October 31, 2004

Why [insert presidential candidate's name here] won.

Hey, you don't have to wait until the votes are counted on Tuesday to know why whoever won, won. Grabbing every cliche and hackneyed bit of 'conventional wisdom' they could, two of Campaign Desk's crack correspondents have already written the stories that you'll undoubtedly be seeing in the US press after the winner emerges.

Here's a piece of the Dubya wins story:

Bush's advantage on the election's key issue derived from his campaign's bold decision to relentlessly focus its message on the war on terror. Bush's handlers skillfully depicted their man as a decisive, resolute leader, and created a compelling contrast with his opponent, who they depicted -- right out of the starting gate, and consistently thereafter -- as weak and vacillating, temperamentally unsuited to lead the country in dangerous times.

Indeed, in the final analysis, the key moment of the campaign may have come way back in April after Kerry had clinched the Democratic nomination. That was when the Bush team took to the airwaves with a barrage of negative advertising painting Kerry as a prevaricator, and drove that message home in campaign speeches, on cable news shows, and in every other forum available to them.

"Flip-flopper" entered the national lexicon.

At that time and afterwards, Kerry aides (later dismissed or replaced) insisted they had withstood the assault. And it's true that the Democrat remained competitive in the polls through the final weekend. But, significantly, Kerry was never able to break out to the type of sustained, clear-cut lead that his backers expected. His support seemed to hit a ceiling somewhere around the mid-to-high 40's. From the safety of hindsight, this observer hereby pronounces that Bush campaign's early effort to negatively brand Kerry for voters before he had a chance to portray himself positively was smashingly successful.

The flip-flopper charge was particularly devastating for Kerry, not simply as a character question, but also because it directly diminished his standing on the campaign's central issue, the war on terror. Any hint of indecisiveness, the Bush camp argued, was particularly dangerous in a post-9/11 world. As the president became fond of putting it: "If America shows uncertainty or weakness, the world will drift towards tragedy."

And here's some of the Kerry wins story:

Like his father before him, there were times when George W. Bush looked unbeatable. He led a country united by the 9/11 attacks, capitalizing on a wave of popularity to push through domestic programs that might otherwise have been doomed. But while George Herbert Walker Bush's engagement with Saddam Hussein garnered him political capital, his son was dragged down by a steady drumbeat of bad news in the weeks before the election, which left the picture of a grand adventure gone sour.

Karl Rove may well be a behind-the-scenes genius, but even he couldn't find a way to win over an electorate disenchanted with the administration's foreign policy (attack Osama bin Laden verbally, attack Saddam Hussein with guns and bombs). The arrival of a videotape from bin Laden just days before the election seemed to play right into Rove's hands, focusing attention on the threat from abroad and tempting Americans to rally around the president. But in hindsight, it's clear to this disinterested observer that the tape had the opposite effect, reminding voters that bin Laden was still on the loose, and that Bush had focused on the wrong swarthy lunatic with a beard. "I was leaning toward voting for Kerry all along, but that tape pushed me over the edge," said Francine Madison, an Iowa voter who participated in multiple focus groups (Hey -- $50 a shot!) with seasoned pollster John Zogby. "I mean, if Bush is protecting us so well, why is that man still out there?"

Not long ago, it looked like voters might head to the polls more dismayed with the specter of a fluent-in-French, windsurfing president than with four more years of a brush-cutting cowboy (with two Ivy League degrees) fumbling about on the world stage. The president and his surrogates kept to one central theme throughout the campaign: that Kerry was an elitist flip-flopper who would worry a problem to death rather than act decisively. Kerry's missteps didn't help: He referred to a "global test" for American action during the debates; he said he voted for an appropriations bill before voting against it; and he often came off as dry, uninspiring, and patrician on the stump. But Kerry, as his past performance suggested, was a thoroughbred in the stretch, closing relentlessly on the frontrunner, just as his shrewd surrogates (themselves brought on board late in the game) had predicted.

What's really scary about the two Campaign Desk stories is that we've already seen pieces of each one so many times in what passses for campaign analysis. Even scarier is the fact that this magpie can already envision something like one of these stories cranking off the AP wire on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. Written by Nedra Pickler, no doubt.

Posted by Magpie at October 31, 2004 03:33 PM | Elections | Technorati links |
Comments

There are two things that this reminds me of.

The first "thing" was the Tampa Tribune running a story this summer talkign about how the Tampa Bay Lightnign lost the Stanley Cup but how they brought joy to their fans along the way...

The only problem was the Lightning won teh Cup and someone wasn't paying attention when they had to chose the proper story that went in their Editorial page.

The second thing this reminds me of is the satirical guesswork journalism of "The Daily Show" -- when Jon Stewart talks to Ed Helms or Stephen Colbert on location and they start giving remarks for information they don't yet know. Jon points out that fact adn thent eh reporter announces they have contingency stories in case something else happens during an event.

Yeah, all your bases covered so you don't have to report. The benchmark of great journalism... **rolling my eyes in disgust**

Posted by: John F. at October 31, 2004 03:53 PM