Wednesday, September 29, 2004

More from Gore 

From the man who defeated Bush in the last election comes this advice:
(My comments/additions in normal font, Gore's comments in italics)

This year, as usual, the dominance of attack advertisements on television has made it hard to get a clear picture of where the candidates stand. But the same media revolution that brought us the 30-second commercial also brought us televised presidential debates - and ever since the first of them 44 years ago, they have played a crucial role in shaping voters' opinions of the candidates.

Nixon the quaking Quaker was humiliated by an energetic, engaging JFK

America has long been devoted to the clash between opposing advocates as the best way to evaluate information. In this era of media clutter, it is all the more important for voters to have this moment of simple clarity when the candidates appear before them stripped of advisers, sound bites and media spin.

The real key is for people to actually listen to the candidates...all the more reason for a compelling vision. Attacking Bush is not enough--offer the alternative, like, say, the peace and prosperity we had for the eight years before Bush pissed on all but 1% of us

My advice to John Kerry is simple: be prepared for the toughest debates of your career. While George Bush's campaign has made "lowering expectations" into a high art form, the record is clear - he's a skilled debater who uses the format to his advantage. There is no reason to expect any less this time around. And if anyone truly has "low expectations" for an incumbent president, that in itself is an issue.

This is a strong point. Bush is going to want people to respond with their emotions, because it's a playing field leveler. If people feel rather than think, then all topics are equalized, and you can end up comparing Botox therapy to planning illegal wars from the day you got in office, carrying through on your plans, and then being a war criminal sitting in the most powerful position on the planet. Best to get away from feelings, and pull apart "W"'s record of malicious incompetence.

Gore's warning is spot on, though. Some on the left, center and even near right--all of whom have been betrayed by Bush--have somehow conflated Bush's faux "aw, shucks!" posing with his real persona. He is reasonably intelligent, unreasonably malicious, stubborn and evil. Do not underestimate him, as he has nothing else but his persona to worry about. He can spend all day (that is, the 50% of days he's not on vacation) practicing his speech, because he doesn't do anything else. He will be well prepped.

But more important than his record as a debater is Mr. Bush's record as a president. And therein lies the true opportunity for John Kerry - because notwithstanding the president's political skills, his performance in office amounts to a catastrophic failure. And the debates represent a time to hold him to account. For the voters, these debates represent an opportunity to explore four relevant questions: Is America on the right course today, or are we off track? If we are headed in the wrong direction, what happened and who is responsible? How do we get back on the right path to a safer, more secure, more prosperous America? And, finally, who is best able to lead us to that path?

The real question is, "Why aren't Americans already paying attention to this issue?" "W" is the "W"orst, most "W"icked president we've seen since Millard Fillmore (maybe even further back). The fact that no one has shaken "couch potato USA", which will decide this election, out of their drugmatic slumber and intellectual torpor, is tantamount to criminal neglect. Give us a vision, any vision, that doesn't involve surrendering our freedom, security, peace of mind and salaries--all in the name of "democracy"!?--and people will respond. As I've stated before, ABB is not enough. Maybe it lets us feel smug and superior, but it doesn't sell to the couch potatoes.

A clear majority of Americans believe that we are heading in the wrong direction. The reasons are obvious. The situation in Iraq is getting worse. Osama bin Laden is alive and plotting against us. About 2.7 million manufacturing jobs have been lost. Forty-five million Americans are living without health insurance. Medicare premiums are the highest they've ever been. Environmental protections have been eviscerated.

A picture of America 2008 might help. What kind of bleak life are we creating for ourselves? Do people really like "Life During Wartime"? (OK, the Talking Heads aside). Imagine what we'll be like in 2006 when the world pulls the plug on our loans. Anyone heard of Argentina?

In the coming debates, Senator Kerry has an opportunity to show voters that today American troops and American taxpayers are shouldering a huge burden with no end in sight because Mr. Bush took us to war on false premises and with no plan to win the peace. Mr. Kerry has an opportunity to demonstrate the connection between job losses and Mr. Bush's colossal tax break for the wealthy. And he can remind voters that Mr. Bush has broken his pledge to expand access to health care.

This is not hard to do. Simply show what "Joe & Joanne Couch Potato" are making each year in real dollars since 1999. Pick the median income--the person with 50% making more, 50% making less--and show what they can buy in 1999 dollars today.

