Storyline: Election 2004
I have Larry King's shit down
But you don’t come here for regurgitated platitudes like “Larry King is an idiot.” To the contrary, if you look up Trouble Sells in the dictionary, you see a picture of iconoclasm. If we’ve got one thing, it’s class, class, class, and style.
I’m a little concerned that no one is trying to figure out who I am really, if anyone, so I’m just going to give up. I’m really Joe Klein, just like last time. Mickey Martinez of Costa Mesa, you win the office pool. Everybody else, I fooled you again!
Since the only (note to posterity: this was before my meteoric rise to the top of the charts, or in fact before the charts for this type of thing had been developed) link to my page has been based on my better-late-than-never analysis of the election of 1992, I’d like to return to the sphere of what John Kenneth Galbraith referred to as “choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.” Since that’s my crossroads just about every night at closing time, I know the truth of what he says.
Everyone and his grandmother wants to chime in on the 2004 contest, even though the variety of opinions means most of them have to be wrong. It goes against my nature to lower myself to the Larry King level of “current events,” which I leave to those who lack a sense of the grand sweep of the ages. However, I have discovered a few sniping comments I can make on these events and personalities which are not in danger of being repeated in the mainstream, at least not by anyone other than the people I ripped them off from. I am going to phrase them as short, incisive, semi-coherent Larry King-like aphorisms.
John Kerry. Not only will he not win the presidency, with Al Sharpton in the race he doesn’t even get Best Hair.
Joe Lieberman. He will never be president, but he will knock them dead as Willy Loman on Broadway.
Dick Gephardt. They say those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it, but when it’s your own abysmal previous presidential run you forgot about, you’re in trouble.
(Note from the more nuanced, non-Larry King part of my mind: Gep won three state primaries when he was young(ish) and dynamic(ish). Three, folks. Further note: there are fifty states.)
That’s the horserace as I see it. The winner will be one of those other people. Probably whoever gets the most money and delegates and votes. Next issue.
I'm a ward boss
Now that Trouble Sells has become one of the top-rated sites for information about Paul Tsongas — and even made a grown man weep by imparting that information — I feel it is time to return to my beloved role as trusted family advisor on that important contest, the 2004 presidential election.
The 2004 is a strange election. I don’t pretend to understand the Twenty-First Century any more than I understood the Twentieth or any of the others. In fact, I pretend to understand the Twentieth the best. But I would like to point out that in 2000, the last contest of that century, many Americans were unable to distinguish effectively between the futures offered by Gore and Bush — a view exploited and encouraged by Ralph Nader, who until that point in his career had been against the glib ignorance of facts in matters of corporate corruption and political process. And when a few polls showed a Bradley/Bush matchup would result in a Democratic win but a Gore/Bush competition was too close to call, Democratic voters were unconcerned and stayed the course.
Now, poll-obsessed Democrats flip-flop their support on a weekly basis among some truly uninspiring candidates. An “air of inevitability” surrounds whoever is unfortunate enough to be in first place, until the other guys pull him back into the mire. Then someone else pops up, a little more coated in offal than he was before.
The problem, as I see it, is not just voter ignorance — it’s the “greater fool” theory that worked so disastrously (no doubt for these same people) in the market downturn of recent memory. The strategy seems to be that I’m picking a candidate not because I like or support him, but because I’m betting some other voter, in a later primary, will like and support him. In fact, I might personally prefer a different candidate, but since I’m smarter than the average person, I won’t vote for my candidate, because I can’t expect other people to be as enlightened.
This kind of second-guessing is not any more likely to result in a strong candidate than actually voting for who you like, but it is more likely to result in a candidate you don’t like. In fact, it’s my suggestion that winning primaries — and especially caucuses — requires different skills than winning the election. This is especially true when there are so many players in the primaries but not in the election. Good district organizing, preventing the other guy’s turnout, and finding ways to undermine his positions will win primaries. But that isn’t the same as connecting with voters, or persuading them you can help them. And when you run against an incumbent, which Bush is by the way, you can’t rely solely on organizing and dirty tricks. The incumbent has more — and not only that, but he can look busy in his office while others use them.
