Sobering up

Paul Waldman has a good post here about how the Democratic message was never really competitive with the Republicans':
I said it over and over during the campaign, but it bears repeating one more time: every man, woman and child in America could tell you the one thing Bush wanted you to know about him and about Kerry: he's strong, Kerry is weak. If there's a single American who could tell you the one thing Kerry wanted you to know about him and about Bush, I haven't encountered him or her. I certainly have no idea what it was.
I think Democrats did some valuable thinking during this campaign. They learned how to argue with each other in a way that appreciated common goals, and understood the need for unifying themes and compromise. But let's not confuse that with winning. The next step for Democrats is figuring out how to create and hash that message in the off-season, so that it is shiny and ready for a smooth deployment when the campaigns roll around.

This will, of course, be far more difficult for us than it is for Republicans, who don't really care about consensus or the substance of what they're saying. Democrats will never get to that point, it's just not in our nature. But we can get much more savvy about the process.

Democrats need to understand that simplicity of message is not a cop out. It is both the only viable option in today's media architecture, and more importantly, the only path to making huge numbers of voters feel the sort of familiarity with your candidate that actually changes minds and ways of thinking, instead of just provoking and adding layers of complexity.

Imagine, for instance, if the Kerry campaign had decided that, for the entire life of the campaign, they would hammer the message that George Bush is incompetent at making choices. Ads would highlight the absurdity of trying to create jobs with tax cuts, and giveaways to corporate cronies. Kerry would have had a few choice anecdotes about misjudgements in Iraq to trot out ad nauseum, and surrogates could flood the talk show with scandalous examples of Bush administration fuck-ups, including a bunch of petty ones that sting but don't really matter. Is it kind of crude? Sure. But it is also easy to extrapolate more nuanced ideas from that frame, and Kerry could have done that when talking to other Democrats and people who need more meat on their candidate. Ultimately, the trick is making George Bush synonymous with dumbass. It's dismissive and obnoxious, but it has a grain of truth for people leaning towards Bush, and it's broad enough to capture a wide range of arguments.

Just an after the fact example, but Democrats need to get comfortable and skilled at creating these sorts of media strategies.


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