April 27, 2004
Memo to John Kerry: Start Prosecuting, Stop Pontificating!
BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Where is the consistent fire in the belly that we saw in John Kerry during the primaries, when he was entirely focused on eliminating his rivals?
The question came to mind during the past week as the media focused on Kerry’s 1971 comments about the "atrocities" of his Vietnam experience. When Wes Clark addressed the controversy on Wolf Blitzer’s show (4/22), he portrayed Kerry as deserving "a lot of respect for having seen it at an early age and spoken out...He was a public-spirited person who lived and acted on his beliefs. Surely that’s what we’re looking for in a president of the United States. And compare him with our incumbent president, and what he did."
Hearing Clark’s comments made me wish that Kerry could renew the spirit he had in 1971 and shed some of the Washington ossification that’s been on display in many of his speeches and pronouncements.
In contrast, Kerry can excel in one-on-one interview settings. And criticisms about Kerry’s lack of warmth don’t hold up if you watch him working a room following a meeting or rally. But, since most news clips are taken from large rallies, the usual Kerry appearance seems to be one long sonorous drone. With the media already painting the picture of a rich, aloof candidate and the Bush campaign ads working on the liberal, "not ready for prime time" branding of Kerry, how does he break through the media’s editing of his every utterance? But, more importantly, how does Kerry ratchet up his campaign and really click with voters? I’m not talking about staging "an event," such as naming a VP nor "look ‘em in the eye" ads that a viewer will soon get tired of seeing. As for the word last week that Kerry plans to be "more combative" -- hopefully, there won’t be a rerun of the "Bring it On" business, which would be just a rerun of the previous echo of Bush. It’s old stuff if there isn’t any substance to back up the challenge.
And it is especially critical for Kerry to actually challenge Bush on substance. But, instead, with "me, too" positions on Iraq and Sharon’s Gaza moves that are almost indistinguishable from those pushed by the Bush camp, sometimes I get the sense that we’re stuck back in the 2002 election cycle, with the same approach -- namely, giving away the key issues. The question is, why give away the Iraq war issue when it should be ours to for the taking, especially with Nader now chiming in on the subject with a vote-stealing alternative? Kerry is talking as if he’s still in the Senate and still getting taken by Bush’s declarations.
Only the Daily Show in recent days has given viewers night after night of delicious -- and spot on -- "reports" on the follies of Bush and Company, i.e., Condi Rice’s appearances and the actions revealed in Bob Woodward’s "Plan of Attack," in addition to the review of events in the regular "Mess-o-potamia" segment. Meanwhile, not only has the Kerry campaign missed opportunities to nail Bush, it has continued to speak in the language of rapprochement.
Do we really want to hear our candidate in 2004 telling voters that "No matter who wins this presidential election, the terrorists will lose" (Friday, April 23, 2004 speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors 2004 Convention, Washington, D.C.) while at the same time Bush and Cheney are informing the public that terrorists would win in a Kerry Presidency?
And there’s another disconcerting pattern emerging. On the same day Kerry was delivering his comments about terrorists losing "no matter who wins," Wes Clark, introduced as Kerry’s "surrogate" by Chris Matthews on Hardball (4/23), declared that Bush has a "bad strategy," the United States is losing the war on terror, and we’re creating many, many more terrorists in the region by our actions in Iraq. His analysis was impeccable, of course -- but it leaves one wondering why the messages from the campaign and this high profile surrogate aren’t more consistent?
Clark also used simple and effective tactics in both the Hardball and Wolf Blitzer appearances that Kerry should add to his repertoire. For example, with Blitzer he turned the whole segment from Kerry’s Vietnam experience to the subject of Iraq and proceeded to open a Pandora’s box of questions that Bush needs to be asked:
It was a masterful performance. But beyond that, it also pointed up the power of well-delivered questions.
Asking questions -- a lot of questions -- could be an effective way for Kerry to minimize his counterproductive statements while at the same time humanizing his senatorial presentation style...because by asking questions, Americans will become more engaged as they begin to expect some answers and hear their own thoughts turned into words on the national stage.
Mr. Kerry, I’m not asking you to change your personality. And if you can’t get back to the intensity of your post-Vietnam days, I can understand that. But you once were a prosecutor and a tough one at that. Perhaps you can channel some of that energy, because it’s time to get past the lectures and the tendency to give even an inch to Bush. If you can’t display a steady passion, how about being doggedly prosecutorial?
For example, instead of pontificating about "staying the course," whatever that means, pick up on Clark’s question about what the heck the mission of our troops really is? Drill it into the media’s collective brain, over and over. The more you repeat it and the longer the silence from the Bush side, the more doubt about Bush takes root. More importantly, you will appear to be on the OFFENSE rather than constantly being put on the defensive by the Bush operatives and the media.
There are plenty of questions you can pepper into the voters’ consciousness. In fact, I think the public already has plenty of questions that they would love to see someone like you ask for them. Checking out our local papers, I see a whole slew of questions being asked in letters to the editors. For example, this week readers are asking:
And, I’m sure you can come up with many questions for the Bush Administration about healthcare, the environment, pensions, jobs...the list goes on and on. Choose a couple and run with them. Give voice to the concerns of the people, and by doing so, humanize your campaign. If you get stumped, there’s a steady supply of worries that the public is writing about to editors across the country. And I’m sure Wes Clark has a few more questions he can contribute on the subject of terror, Iraq and Afghanistan that you, apparently, haven’t thought of yet.
And, finally, I have a question: Mr. Kerry, If you can’t or won’t prosecute Bush and his administration in terms of their motives and credibility, their policies and the connections leading to these policies, their actions and inactions in terms of our security and the pursuit of a stable world, then what kind of an election are we facing? I, for one, need to see the steady fire again, everyday, on every issue, from now until November.
BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
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Gloria Lalumia is the author of World Media Watch, exclusively available on BuzzFlash.com.
BuzzFlash Note: After Gloria sent this to us to post, Kerry released this list of questions about Bush's military records. Let's hope it's just the beginning and that Kerry starts asking these kinds of questions every time he's in front of a camera.
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