Before Iowa, few people in America said Kerry was their top choice. He ran a good organization there while Gephardt and Dean were busy killing each other. I’m unconvinced this means he is prepared to be the bearer of our standard. (I think it’s also significant that Edwards was pretty close to Kerry in Iowa, but suffered a rather significant defeat in New Hampshire. It seems to me that, after Iowa, if you liked Edwards you knew your guy had as much of a chance as Kerry. But the truth, I think, is that no one really liked either of them, so our colleagues in New Hampshire proceeded to vote for the one who was “ahead.”)
As you know, I have not made a prediction for a winner of either the Democratic nomination or the general election. However, in my flippant way I did make three predictions of Obvious Losers. My scorecard so far:
- Gephardt. Right about that one.
- Lieberman. Will you be surprised when I’m right here too?
- Kerry. Yes, I picked him as an Obvious Loser. Unfortunately, I said he would never be president, not that he would necessarily lose the nomination. So you people are in trouble if you keep voting for him and I’m right.
People are overthinking “electable.” It isn’t supposed to mean “the candidate I assume other people support.” Backing the one you like is going to be okay. Don’t worry, if it turns out not to be, I’ll tell you.
How Dean Can Win Wisconsin
To wrap up Jack History Month, I’d like to offer a few pointers to presidential hopeful Howard Dean, who will need to win my home state of Wisconsin on February 17 in order to stay competitive in the primary race.
Unfortunately, I’ve been pretty busy lately talking about all the girls I felt up in high school, and I’m just getting around to addressing this important issue. Since in the meantime Dean failed to win Wisconsin, and in fact dropped out of the race the next day, we can tell my advice would have been helpful to him. In this light, however, I will present a revised notion of what Dean needs to do to win Wisconsin twelve days ago.
By the end of the second term of the administration of President Judith Steinberg, the executive task force investigating time travel will make breakthroughs not in time travel itself, but a new branch of temporal electronics that will make it possible to send electrons back in time. This in turn will allow scientists to realize digital communication with the past. The President’s husband, retired monster truck rally announcer and one-time politician Howard Dean, will get on the timephone with his 2003 self one warm Burlington night.
“Howard,” he will say, “it’s Howard! I’m calling you from the future! We’re going to lose! You had better listen to me! We’re going to lose, do you hear me? We’re going to lose our front-runner status and rack up loss after loss, until we go from being known as the candidate who raised the most money in the history of electoral politics to being the candidate who spent the most money to win the fewest votes! Instead of continuing to report on our awe-inspiring ability to rally support across the country, the press will begin to focus on a seemingly endless list of our mistakes!
“But we can prevent this, Howard! All we have to do is be a little more self-critical, believe less in the inevitability of our success, and watch our steps more carefully. The last thing we want to do is to appear arrogant, or cocky, or out of step with the mainstream. There are certain things in our past that we need to nip in the bud, but more importantly we have to be careful not to cause new concern over our ability to be a forceful, reasonable candidate by making outlandish claims or — stay with me on this one — screaming in a high-pitched wail when we get too excited. No one has galvanized disaffected American voters like we have, Howard, and it’s too important to let it slip away just because we’re too stubborn to adapt to changing events.”
“Who the fuck are you to tell me what to do?” 2003-Howard will have said, and he’ll slam the phone down.
Vice President Hilary Duff Onassis, the nominal head of the time travel task force, will receive a final report suggesting that time travel is indeed impossible, although not for reasons previously thought. You cannot alter the past, not because of the laws of physics, but because people are assholes and won’t listen.
Independent of y'all
This year on Independence Day, I chose to celebrate in a manner Americans have honored for generations: by not posting to my blog. But now I realize the short-sightedness of my action, as I usually do eventually in all cases of action or inaction taken by me. So let’s seize this opportunity, on a week often considered related to the birth of our nation, to check in on the American political scene.
One thing that pops up immediately is that we seem to have political parties, in clear violation of the advice of one of our first presidents, George Washington, but that we cling fast to the musket-era idea that everyone can have guns.
My colleague in bling, one Puffy Diddy, brought gravitas to our weekend through his well-publicized and -politicized party in those Hamptons. All invited guests were required to wear nothing but white, white, white; reportedly one confused industry insider was made to bury his off-color sneakers in the woods before being allowed past the gates. Of course, the white theme was in honor of our Founding Fathers, who were exclusively white. Apparently an additional Puff notion of having the guests wear only men’s clothes, in remembrance of the masculine gender of all the Founders, was rejected as not sufficiently bling-friendly.
