Monday, August 30, 2004

The Kerry Strategery

Perhaps you recognize my attempt at literogenesis from the frequent Saturday Night Live skits during the 2000 Presidential election. The cast used to enjoy poking fun at then-Gov. Bush's frequent mangling of the English language. I use it today to poke fun at another mangling currently underway in the public eye, although this one has almost nothing to do with George Bush.

So I'm thinking that how a campaign is run says a lot about the type of administration we might see the candidate lead. That is, after all, why we have campaigns--not just to get to know the candidate's take on the issues, but also to see how the "team" mobilizes to the direction of the candidate. And I realize that the Swift Boat ads aren't the only thing going on in this campaign, but I think that they serve as a good focal point to see the Kerry strategists in action, since it was the first time this campaign season that the Kerry team didn't really set the agenda for the news cycle. And since unforeseen things will happen if you occupy the highest office in the land, knowing how a "team" responds to these types of situations is key. And so far, I'm giving Kerryists a big thumb's down!

First of all, big-picture talk here: you have to realize when you are in a "battle". I think from early on, the SBVT presented themselves as a team that was decidedly and publicly against Kerry being put in the White House, and they were "attacking" the most important part of Kerry's justification to being given the reigns of our military as Commander-in-Chief. To me, that smacks of a battle--and I hope, in the name of REALITY, that it appeared the same way to the Kerryists. If they didn't see it as a battle on the horizon, then I think that says all you need to know about camp Kerry. For the sake of argument, we'll assume that at least somebody in the Kerry campaign realized that the Swiftees were a real threat to their candidate, which allows me to proceed as follows:

All right, here's how I think you "fight" a battle, in simple terms:
1) identify your foes;
2) identify your friends that will help you in the battle;
3) identify the strengths and weaknesses of both groups;
4) try to set and/or respond to the tactical situation so that each engagement maximizes (as much as you can) the strengths of you/your allies while exposing the weaknesses of your foes; 5) re-assess the situation so you're not fighting yesterday's battle today; and
6) know when to go for the kill or, having failed in the proper waging of war, when to ask for terms of settlement.

If I were a Kerry strategist, applying these principles to the Swift Boat attacks the day they were initially released a month ago:

1) foes: the allegations leveled by the Swiftees
2) friends: the major media; the written records; the lack of the nation's desire to re-live the VietNam war
3) a) foe's strengths: theses are some pretty solid, "stand-up-to-the-smell-test" assertions; the "team" is passionate about their cause and knowledgeable about the facts
b) foe's weaknesses: limited ability to get the "message" heard by the masses
c) friends' strengths: major media="control" of the information that reaches the masses; the written records=a foundation to repudiate charges that might be made; nation's desire=a willingness of the people to dismiss this whole thing--unless it gets interesting. . .
d) friends' weaknesses: the press is beholden to the call for cash, so their need for survival sometimes outweighs their political agenda; the nation's desire for the truth could be cumbersome if enough people start asking questions

I won't get into the exact fighting of the battle so far, but from what I list above, it would seem to me that Kerry needed to maximze the press' ability to fight the Swiftee ads, while sticking with the facts that are on the record--AND do it all quickly so that the public loses interest and , led by the major media, moves on to something else.

But here's what happened: a) the Kerry camp goes black, leaving the press to fight the battle themselves without any help from the "leader" they're supposed to be helping. By the time Kerryists finally became engaged in the field, the press' absolute control of the "information" field was challenged--strongly--by the internet. If Kerry had come out to HIS press from the word go, then the major media would have driven the cycle every day; instead, the major media was forced to play catch-up to the young, energetic blogosphere that was literally whirring out a new "inconsistency" every day (at least). While the blogosphere will never reach EVERYBODY, the input they have had to the process increased significantly during the Kerry press blackout. Even then, the press had fought a valiant fight for "their guy"--and then Kerry decides to address the Swiftee charges. And to fans of the major media who hadn't even heard of the Swiftee charges, the credibility of the major media is ripped. So Kerry's actions have served to weaken his greatest strength--exactly NOT the way to engage in this sort of affair.

