Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
September 26, 2004
POLITICS: From My Blog To Jonathan Alter's Ear
Back on July 28, at the height of enthusiasm for the Kerry campaign, I noted this, from Josh Marshall's site, about a conversation Marshall had with Michael Moore at the Democratic convention:
[A]s he breezes by he says, "Oh, Really? I liked it. You don't even have to say it. Everyone knows how bad it is."
Think what you will about Michael Moore or evening one of the convention, I think that sums up precisely what this event is all about and the dynamic on which it's operating. I've seen a slew of articles today arguing that the Democrats must energize their 'base' while not alienating the swing voters John Kerry needs to clinb from the mid-40s past 50%.
But this strikes me as a tired conventional wisdom that has little to do with what's actually happening here. . . .
Among Democrats, the rejection of this president is so total, exists on so many different levels, and is so fused into their understanding of all the major issues facing the country, that it doesn't even need to be explicitly evoked. . . . the primetime speeches were actually brimming with barbs, and rather jagged ones at that. They were just woven into the fabric of the speeches, fused into rough-sketched discussions of policy, or paeans to Kerry.
Perhaps it's a touchy analogy, but like voters who understood the code-words Republicans once (and often still do) used to flag hot-button racial issues they dared not voice openly, these Democrats could hear the most scathing attacks on President Bush rattling through the speeches they heard tonight.
As it turns out, this is rather precisely the problem: Kerry didn't think the American people needed any persuading. Thank you, big media/lefty pundit coccoon. Now, months later, Jonathan Alter has noticed the problem:
Oh, well. The Shrum strategy was the product of short-term thinking (the assumption that Bush's unpopularity in the period of the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal would last until fall) and was reinforced by the sealed and often smug world of Democratic politics, where it was taken for granted that Bush was bad, bad, bad, and any reasonable person already knew why. Shrum correctly realized that a Michael Moore-style sledgehammer would do little to sway undecided voters who don't loathe Bush. But Shrum wrongly extrapolated from that point that Kerry had no need to indict Bush in easy-to-remember phrases that would stick. He once told me as much, and that name-calling wouldn't work in post-9/11 presidential politics.
That was wishful thinking.
Of course, it's a bit late now to fix the problem. But turning to the meta-issue, amazingly, this isn't the first time Alter has followed one of my trains of thought. On September 9, I wrote:
Of course, for this to work, the Democrats have to fall into Bush's trap and start complaining about Bush's reluctance to debate and pressuring him to do three debates.
Now, neither of these is the most original or incisive point in the world, and I actually got the first one third-hand from Michael Moore. But it goes to show how replaceable a guy like Alter is when an amateur writing in his spare time can spot the same trends weeks earlier. As Bill James would observe, that makes Alter a replacement-level pundit, and he should probably be paid and treated accordingly.