Puffy also went around telling everyone that a framed copy of the Declaration of Independence under his arm was his “date”, which, while maybe heavy-handed, is a pretty good way to avoid the issue of girls at parties. For those of you holding less patriotic gatherings, try walking around with a copy of Penthouse instead.
And in what passes for “surprise” in politics, the guy who stayed in the Democratic primary race longer than anyone else picked the guy who stayed in almost as long to be his running mate in their quest for the presidency. This didn’t surprise me, but it relieved me, mostly because I like Edwards better than Kerry. He’s a bit of a tabula rasa, and that worked well for the Republicans the last time around, but he also learned how to smile from someone other than Poppy Bush.
So maybe it’s not quite as surprising as when it was finally revealed that the anonymous author of Primary Colors was none other than Chelsea Clinton, but it means we get to see lots of pictures of John Edwards looking so effusive on airplanes, and that is what America needs to heal. It also means that John Kerry was able to put the fact that he and Edwards hate each other to one side and pick the strategy that helps America. Could George Bush do the same (for “hate Edwards” substitute “love Haliburton”)? Fortunately, he doesn’t have to.
And celebrity Midwesterner Michael Moore has once again proved why he’s the most talked-about grossly obese man in the country! Let’s hurry up and get a Democrat in the White House while Mike is still alive to see it! Now that Bush is ruling Middle Eastern republic Iraq as well as the United States, maybe he could move over there and let someone who doesn’t have any countries at all take a turn. Iraq, after all, is much more like Texas than the U.S. as a whole: lots of oil, lots of sand, lots of guns, and lots of children who do not graduate high school. I’d say Rod Paige’s miracle educational policy is working just as well in Iraq, as well as on the Moon, as it did in Texas! Don’t say no right away, George!
I think that pretty much catches us up with the state of the nation. Keep those cards and letters pouring in, and raise a glass to the hope that America will last another year. Or at least New York.
America Has Convention Fever
If you’re like me, you’re a little underwhelmed by results of the decision to allow political bloggers at the Democratic convention, because those results are almost nothing. There is little coming from these blogs, and what there is doesn’t seem to be aided by the bloggers’ emergence from their living rooms. One can only presume that they are too busy schmoozing at the traditional power centers, and that must be fun. There is also a lot of catering, and excellent R&B dance grooves between the speeches, although of course those of us at home are dancing up a storm too.
But the fact remains that even if the blogs can contribute little to the good feelings streaming out of Boston, the American people have picked up the charge of rhetoric. America, as it does every four years or so, has Convention Fever, and it’s apparent everywhere you look.
A candidate’s plans and policies are what’s important, but the way he or she explains and frames these plans in speeches is revealing not only of the approach and personality of the candidate, but how effective he or she might be at getting all that done. You need to be able to talk to people, to persuade. Convention speeches showcase your ability or its lack.
This year in Boston, the Democrats have hit incredible high notes each night: Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton on Monday, Ron Reagan and Barack Obama on Tuesday, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson on Wednesday, and probably nobody tomorrow, unless you want to hear more about a certain patrol boat in the Vietnam War. To me, the greatest convention speech of all remains Mr. Jackson’s from 1988, perhaps because I’ve always felt my patch is not big enough.
But, caught up in the frenzy of American rhetoric on display this week, Americans are joining our participatory democracy in a new way: rhetoric, and powerful rhetoric, is entering the mainstream. Gone from our consciousness are unclear, lightweight catchphrases such as “I’m lovin’ it” and “Wasssssuuuup”. I took the Trouble Sells fuel-conscious S.U.V. around America, and everywhere I met orators.
A retiree at a lunch counter in Omaha, to a waitress: “I say, to you, today, as I have said again and again: I will have the chicken salad. There can be no other choice.”
A young mother in Seattle, to her child in a stroller: “We have struggled together, and we have suffered together, but all along the way our commitment has not wavered. With your help, with your support, and with your faith, I know we can achieve much together. Otherwise, and on this I wish to be clear, we will not stop for ice cream.”
A man to a woman, in a bar in Cincinnati, at closing time: “I remain resolute in my belief in a career of service, and I stand before you to say that with [Name Withheld], you are getting a man who takes pride, not only in his accomplishments, but in his reputation. I will not lie to you, I will not mislead you, and I promise here, before God and my fellow bar-goers, that I will call you the next day.”
