Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
May 22, 2004
POLITICS: You're A Loser Baby, So Why Don't You Vote For Me?
Joshua Wolf Shenk at Mother Jones has an astute observation, albeit couched in the usual anti-Bush screediness, about the Left's inability to weave a positive narrative, as exemplified by the Kerry campaign's Shrumian rhetoric:
Up against "Special Interest" is a perennial loser called "Everyday American." Loser has a nagging spouse and impeccably average kids and a long commute to and from a cubicle. At home, the toilet leaks but it's hard to find a decent plumber. The cell phone keeps blinking out, but the new ones are so expensive. But then again, Loser thinks, "I'm worth it." So s/he logs onto to Internet - wants to save the sales tax - and goes to bed excited, wondering whether UPS will take two or three days, and whether there will be someone at home to sign for the package, and whether s/he is as truly, deeply pathetic as it seems.
Which of these characters would you rather be? John Kerry and Bob Shrum don't condescend to give you the choice. They tell you, "You're Loser." You secretly hate them for this. You may hate their opponents more, and vote for Kerry with clenched teeth. Or you may vote for Nader (at five points in the May Gallup poll). Or you may (like huge chunks of the core Democratic constituency) just not vote.
Whereas the right-wing has a good story that they believe, liberals have a lame story--and they don't even believe it. One of the highlights from Bob Shrum's reel is when he dressed up former Senator Bob Kerrey in a uniform of a hockey goalie and had him say that he was going to defend America from foreign imports. Kerrey went along with it, then later said that he hadn't believed a word of what he said in the campaign.
The same must be true for John Kerry. This wealthy Washington insider may tell us--but surely he doesn't believe--that he's going to lead us in a fight against "Special Interest." Anyway, even if Kerry gets elected telling this story, who will want to follow him? Americans don't want to fight the rich and the powerful. They want to be rich and powerful.
Ouch. In some ways this is also where John McCain went off the rails, when he stopped using his campaign finance crusade and his anti-pork tirades as credibility-building examples of his fearlessness and tried to make them the centerpiece of his campaign.
Of course, Wolf Shenk's own proposed narrative doesn't hang together so well, either, as it basically degenerates into a litany of "BUSH LIED!!!!" and carping about budget deficits. Actually, if you buy the narrative, the one that does work for Democrats is tying the same sex marriage issue into the civil rights movement . . . except, of course, that the public isn't buying same sex marriage at this point and the Democrats are afraid (probably justifiably) to try to lead them there. Plus, of course, the fact that weaving a civil rights narrative leaves them with nothing to say about war or the economy. But that's still better than having nothing to say at all.