I've chosen the title of this entry to get attention and provoke some responses, but nonetheless it is really what i believe at this point. I wish it weren't so.
Last week, thanks to NPR, i was overexposed to the Republican National Convention. Listening to the parade of attacks against Kerry and dubious claims of Bush's fantastic accomplishments was pretty depressing. The speakers were so firm, so confident, and so on-message that it seemed to me hardly anyone could fail to be convinced by their words.
Then i flipped through the New York Times and came upon a figure that compared parts of the Republican and Democratic platforms. Here it is:
This, too, was profoundly depressing — because it was obvious to me that the Republican one was the better platform. Not because of their positions — i disagree with nearly all of the Republican excerpts — but because it was a platform: a set of clear, unambiguous statements of the Republican positions.
The Democratic platform is full of references to Bush. Ridiculous! On some of the issues, no position is stated other than, "Bush sucks." "Bush sucks" is not a position. None of the excerpts from the Republican platform mentioned Kerry even once. And that is as a platform should be — a party's platform should be about the party, not about its opponent.
The Democratic party has fallen into a pit of Bush hatred. It is easy to understand why Bush generates such animosity and polarizes the electorate so severely: he never compromises, period. He never admits he's wrong, never seeks to listen or understand, never shows anything but pure confidence in his absolute, God-assured correctness. This both wins him extremely strong support among those who agree with him, and infuriates those who oppose him. But it's a trap. Hating Bush makes the Democrats sound shrill, maniacal, angry, and incompetent to run the country with a steady hand.
Just listen to the audio clips of their speeches: Bush speaks calmly with absolute conviction; Kerry is nearly always shouting. I wish he would stop yelling, for heaven's sake. He doesn't know how to do it. When Dean raised his voice, he built up to it and made it a roaring climax that set the crowd on fire. Kerry shouts for long sections of the speech, making him both loud and boring at the same time. It's a basic principle of storytelling: you can't make a big splash unless you start small.
It all comes down to a question of framing. To Kerry, Bush is a devious, greedy liar. To Bush, Kerry is a confused, whining child. And that is exactly why Bush will win.
Exposing Bush's lies will not sway his supporters; they will be eager to find excuses for him. Given a choice between a liar and a child, I'm willing to bet the typical voter would choose the liar. To someone who agrees with Bush, it doesn't matter if he lies as long as he makes it come out right in the end.
This fight is going to be about attitude, not facts. Looking like you know what you're doing matters more than telling the truth. Right now, everyone is sure that Bush knows exactly what he's doing, and Kerry is even promoting that air of competence by praising Bush's skills as a deceiver.
Kerry cannot win unless he wins on competence. He has to change his tone. He has to stop acting so offended. He has to start framing Bush as immature and weak. And above all he must convince the public that he knows what he's doing. Otherwise, it's over for him.