I am proud to have been born in a country that values verbal persuasion and atmospherics so highly, even if only for a few days a year, and it is to my fellow rhetoricians that this blog entry, and my life, is dedicated.
God bless America.
Kisses for my president
While we wait to see if Howard Dean can win Wisconsin, the Republicans made their bid for the future this week in New York. As a member of the loyal opposition, I held my own convention in my apartment with a Texas-sized bottle of vodka and a rental of Passionate Conservatives Volume 6: Meatpacking Misfits. I was sort of bummed about the convention, because they asked Zell Miller to speak and not me, and we are both Democrats, plus I don’t have some hick accent. Anyway, his speech was pretty good, and I basically agreed with it if you took out all the stuff about the Democrats. Really, I think the DNC is playing a dangerous game allowing him to pretend to cozy up to the enemy while really acting as a Trojan Horse to destroy them from within. It may well end up backfiring.
Tonight, the guy who is filling in as president until the next scheduled election (tentatively slated for November 2, 2004, but the likelihood of terror attacks in urban areas may require those locations to vote sometime after January 20) took to the podium to give his speech, which was something about how he wanted to remove all barriers to the success of poor people except in cases where doing so would cost money. He also offered all poor people with millions of dollars some great ways to be just like rich people through innovative tax savings plans. Maybe having an MBA for president is a bad idea. All they want to talk about is tax savings. Where are the blow jobs?
With that grave thought in mind, I turned off the video, in which “twin” “blondes” were grinding up against each other and saying how Molly Ivins was a total bitch, and hailed an M14 bus. “Meatpacking District, and make it snappy,” I said to the driver, offering my Gold MetroCard. “Yes, sir,” he said, and we were off. Forty-five minutes later, we rolled up in style at the velvet-rope club Velvet Rope. I got off through the rear door as a courtesy to other passengers, along with an old lady with a shopping cart and two hiphop youths with their girlfriend. We all waited on line to see if we were on The List. The queue advanced slowly. Velvet Rope was known for its lack of the usual door snap judgments; they went over each of us with a fine-toothed comb, and most were found lacking. They didn’t want to let both hiphop youths in with one girl, so the other guy grabbed the old lady, whose outfit was considered pre-ironic retrofabulous. That got him in, but it had been my same idea, so now I was in trouble. As I stepped to the head of the line, I had to think fast.
“Name?” the sub-bouncer asked me.
“I’m here,” I said, “with the Twins.”
“Twins?” she said, taking a step back in terror.
“Yeah. Aren’t they here already?”
“Yes, they…they are. Go in the back.” The rope was parted, and I entered the abyss.
Around the darkened room, those who were not celebrities but were dissipated enough to qualify lounged in Calvin Klein beanbags. Waitresses in platform heels bent in half to take and distribute orders. Six guys in black t-shirts ran up and down the bar keeping the machinery of the evening going. I dawdled for a moment to take it in. A sub-sub-bouncer touched my elbow.
“Sir, if you’re looking for the Twins, you’ll have to keep moving.”
“Well, I thought I would get a drink here at the —”
“Sir, please, the Twins are in the back. We are not allowed to have any friends of the Twins out here with the regular customers. Please keep moving.”
Now I was in trouble. Having played my only card, I was now compelled to take the trick. I was shoved down a hallway marked “No Admittance” under which someone had scrawled in Urban Decay lipliner, “(except awesome peeps!!!!)” As the door behind me slammed and was deadbolted, I took a breath and stepped inside.
“Omigod! Look, party boys!” someone cried as I peered into the gloom. Then, “Oh, wait. Who’s that? Omigod, who is that, go talk to him, no, seriously, you go.”
“Hi!” said a cheerful young woman, bounding up to me. “Did, like, you get a call?”
“Did someone call you? Are you like, you know, are you the delivery guy? I thought I knew all the delivery guys. Are you new? I put in a call a while ago, you know, just for enough for tonight.”
“Sorry,” I said, “I just wanted to get a vodka and soda. They said there was a bartender here.” I looked back to see a sad young man in a black t-shirt. It was inside out and appeared to normally read “BUCK FUSH.”
“Oh, sure, Buck will help you! Buck is the coolest bartender!” The cheerful young woman bounded back to the bar, plopping down next to her companion and mirror image. “Get the delivery guy a drink, Buck,” the mirror image said.
“Hi ladies, I’m Jack,” I said to them.
