Partisan as I may be regarding this presidential election, as a writer I also find interesting on an intellectual level the issues of Kerry and Bush communicating—or failing to do so—with the voters. An op-ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times by David Brooks nicely summarizes the conundrum undecided voters face with respect to the messages they hear from the two candidates:
“Kerry thinks obsessively about process questions, but can’t seem to come up with a core conviction; Bush is great at coming up with clear goals, but is not so great about coming up with the process to get there.”
I’m a pessimist at heart; I prefer to expect the worst with issues out of my control, as a kind of self-preservation mechanism. So it should come as no surprise that I don’t like Kerry’s chances right now. But the reason I think Bush will win, despite overwhelming evidence of countless lies, a fundamentalism cut from the same cloth as the terrorists, and countless domestic policy horrors, is that in this post 9/11 era, the average American is looking above all else for someone to say bluntly, “I will do whatever is necessary to protect you from terrorists.”
In terms of communicating their message, Bush-Kerry is like Reagan-Mondale or a lot of other Republican-Democrat contests. The very thing that makes the political left a better choice, with its intelligence, rationality and diverse tent of followers, is what hampers it from communicating a simple and concise message. Kerry has done better than, say, Dukakis, when it comes to fighting back against Bush’s attacks, but he continues to seem wooden, not very personable and—worst of all—unable to reduce his message to simple, vital terms that resonate with voters.
I hope I’m wrong – I really, really, (later that same day) really do. And I do believe Kerry still has a chance. He has a track record of finishing strong, and Bush is of course vulnerable in light of countless offenses. But I think it’s hard to stop Joe Sixpack from reasoning that it’s better to stick with the steadfast cowboy with resilient, clear intent than to take a chance on the latest cerebral Democratic bore who has the audacity to see the world in more than black and white terms.