b) The Kerryists have jumped all over his own record in the last two weeks, so much so that even camp Kerry can't know from day to day what the stance is on such issues as the first Purple Heart, the Christmas in Cambodia, etc. Finally Thursday, Kerry used a pretty good tactic: the record was certified by the Navy 30-odd years ago--don't you think they know what they're talking about? And that would have been a great response to the first Swift boat ad--but in the midst of Kerry's return from the blackout, the Swiftees had moved on. (see strategic step #5) Recently they've attacked Kerry for saying he was in Cambodia (which there are no Navy records to support Kerry's claims) and for his Senate testimony in 1971 (which Navy records won't support, either). Your records won't help you there, Senator--and once again the Swiftees are driving the news cycle.

c) No matter whether you're pro-Bush or pro-Kerry, there's one thing you can't argue: Kerry's response time to the Swiftees is ridiculously slow. Listen, if the first Swiftee ad was wrong, just flat out wrong, why wait two weeks to address it? If it's a lie two weeks after it surfaced, it's a lie the first day it surfaced. WHAT WAS KERRY WAITING ON??? The fact that Kerry has not factually defended his record, but rather counter-attacked the group levying the charges against him, lends credibility to the Swiftee attack. Not to mention, the delaying tactic was a key ingredient in the failures I wrote about in the paragraphs above.

SO--not exactly the right way to deal with the Swiftees when they came to light, right? Let's update the timeline now, to last week. Remember, the background has changed, due almost entirely to Kerry's horrible handling of the inital "outburst" from the Swiftees:

1) Foes: Swiftees, the record (increasingly so, at least), the blogosphere
2) Friends: the major media
3) a) Foes strengths vs. weaknesses:
Swiftees--ever-increasing credibility vs. limited funds to get the message out
the record -- hard-as-nails evidence of things Kerry did/said he did vs. umm. . .I don't know
the blogosphere--rapid gathering and dissemination of information vs. a small audience to get the message out
b) Friends' strengths vs. weaknesses:
the major-media: still the #1 way to get a message out, and they are leaning towards helping Kerry vs. slow-moving news cycles that can seem outdated within a short period of time

All right, here's how you fight this battle, Mr. Senator: you use the "volume" deficit in "message-delivering capabilities" to your advantage. You have a sit-down with a media representative (you should find more than a few that are willing to be nice to you) and clarify things for the record. You seek to answer all sorts of questions, and even offer to turn the event into a Q&A with reps from the other side (primarily, the blogosphere). It may be painful, but if you're honest and leave no question left unanswered, you put this whole nonsense behind you. This maximizes the major media's play to help you (as well as helping THEM in the way that matters most--ratings!!!), you take control of the news cycle again, and you take away the main point of contention to "independent" observers who have watched this thing unfold: that you have run and hid from the allegations rather than stand up for yourself.

BUT. . .here's what we see from the Kerry camp: a message from their #2 (Edwards), putting the onus on Bush to stop the Swiftee madness, at the same time that the press--looking for ANY sign of life from the Kerry camp--makes a big deal out of some Kerry backers going to the President with a letter asking him to make the Swiftees stop. In other words: the Kerry camp puts stock in Bush helping them (Bush is not really a Kerry ally in this battle, and was unlikely to respond to this request), while also putting the major media on the scene to watch the "right" send a counter-proposal to Kerry asking him to leave the Swiftees alone (this action would have received NO play in the major media--had they not been there following Cleland and Rassman)--all of this with limited public appearances from the #1 candidate himself. So once again, the "middle-of-the-road" observer of this process has MORE reason to question the "realism" of the Kerry team, AND the major media is put in a position where it isn't really making points for Kerry.

That's zero-for-two--which means he was ineffective in dealing with the problem at hand EVEN THOUGH he was given one more chance to play than he would be given as President. Such behaviors aren't the way to build confidence in the voters. Camp Kerry needs to be thinking LONG and HARD as to how they are going to respond if the SBVT allegations still have traction following the RNC.


Blogger Michael said...

Well said, bro. I've thought all along the Kerry team bungling of this was at least as interesting as the story itself, but your analysis in military terms really puts light on the subject.

12:49 AM  

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