“Hi Jack!” they chorused.
“Do you party?” asked the other one.
“Rarely,” I said, “I’m pretty old.”
“Yeah, totally,” the other other one said.
“So, you’re in town with your parents for the week?”
“I know, totally, they are so on us all the time, it sucks sucks sucks. What is the point, anyway?”
“I know!” the other one said. Then we all took a draw on our drinks.
“I mean, like, why does he have to do all this talking anyway, it’s not like somebody else is going to be president, whatever,” the first one continued.
“Who’s going to vote for that Mister Sour-Pants? And he’s a big liar anyways. He’s always saying how Dad made too much war in Iraq, but he thinks we should invade Vietnam. There’s no way Osama is there!”
“Ewww, Osama, terrorism, groooosssss,” the first one said, sticking out her tongue.
“But he could totally be in Iraq. We don’t know yet. Sometimes if you want something good to happen, like killing Osama, you have to do some things you don’t like, like killing everybody in the Middle East. It’s never easy, duh! That’s why we have other people to be president! Why can’t people just let Dad do his job and leave him alone? Let him worry about it!”
“So we can party!” the first one said, and they high-fived. Then the other one said, hastily, “And work in schools as teachers in Harlem with the disadvantageous.”
“And party,” the first one said, and they giggled.
“This convention is so much more awesome than that other one. Did you see that dress that the Edwards bitch had on? Where is her Fashion Emergency Management Agency? This is not the junior prom, 1975!” They high-fived.
“You got served, Edwards bitch!” the first one said.
“She is not hot at all,” the other one said, turning to me. “Right? Like, hot or not, right?”
“NOT!” the other other one said.
“You know that game?” the other one asked me. “Marry, Fuck, Kill?” They giggled.
“Okay, like, the three of us, Bitch and us, what do you think,” and they giggled.
“Omigod, Buck, she is so fucking funny, I need a drink!” She slammed her chocotini glass on the bar. “Sis, you’re hysterical. Isn’t she fucking crazy?”
“Did you see us on TV?” the other one asked me. “It was awesome, we gave like a whole speech.”
“I wrote the part about Outkast,” the other other one said.
“Yeah, that’s like all you did.”
“Come on! It’s not like you wrote anything. You didn’t even read it until we were —”
“Whatever! I came up with the line about peanut butter. Dad was always making us fucking peanut butter sandwiches, it was hysterical!”
As the vodka glass slipped from my numbed grasp, I felt myself falling, falling, falling. Then I sat up with a wheeze and realized I was on the floor of my local bar. Patrons were milling around woozily. I got up, dusted myself off, and realized it had all been a dream. I sat down on the barstool from which I had fallen, and called for another drink to calm my nerves. I rested my head in my hands and tried to catch my breath. There had been no trip to the west side, no Velvet Rope, and above all no Twins…it was all a bad dream. This was still the world I knew.
But at that moment, my attention shifted to the bar television set, where two girls were applauding as some guy and a lady came onto a stage. Fear hit me like a ton of corporate corruption. It was not a dream. George Bush…was the president!
One of our horndogs is missing
Former president and future first gentleman Bill Clinton, or the Big Dawg as he is popularly known, had a heart attack today, which still leaves him three up on Dick Cheney, who has heart attacks like some people have cheeseburgers. The bad news for the Boys in the Blue States is that Clinton is now presumably sidelined for the rest of the campaign.
Say what you will about the vaunted electability of John Forbes Kerry, but all the charisma in his family seems to have gone to…hmmm. I guess I’ll have to get back to you on that one, unless the selection of Senator Johnny Edwards as vice-candidate involved legal adoption. Senator Kerry is about as exciting as the ketchup which bears his name. William Clinton, on the other hand, keeps you on the edge of your seat: what crazy scrapes is that character going to get into next? This time, the answer turned out to be severe heart disease, which is not among his most crowd-pleasing work. At least he did not round out his heart attack by pulling a Nelson Rockefeller, although my friends in Vegas remind me it’s still early in the game. One encouraging thought, Mr. Clinton, for your stay in the hospital: naughty nurses.
