The American Museum of the Moving Image has put together a repository of campaign commercials, dating back to 1952. The commercials of most interest to me, of course, were the current commercials being run by Bush and Kerry. Since I live in California, which both parties are ignoring, I yet to see a single campaign commercial on TV. So I was curious to see what the voters of Florida, Ohio and Michigan are seeing. And now I’m distressed.
Bush’s commercials are very well done. The campaign is basically the “stay the course” approach that’s common for incumbent presidents, with the motto “Steady leadership in times of change”. The attack ads against Kerry do a good job of targeting Kerry’s weaknesses, in particular his voting record and his attempt to be all things to all people. The ads make their point dramatically, with technically excellent direction; when discussing Democratic attack dogs like Michael Moore, they zoom in on their faces to make them look like they’re shouting crazily into the camera. When talking about hope for America, there’s a lingering shot of a young girl looking up at the sun.
In contrast, Kerry’s ads are absolutely terrible. Disastrously bad. What are Kerry’s weaknesses? He has an image problem of being stiff and distant. So why do all of his commercials feature him droning into the camera? By the end of the first commercial, he sounded like the Charlie Brown teacher to me. Having that kind of focus on Kerry just emphasizes his lack of charisma. You’ll note that Bush’s team wisely kept Bush completely out of most of his commercials except for brief voiceovers.
What’s another Kerry weakness? The perception that he waffles on the issues, chasing the votes. So statements like “My priorities are jobs and health care. And my commitment is defending this country” just sound ludicrous. It makes me want to smack whoever is writing his copy. Pick a focus. Certainly don’t change focus multiple times within a single thirty second spot! Again, Bush’s team does it right – each ad is targeted at a single issue (“Troops”, “Weapons”, “Doublespeak”, “Jobs”).
I just don’t get it. How are the Democrats so incompetent at managing the media? If the media is really liberal, as conservatives like to claim, and if Hollywood is so liberal, then how come there isn’t a single person on Kerry’s team who knows anything about image management? It’s boggling. I want to march into Kerry’s headquarters and offer my services. Because I can’t possibly be worse than what they already have.
Of course, having said that, I guess I should say what I’d recommend doing. The problem is that Bush has staked out his position nicely with his ads. He is appealing to people’s innate conservatism to stick with the existing choice. He has identified Kerry’s weaknesses and established them in the public consciousness. He even has guarded his own flank with an ad (“Attack ads”) accusing Kerry of going back on his word, showing a tape of Kerry saying that he will not go negative (taken from the primary campaign), juxtaposed with the multiple ads attacking Bush. Basically, there’s only two ways for Bush to fail at this point; one is for the economy to take a dive, and the other is for a major conflict in Iraq with significant American casualties. And I can’t say I really hope for either of those.
I guess the best advice I’d have for Kerry is what I recommended at the end of this previous post. Let others such as MoveOn.org focus on bashing Bush and getting out the liberal vote. Concentrate your effort on getting your positive message out there. Why should America change leaders? What is your vision? Don’t give me a health care plan. Don’t give me economic policy. Gore demonstrated what a turnoff that is for the voters. Give me a shining vision, something on par with Clinton’s “New Democracy” that inspires me. The same old Democratic rhetoric will not win this election. Somebody needs to tell Kerry that. Soon. Or it will be too late.