Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose XIX: Natural Fissioning Process Causes Candidate To Become Progressively Less Massive!

It's becoming one of the most studied questions of the still-young 2004 election season:

Is John Kerry committing political suicide or is he being politically done in by the President's ads?

We'll have to wait for November to see if this is a harbinger of what could become one of the most studied questions of the 2004 post-election post-mortem:

Exactly what kind of grease spot did John Kerry eventually become?

In any event, for the moment USA Today says it's the ads:

A USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll shows a remarkable turnaround in 17 battleground states where polls and historic trends indicate the race will be close, and where the Bush campaign has aired TV ads. ... The ads have been one factor in wiping away an inflated lead Kerry held in those states. Most of them have had primaries or caucuses that allowed Democrats to dominate the news and Kerry to emerge as a victor. In a survey taken in mid-February, Kerry led Bush by 28 percentage points in those states, 63% to 35%. Now Bush leads Kerry in them by six points, 51% to 45%. In contrast, there has been much less volatility in states where the ads haven't aired. Kerry held a four-point lead in them in February; Bush holds a two-point lead now.

The Bush campaign also has begun defining Kerry before he has defined himself. In the states where the ads have run, Kerry's unfavorable rating has risen 16 points since mid-February. In the other states, it's up just five points. .... Some Democratic analysts say Kerry's decision to take a week of vacation, while hard to begrudge after a grueling primary campaign, meant that Bush's ads went largely unanswered. ....

The president's standing on handling terrorism has been dented by the testimony of former White House aide Richard Clarke and the scrutiny of the blue-ribbon commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks. That's important because the perception of Bush as a strong leader in the wake of Sept. 11 is his greatest political strength. ....

One more finding: TV ads are powerful. A majority echoed the Bush ads' themes about the Massachusetts senator: 57% say Kerry has changed positions for political reasons, and 58% say their federal taxes will go up if he's elected. And the percentage who say he's "too liberal" has jumped from 29% in February to 41% now.

I mostly don't agree with this analysis, at least if its main point is taken to be that if John Kerry had rebutted the Bush ads the results would have been a good deal different. The fact is that Senator Kerry's record is well to the left of what a substantial majority of American voters generally prefer. The Bush ads are important because they point that out, generally and with specifics. Kerry ads and favorable media coverage of Senator Kerry could dispute the claims of the Bush ads, but people do eventually make up their own minds. It's just wishful thinking on the left (and in USA Today) that the Bush ads could be ultimately refuted. There really aren't that many ways Senator Kerry can be "defined" - although the timing of that public definition can to some extent be affected by the Bush ads.

For example, consider the Bush ad that pointed out that Senator Kerry had voted against the special $87 Billion Iraq-Afghanistan appropriation. The Senator's hilarious response that he had voted for the appropriation before voting against it wasn't - as much of the main stream media insists - some slip of the tongue brought on by exhaustion. It was a deliberate expression of Senator Kerry's formal campaign strategy, which can be seen by noting that his campaign aides used exactly the same argument in Florida only days before the West Virginia disaster:

[R]eaching back eight years to one of the more significant efforts to toughen sanctions on the communist island, Kerry volunteered: "And I voted for the Helms-Burton legislation to be tough on companies that deal with him.'' .... There is only one problem: Kerry voted against it. ...

Kerry aides said the senator cast one of the 22 nays that day in 1996 because he disagreed with some of the final technical aspects. But, said spokesman David Wade, Kerry supported the legislation in its purer form -- and voted for it months earlier.

Did Senator Kerry take that ill-timed "ski vacation" that USA Today says allowed his poll ratings to collapse because he was "exhausted?" Probably not. He probably took that "vacation" because his formal, official campaign strategy to rebutting questions raised by his Senate votes by the Bush ads or anyone else was tried quite deliberately in Florida and then in West Virginia - and after causing some problems in Florida proved to be a complete national disaster in West Virginia. So a "vacation" was probably needed to come up with a new approach after the old "I voted for it and against it" approach cratered. Until a new approach was invented, Senator Kerry couldn't respond to the Bush ads - or to anyone else, such as those Cuban Americans, raising the same kind of questions.

But vacation time is over, and Senator Kerry is still not really responding to the Bush ads - in his own ads or otherwise. Perhaps the Senator's premature and foolhardy endorsement of Richard Clarke was a consequence of having nothing else to say. The Bush ad technology may accelerate the fissioning process whereby the Senator is becoming ever and progressively less massive through the internal decay of his political nucleus, but that decay is showing all the signs of being a spontaneous, natural, inevitable process.

The CNN take on the same CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll contains this bit of drollery:

Part of the reason for the shift is that a more equal number of Democrats and Republicans now say they are likely to vote this year. In earlier polls taken in the heat of the primary season, Democrats had expressed more enthusiasm about voting than Republicans, which buoyed Kerry's numbers among likely voters.

In other words, the Gallup organization couldn't figure out how to compensate for the fact that the Democratic primaries got all the attention while President Bush was running unopposed in crafting the Gallup definition of "likely voter." So "likely voter" for Gallup means the poll respondent says "yeah, I'm planning to vote?" What happened to all the other factors that might have adjusted for the problem: did you vote last time, how old are you, are you registered in a party, blah, blah, blah?

Even more humorous is the coy CNN phrasing: a more equal number of Democrats and Republicans now say they are likely to vote this year. That makes it sound as if the number of "likely" Republican voters went up, while the number of "likely" Democratic voters stayed the same. But the phrase Democrats had expressed more enthusiasm about voting than Republicans, which buoyed Kerry's numbers among likely voters strongly suggests that it's the number of Democratic likely voters going down that makes the difference. In which case, isn't it just as likely that Democrats are getting a good dose of the "buyer's remorse" for their candidate that many people have been expecting? Why is that possibility not explored? Wouldn't a decreasing Democratic enthusiasm for their candidate be the biggest part of this story?

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