As much as I resent Clinton for writing a book on “My Life” without asking me first, I wanted him in this game to rally the troops and pound the pavement. He is good at kissing babies. But babies are frozen in fear as the grey maw of Kerry approaches the tops of their little heads; it is not good television. Already in Wisconsin and several other swing states, ads from the conservative 527 “Mothers United For Truth” capitalize on the growing national fear that John Kerry might try to shake your hand, ruffle your child’s carefully-positioned hair, or engage you momentarily in an awkward, halting parody of small talk. While no one doubts John Kerry’s preparedness and fitness to be the commander of our armed forces and voice for liberty and justice around the world, few are convinced he should be allowed to campaign openly on their street, where someone might see him and be turned instantly to stone.
So as the shambling Golem known as John Kerry soldiers joylessly into November and possibly beyond, Bill Clinton will be sitting at home becoming acquainted with the television schedule and Googling himself. (Hi Bill!) This seems like a real stroke of luck for the Other Guys. Or is it luck? What could be the rest of the story?
Scenario #1: “It’s better than kissing him goodbye”
Bill was set to join his wife and senator Hillary for a two-day junket around the state, when he mysteriously collapsed from sudden illness. Perhaps this was a desperate measure to get out of two days in the car with HILLPAC.
Scenario #2: “Would anybody come to my funeral?”
Clinton gets pissed off at all the fawning over Reagan after his untimely demise at age 734. Clinton figures he was the better actor anyway. Stages illness to gauge public response; is prepared to go all the way to the funeral if necessary, at which he will deliver a stirring eulogy disguised as Vernon Jordan.
Scenario #3: “C’mon, honey, for old times’ sake”
Hillary, concerned that, should Kerry win the White House, she will be forever blocked from achieving that prize, does not want her persuasive husband aiding in the 2004 election. She knowingly causes the illness in an attempt to detain/murder him. This is possible by either of two methods, which fit the known facts:
a) While Clinton has famously been on the South Beach Diet, spies at the Democratic Convention reported that the Clinton hotel suite ordered up cheeseburgers, mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers, and other traditional White House-era Clinton favorites. Perhaps Hillary talked him into indulging, knowing he would be unable to stop. Weeks later, his cholesterol-clogged body drags itself to Columbia Presbyterian.
b) Hillary makes a pass at Bill; he has a heart attack.
Scenario #4: “Somebody up there likes me”
I didn’t really watch the Bush speech at his convention. Is it possible he called upon God to strike Clinton down? If this is the case, I may have to change my vote because they are clearly getting shit done.
Any way you slice it, our campaign is a little greyer without the fun-loving, heart-attacking Bill Clinton. Get well soon!
The conventional wisdom
Conventionally, there isn’t any wisdom, but this has not prevented use of the phrase “conventional wisdom” throughout our squalid history. It’s a troubling phrase, because it seems to suggest, “Here’s what unimaginative, borderline-sentient people would think, and I agree with them”. Such self-styled wisdom has little to recommend it. Of course, anytime someone is trying to sell you their own thoughts as “wisdom”, be as careful as if they were trying to get you to eat in a restaurant with “gourmet” in its name.
I am nervous about the upcoming election. I think the Democrats have largely fumbled it, because a reelection campaign should be a referendum on the incumbent, and they’ve allowed it to become, in many ways, a referendum on John Forbes Kerry. Let’s face facts: he can’t take that kind of scrutiny.
This is a guy whose last election campaign, to retain his seat as a Democratic senator in Massachusetts, a state that has an entirely Democratic Congressional delegation, came close to being derailed. Some people have described this positively — because Kerry came from behind to beat the guy in the end, showing he is a “closer”. But why was he ever losing? If you can’t slam dunk it as a Democrat in Massachusetts, maybe you are not a “closer” but a “loser”.
Meanwhile, the political blogs have mostly moved on, perhaps thinking there is nothing more to be done about Mr. Kerry, because he will “obviously” win. Now they are talking more and more about Ginny Schrader, a little old lady from Pennsylvania, who sees an opportunity to take a Congressional seat because the Republican incumbent retired. I don’t know what her chances of winning are, though they seem pathetic. What I do know is: who cares? We are not going to retake the House this year. It’s more likely we’d win the Senate (long shot) or the Presidency (it will be close). My fear is that on November 3 the blogs will say:
It appears that the blogs see Ginny as a chance to be big fish in a little pond: we could get her elected. We could raise money for her. We could be heroes. Yes, it is important to be personally involved in races; yes, it is amazing how much money can be raised over the Internet now. But throughout the Dean Experience up until today, there has been a disproportionate focus on the new-found “power” of chubby white guys on the Internet, and perhaps less on picking some candidates who can resonate with the actual voters. A lot of these Internet-based white guys have never even noticed politics before. How do they know what is going to work?
