iraq because he's essentially endorsing Bush's view of the situation. Yet if that's true, people are naturally going to gravitate to the Prez, whom they know will lower the iron fist in the face of danger. Kerry is an unknown quantity. Better the devil you know than one who might go French and surrender on you. Instead, Kerry needs to quit highlighting how bad things are going now and focus on his "Strategy for Peace," giving people a vision of hope.
Staying on the negativity means staying on Bush's message. By leading with a different message, a positive one, Kerry defines the terms of the debate. No doubt his handlers are worried about losing all the ammo the Bush failures provide. They needn't be. At this point, Kerry can borrow a page from the Bush playbook and stay totally positive while his supporters (the reawakened press and the MoveOn PACs) continue to hammer away on Bush's mistakes.
It was interesting to watch the primaries; Kerry stood in the middle while Dean motivated the base with anger, and Edwards found a crossover population ready to embrace his positive message. Although Kerry ended up with the nomination, Edwards won the argument about approach. Kerry is now at the moment where he must define himself: Deaniac rage or Ewardsian hope? If the polls show us anything, it's that the rage angle hasn't sparked broad support. His platform has already been retooled to answer Edwards' challenge and is larded with hope, so he needn't make any policy changes. Instead it's a matter of rhetoric.