For example, look at the most recent census data available:

-->The Gini index of income inequality remained unchanged between 2002 and 2003; the share of aggregate money income for the lowest 20 percent declined from 3.5 percent to 3.4 percent.

-->The official poverty rate rose from 12.1 percent in 2002 to 12.5 percent in 2003.

-->The number of people in poverty increased 1.3 million to 35.9 million in 2003.

-->The poverty rate for children rose from 16.7 percent in 2002 to 17.6 percent in 2003.

-->Real median household income is down ~4% since 2000 (see census data, slide 5, page 3).

This is hard to "folksy" your way around. Bring this data to the debate, Mr. Kerry.

Senator Kerry can also use these debates to speak directly to voters and lay out a hopeful vision for our future. If voters walk away from the debates with a better understanding of where our country is, how we got here and where each candidate will lead us if elected, then America will be the better for it. The debate tomorrow should not seek to discover which candidate would be more fun to have a beer with. As Jon Stewart of the "The Daily Show'' nicely put in 2000, "I want my president to be the designated driver.''

Anyone who wants the President to be their buddy is truly ignorant. All politicians are cutthroats. Kerry. Bush. Cheney, especially Cheney. Even Edwards, in spite of how nice he seems. You don't want to have a beer with any of them. Oh, and hate to burst your bubble, they definitely don't want to have a beer with you. Snort of coke? OK, maybe "W" does want that, but I digress.

The debates aren't a time for rhetorical tricks. It's a time for an honest contest of ideas. Mr. Bush's unwillingness to admit any mistakes may score him style points. But it makes hiring him for four more years too dangerous a risk. Stubbornness is not strength; and Mr. Kerry must show voters that there is a distinction between the two.

You want stubborn? Here's stubborn. December 1944. Hitler launches the Battle of the Bulge, ultimately ensuring the loss of more land to Russia, with concomitant higher levels of retaliatory rape, pillage and summary executions for the east of Germany. Western Poland today was German soil for centuries. Did I mention the Holocaust? Hitler was stubborn, unwilling to admit mistakes, and definitely a speaker who won style points--just to hear him say "Gesundheit" is enough to raise your blood pressure. No thanks, I want more.

If Mr. Bush is not willing to concede that things are going from bad to worse in Iraq, can he be trusted to make the decisions necessary to change the situation? If he insists on continuing to pretend it is "mission accomplished," can he accomplish the mission? And if the Bush administration has been so thoroughly wrong on absolutely everything it predicted about Iraq, with the horrible consequences that have followed, should it be trusted with another four years?

Let's just say the Oracles of Delphi are not worried about job security when the Bush family visits on one of their many vacations. Dad said, "read my lips, no new taxes", but at least he was fiscally responsible and raised them anyway (by the way, he had to, the economy then was almost as bad as now, but he was the smart one). Junior "W"hatever said "mission accomplished", and an order of magnitude more troops have died since then. Imagine if "W" were leading us in World War II. After Dieppe, he'd be saying "mission accomplished"? There's a lot of work left to do, Junior.

The biggest single difference between the debates this year and four years ago is that President Bush cannot simply make promises. He has a record. And I hope that voters will recall the last time Mr. Bush stood on stage for a presidential debate. If elected, he said, he would support allowing Americans to buy prescription drugs from Canada. He promised that his tax cuts would create millions of new jobs. He vowed to end partisan bickering in Washington. Above all, he pledged that if he put American troops into combat: "The force must be strong enough so that the mission can be accomplished. And the exit strategy needs to be well defined."

Bush does indeed have a record. Record deficits. Record levels of citizens without Health Care insurance. Record levels of people who've stopped looking for jobs. Record numbers of middle and upper middle class jobs lost. Record economic fragility. Records for failure.

Comparing these grandiose promises to his failed record, it's enough to make anyone want to, well, sigh.

Could Gore have chosen a better word? I like this definition for "grandiose" from www.dictionary.com best:

"Characterized by affectation of grandeur or splendor; flaunting; turgid; bombastic; -- in a bad sense; as, a grandiose style."

Indeed. Turgid. As in a bloated turd. Bush is a poser, affecting a folksy stupidity that is however belied by his mendacity and belligerence. We don't need a poser right now--we need a real leader. Please show us you are such a man, Mr. Kerry. We'll vote for you, anyway, but Joe & Joanne need a little more coaxing.


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