The conventional wisdom is that they don’t.
Why can't I be wrong when it counts?
When it comes to choosing which women are worth pursuing, I am almost always wrong. Why can’t I be wrong about politics sometimes? Or at least about Election 2004?
As long-time readers of Trouble Sells will no doubt hazily recall, my previous eight brief posts on political subjects, written over the course of a year, may well be the most insightful ever written on a blog. Mostly that’s because I’m the only Democrat I can think of that always knew we would lose if we picked Kerry and didn’t change his mind once we did. How could we possibly have won with this guy? I think we figured it was because Bush is so awful. But, you know, a lot of people voted for him before, and we needed some of them to vote for us this time.
Now, on the Ides of November, after a week and a half of hiding under the covers, let me give a brief postmortem based on my earlier theory of the “greater fool”. This is a term from investment, of course, which supposes that it doesn’t matter at which price you buy a stock as long as you can find another idiot who will buy it at an even higher price. In other words, there’s no reason to research good stocks as long as the market is controlled by people who are not paying attention. Doesn’t “control by people who are not paying attention” describe American democracy?
My feeling during the primaries was that people were voting for Kerry because they thought other people were misinformed enough to support him. This didn’t make any sense to me, but it was the only way I could interpret their claim he was “electable”. But their strategy was consistent with what happened after both parties had their nominee. The wrong information was used to select the Democratic nominee, and subsequently the wrong information was used to select the president.
We wanted a nominee who was “electable”. (I’m not sure what the definition of that is, but clearly Kerry is the only guy who we know definitely wasn’t electable, because he lost the election.) We chose “electability” over shopworn talents like the ability to make a good speech, raise a lot of money, or appeal to swing voters. It turns out that, if you have those other things, you might in fact be electable. There is no electability without skills that get people to vote for you. Kerry got an A on the course after getting zeros on all his exams.
The same thing happened with Bush in the general election. Most Americans agree with the Democrats on every issue — way more than 50%. However, less than 50% of Americans want to vote for the guys they agree with on the issues. Why is that? Because we give Bush a string of zeros and then pass him. Because we use the wrong information to pick these guys. We decide that something else is more important than actual issues that affect our lives — Bush the First tried this with the flag-burning amendment, but that was way too irrelevant: the flag-burning amendment failed because no one was used to hating flag-burners because there weren’t any. As the current revision of Bush knows, it’s much easier to propose amendments that affect traditional targets of hate crimes. The market is already there.
But even if you think the election was decided on issues, Bush managed to pass despite his poor marks. His number one issue was, of course, defense against terrorism, even though he managed to inspire more terrorists and turn more actual governments against us than ever before in history. How he could garner support on this issue I really don’t know. Republicans continue to have a kind of mystique that supposes they are the ones to pick for economic and security issues. This has been the case for generations. However, under Bush’s term we had a market crash and the largest attack on U.S. soil ever. This didn’t change people’s minds. (In fact, it seems that the New York mayoral race of 2001 was largely decided by the events of September 11, since the Democrat was leading two-to-one before that happened, and the Republican, who had no particular interest or background in security — let alone plans for what to do — won.) These guys somehow have ownership over the very issues they are incapable of handling.
I knew we would lose, in short, because we picked a “safe” candidate when obviously anyone who wanted a “safe” choice would go with the incumbent, because that’s why they call them incumbents. And we had him run a campaign saying he was better suited than Bush to deal with the world’s issues, when few voters seemed to make a connection between such suitability and being the president. How the Democrats could go forth with their strategy when they knew I disapproved, I don’t know.
I’m not going to pretend to tell you what we should do next; at least not yet. But it really comes down to the fact that there is a disconnect between what people think the Republicans do and what they really do, and the same is true with the Democrats. If we can’t persuade people that we’re the ones who understand their concerns, what’s the point of being Democrats? (Except getting to go to Meetups, I guess. I hate Meetups. They are like book clubs without the books.)
So don’t give up. But next time, don’t believe that you will win because the other guy is an idiot. That’s called “being an idiot”. And as Harry Truman famously observed, when you run an idiot against an idiot, the idiot wins every time.
