Saturday, October 09, 2004

It's the Message, Stupid


In 1992, it was Family Values versus The New Covenant. The thought, back then, was that character mattered and that, on the heels of a very successful war, would be enough to fuel to return the first Bush exercise back to the White House. The campaign finally became a referendum on one issue, summed up by Democrats who came up with this campaign slogan: "It's the economy, stupid." And the Persian Gulf War simply vanished from the 1992 campaign. Bill Clinton certainly never talked about it. It never made a blip on Ross Perot's flip charts.

“Why, after more than three decades of steadily increasing apathy and hostility toward the electoral process, did Americans in electing Bill Clinton and denying George Bush a second term post the largest percentage turnout since the election of John F. Kennedy?” This is the question posed by Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover in Mad As Hell: Revolt at the Ballot Box, 1992, their account of the first Bush presidential re-election bid.

The comparisons from here are hauntingly similar, if you're a Republican that is.

For Germond and Witcover and other media experts, part of the answer lies in the role the press has come to play in campaigns and in the utilization in the 1992 election of “new media”—talk shows, cable television shows, 800- numbers, and the expanding network of computers, electronic mail, and fax machines. They argue that both voters and candidates had become increasingly frustrated and turned off in the past by negative campaigns. Many identified the “old media” as the source of their frustration, complaining that the traditional newspapers and network news shows focused too much on “character” issues, scandals, and polls rather than the economic and political issues most important to voters. The new media offered beleaguered candidates the opportunity to bypass the old media and spread their unfiltered campaign messages to voters, according to Germond and Witcover, and “enabled the candidates . . . to tap directly in to the voters’ frustration . . . and to give it an outlet.” More important, they contend, the new media allowed voters to voice personal concerns and questions to candidates and become directly involved in the election. Voters “had been quiet long enough. They had turned their backs on the political process long enough,” explain Germond and Witcover. “They demanded to be heard . . . through whatever electronic means were available to them.”

What must be confusing and downright horrifying to the people spinning this second Bush re-election bid is that they no longer have a candidate who can control the dialogue much less the message, even if there was one. It's feeling like the first Bush re-election effort - short on substance but filled with values and patriotism to the bitter end. Any day now, Rove should have the Chimperor standing in an American Flag assembly line - probably the last one that hasn't been outsourced for a photo-op with some folks in need of a dental plan. And beneath the fray we are driven to drink by power-narcotized junkies like Scottie McClelland who follows the preznut's hectoring with the same frenetic, wild-eyed drivel of Dennis Hopper as self-appointed frontman to Colonel Kurtz in "Apocalypse Now," spouting off the great man's accomplishments while he stands in a pile of dung, disease and death.

Hey, man, you don't talk to the Preznut. You listen to him. The man's enlarged my mind. He's a poet-warrior in the classic sense. I mean sometimes he'll, uh, well, you'll say hello to him, right? And he'll just walk right by you, and he won't even notice you. And suddenly he'll grab you, and he'll throw you in a corner, and he'll say do you know that if is the middle word in life? If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you - I mean I'm no, I can't - I'm a little man, I'm a little man, he's, he's a great man. I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across floors of silent seas...

For almost the entire campaign the preznut has seemed more like a pressure cooker about to blow. Angry, snappy, gruff and careening, guarded in who he speaks at and confident that the rest of the planet will just follow along. He is interesting to only the people who have signed the loyalty oath before the appearance and to those who made reservations to be delegates in August. The preznut has descended into that deep and dark Nixonian place - where the entire world is an enemy and he surrounds himself with only his closest allies, becoming fewer by the day. He may not be Nixon in the brain department, but the parallels of character and motivation, too, are alarming and prescient. How this man can be fighting for re-election and not criminal indictment is beyond a pundit class too caught up in the hype and too lazy to have a clue about the real damage that has been done to our international credibility and a country so neatly divided into blue and red states.

One through nine, no maybes, no supposes, no fractions. You can't travel in space, you can't go out into space, you know, without, like, you know, uh, with fractions - what are you going to land on - one-quarter, three-eighths? What are you going to do when you go from here to Venus or something? That's dialectic physics.

To compare the preznut to a true conservative gladiator model like Reagan or Goldwater would be blasphemous to most conservatives. Because Dubya is neither. Rather than communicate with intellectual points and vision, he uses a Humvee to drive over any one who dissents. Words and sentences never really fascinated Dubya like they did Reagan. Strategy and ideology never held a moment's interest like they did for Goldwater, who was the father of the modern conservative movement. The preznut's reliance on jingoistic event management to express all that he cannot articulate has left the debate-watching public with the reality that he is nothing more than white-hot rhetoric without a complete thought, a man who has substituted real decisiveness with a rambo-like machismo, removing the cause and going straight for the affect with the reckless abandon of a heroin addict. He never did have the patience needed to be president and how dearly we have paid for this vacant developmental step.

What are they gonna say about him? What are they gonna say? That he was a kind man? That he was a wise man? That he had plans? That he had wisdom? Bullshit man!

Was there any doubt after watching the preznut deliver his acceptance speech that we were in for a ride to Election Day with "Crazy Train" as it's soundtrack? Day after day, night after night, we hear the jagged white hum of mutli-millionaire punditry on cable television speaking to the likeability and resoluteness of the preznut, who have joined along for the Karl Rove ride to dawn, like it's an all day pass at Six Flags. But the problem is: if you don't mix it up once in a while and ride a slightly different thrill ride, the thrill is soon gone. The public's interest in the preznut, like the preznut's interest in them, is dying a slow and painful death; the falsely passionate stump speech is losing momentum far too soon and respect for his candidacy is melting through the floor boards. Most expect the preznut to remain angry and blistering in the coming weeks, but if he continues to repeat himself with the same tired "tax and spend" accusations -- and how couldn't he at this point? -- the third debate will be chicken soup to the democrats' soul.

This is the way the fucking world ends. Look at this fucking shit we're in man. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. And with a whimper, I'm fucking splitting, Jack.

Fade to black. And start the credits ... this one is over.


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