Monday, September 27, 2004
One of the things Republicans are good at, and one of the key features of a persuasive message, is a central unifying theme. I think that our central theme should be responsibility. This idea has a number of different applications. In the first instance, Kerry to point to this value at it motivates him: his service in Vietnam, his work as a prosecutor, and his time in the Senate (where he make a brief aside to the ease of mischaracterizing his votes). He can re-frame the 1960's as a time of passionate citizen involvement, making sure that he respects both sides of those tumultuous debates. The point here is that all Americans took their role as citizens seriously.
Kerry can then make the contrast with Bush. The irresponsibility of the Bush Administration is an easy case to make. There is the personal irresponsibility (everything is fine, Iraq is great, what bad economy) and even worse, the political irresponsibilty of big deficits, a reckless rush to war, the failure to fund his own programs, the misrepresentation of the state of the country and his programs.
Kerry can then re-connect to broader themes. I am convinced that the way Democrats can win is to focus attention away from personalities and back towards policies. Point to this directly- that substance is more important than soundbytes. Kerry can talk in specific terms how his plans value personal responsibility as well as the responsibility of a community to all of its citizens. There is also our responsibility for the mess in Iraq, and our broader duties in the world as its leading power.
The message needs to culminate in a call to action. Kerry needs to tell people that just voting for a candidate is not enough- that Americans need to take responsibility for their country. They need to get informed, to get active in their community, to pay close attention to the candidates and their policies. There is a potential for some soaring rhetoric here.
I think this, or something like it, should be Kerry's stump speech. He needs to hit the same points every day- it is the only way to get them through. I also believe that it hits all the major points we need to: Kerry's background and personality, Bush's failings, and a transcending of the Republicans with a focus on solving problems and active involvement. It is vital not just to plead for votes but to challenge people to do something. Not only is it necessary on policy grounds, but I think people will be impressed to hear a politician to ask them for something other than blind support.
Obviously I wish this had been his acceptance speech, but I still think there is time to hone his message. The debates are a good initial opportunity. Since the debates are in many cases joint press conferences, I think Kerry should outline in his opening statement what he is going to talk about (responsibility), and then keep harping on it. He should use this theme in its variety of permutations both on the attack and defense. It will make his performance not a scattershot series of one-liners but a total speech. It will minimize the importance of his personality while highlighting his best points and Bush's weakest ones, while centering attention on substance, where he is strongest.
I thought about actually writing out the speech, but I didn't have time. But let me know what you think.
By the way, it looks like today this website will have been viewed over 1000 times. Lately there has been a spike in readership. I just want to thank everyone who is reading my random thoughts. It's flattering that anyone is interested in what I have to say.