Last thoughts on John Kerry
I do mean last thoughts, because just as no one had heard of this guy before he ran for president, no one has heard from him since he lost. I know I’ve always been rough on John Kerry (or, as I call him for short, Jerry) and I want to give a few moments of my own opposing viewpoint before I return to being rough on him, and then, finally, forget about him altogether.
I never felt he had the ability to really communicate with people in ways that they appreciated. Even worse, whenever he did pull this off, voters interpreted it as slick. This may not be a problem just for Jerry: it may be the dawning of an age where the only way to be trusted by the voting public is to be obviously wrong about everything, because no one would think you were wrong all the time cynically.
Despite my misgivings, I was impressed with him in the debates. His performance was not, as I had feared it would be, some “winning on points” debate-society style they teach you on yachts. It was clear, reasonable, and consistent. While he occasionally missed an opportunity to underscore just how wrong Bush’s comments were, he got most of them, and in exactly the way I would have done it. (I’d give examples, but who wants to watch the debates again?)
If Jerry could have gotten through to people during the rest of the campaign the way he did in the debates, I would have been very pleased.
Now, we all know that the guy went to Vietnam. It was mentioned a few times. And we all know he became a war protester afterwards. I’d just like to make sure it’s understood that we had a guy running for president, in fact the nominee of his party, who had made his start as a young activist. That is pretty rare, and a lot more exciting to me than the typical political history.
Of course, he squandered this auspicious beginning with thirty years of mediocrity.
The Great T-Shirt Disaster
In the waning days of the Dean campaign, some of us made T-shirts that attempted to non-non-ironically tap into the growing hipster political consciousness (this was in January 2004, post-Iowa, so before most of the hipster 527s were fully functional). The T-shirts read, “Are you DECK?”, using the hipster replacement term for “cool” that no one uses because “cool” is retro and therefore hip. (It’s a losing battle for hipsters to invent new words to replace old ones, because the very foundation of contemporary hipsterisme is to act like you remember the 1970s, during which you pretended to remember the 1950s. When hipsters shine is when they develop words for entirely new practices, like smirting.)
Underneath “DECK” it read “Dean, Edwards, Clark, Kerry”. Those were the candidates we figured reasonable people should support, in the correct order. We wanted to be inclusive of all the candidates who conceivably could win, to make sure hipsters knew that if they did not vote, they would die (see below). This was potentially a risky move, as the Lieberman camp could have come out with their own “Dreck” shirt.
What’s absurd is I never thought we’d have to go all the way down the T-shirt list to get a nominee. Just as the political blogs read on November 3, “JACK’S FOURTH CHOICE LOSES.”
Media Buys of My Secret Heart
This was a thirty-second spot I developed in my free time, in conjunction with Peter Jackson, and forgot about until now.
It opened with a small boy in powdered wig and velvet suit taking a big old whack with his axe at a cherry tree. His back is to the camera. From off screen, a colonial voice asks, “George, who chopped down the cherry tree?”
The boy turns to us and it is the digitally miniaturized face of George W. Bush. He grins and through his mind we see economic collapse, the ravages of war, worldwide terrorism, and failed everything. He says, “Not my fault!”
We had trouble producing this incisive, devastating attack on incumbency because I insisted on getting Bush to play himself and he was very difficult to work with.
“Time to Die”
This is an ongoing project with Citizen Change. As you know, Puff Daddy famously asked people to choose the lesser of two evils: Vote or Die. Since the youth voters he (and most of the 527s) were targeting didn’t really turn out in the numbers expected, it’s clear that many preferred to die.
In the post-election season, we are organizing a series of unannounced appearances of Puff Daddy and his entourage in urban markets coast to coast. He will grab a bullhorn and begin screaming that nobody voted, so now they will die, upon which he will personally begin to shoot into the surrounding crowd (with blanks of course). In this way, we will reinvigorate our base and send a strong message to non-voters: we will kill you.
Look for these events in your town, and watch our new ad running during Growing Up Gotti.
John Kerry sucks, but only about 95% as much as I had previously suggested. Maybe if I hadn’t been so unyielding in my views, a few more people would have cut him some slack and we would have won a few million extra votes. But it doesn’t matter now, except that millions of people, including most of you slackers, are going to have the life crushed out of them by Grammy-winner Puff Daddy.
Meanwhile, I still get a lot of email about Election 2004, especially from Dick Gephardt. Haven’t they heard the news?