Dumb It Down John Kerry

by | Oct 13, 2004

I’m a radical independent. The Democratic Party does not appeal to me. However, some eloquent Dems do. Most notably, Dennis Kucinich and his fellow members of the Progressive Caucus. And I must admit, the more I learn about John Kerry the more I like him. But this scares me. I like him because he’s smart, complicated and a man of character–the very things I’m afraid will keep him from winning the White House.

As a marketing professional, I’m a big believer in the axiom, “Consumers are smarter than you think.” I desperately want to believe this. Mostly, so I can create advertising that I’m proud of, which is no easy task. Yet, there’s plenty of proof that a more effective means of getting one’s message to stick is to make it easy to digest, then repeat it over and over again. The Republicans are masters of this form. They dream up their sound bites–or to borrow Berkeley linguist George Lakoff’s word, frames–then they use their vast treasure chests to pound these lines home. Lines like, “John Kerry is a flip flopper.”

The messages needn’t be true to work. Far from it. They merely need to be memorable and have immense budgets behind them. As I watch our President, and the positive reactions he garners from his supporters, I am often bewildered. I ask myself, what it is about this man that they find appealing? The answer is, despite his first family pedigree, he’s been able to package himself as a regular guy. A church going father and husband who sees issues in black and white. This is the way most Americans see the issues, as well. For most Americans get their information from broadcast media, a black and white medium if there ever was one. People like me like C-Span and newspapers, especially if they’re foreign. But I’m not like most people. I’m an intellectual troublemaker.

A great example of Americans seeing things in black and white is the war on terrorism. The intelligent response to 9/11 is to ask “Why did they do this to us?” But no one is confronting that pertinent question. I’m sure John Kerry has a good answer as to why, but he can’t afford to ask it in public. I can. The terrorists bombed the heart of America’s financial and military infrastructure because they want a future of self-determination. The effects of globalization in the Middle East and American ties to Saudi Arabian oil interests, including our willingness to help defend this resource at all costs led the terrorists to attack. They want a war with us and we were only too ready to deliver it to them.

I hope Kerry does win. But to do so, he needs to dumb it down and quick. I think he’s trying. When he says he will hunt down the terrorists and kill them, he’s attempting to appeal to Joe Sixpack. One of the most important lessons we learned from Vietnam is WIN. The other is control the media. Bush-Cheney are fantastic at the latter, but not so good at the former. I find the kill line reprehensible from such a thoughtful man, but I know he needs it. A better answer, one that would actually make the world safer (not to mention the air cleaner) would be to move hell and high water to develop sustainable energy NOW. There’s a real future in this direction and a ton of profit too, but it would require us to say we were wrong to rely so heavily on oil, and wrong to get into bed with the Saudis.