Via Political Animal, a brilliant dissection of why Kerry isn’t connecting by smart liberal Mark Schmitt.
If I were running the issues department of the Kerry campaign, or any campaign, the sign above my desk would not be James Carville’s “It’s the Economy Stupid”: my sign would say, “It’s not what you say about the issues, it’s what the issues say about you.” That is, as a candidate, you must choose to emphasize issues not because they poll well or are objectively our biggest problems, but because they best show the kind of person you are, and not just how you would deal with that particular issue, but others yet to rear their heads.
I couldn’t agree more.When I hire someone for a project, I look at their resume, but what matters as much as the specific skills they bring to bear (in almost all cases) is who they are. This is illuminated by what they have done, what they can do, and what they want to do. But the reality is that in most cases, when I hire someone, the critical contribution they make will be the one I didn’t know I would need when I hired them.
This is multiplied a thousandfold in the case of someone with the kind of broad responsibilities a President bears.
I don’t know what the next four years holds, and neither do any of the rest of the voting public. So we have to choose someone based on a combination of what they believe and who they are.
Kerry’s personal history, persona, and policies have never gelled into anything consistent. Sadly, the thread that runs through it all is one of self-regard. that’s why minor incidents like “I don’t fall down!! The SOB knocked me over!” carry so much weight – because we’ve ‘framed’ Kerry with who we believe him to be, and so when he acts in a way that’s consistent with what we already believe, small facts reinforce big impressions.
I don’t think that Kerry’s reversals of position before, during, and after Vietnam or his brave – but not unquestionably so – record while there are the problem.
I think the problem is that Kerry has never offered up an explanation for what he did that ties the pieces together and gives a clear picture of who he is and what he believes. And because he has no consistent political philosophy – just a belief in a certain set of institutions and in a certain kind of fairness – we get a Lego candidate, assembled from blocks, incidents, and promises.
Back to Schmitt:
As much of a liberal policy wonk as I am, I don’t believe that issues should be the basis on which people base their votes. To rank character very high is not just a tactical necessity for candidates, it’s perfectly legitimate for voters. First, this is not a parliamentary system, and rational voters know that they are not really choosing a platform along with a president, but rather are choosing a particular stance or attitude in relation to the other centers of power in the political system. And, second, in a basically affluent and tranquil society — despite income inequality, despite 45 million uninsured, despite all that — the problems we don’t know about are still a bigger deal than the ones we do.
I’ll say it again: I couldn’t agree more…