Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Dean v. Kerry, cont'd. 

Dawkins writes:

I'd been meaning to say something about these notions of playing the media game and Dean getting destroyed by the media. I'll say a little here:

I saw Dean's scream speech live, the moment it was unfolding, before being told by any media outlets how to feel about it. And I feel that, notwithstanding what I'd already read about Dean's personality, I'm able to make up my own mind about things I see and hear for myself.

As I watched Dean's speech, I thought to myself, "Wow, Dean is fired up." Then he went, "Yeahaaaah!" and I thought to myself, "Wow, this is a little much."

(Others felt this way. I have talked to many people with reasoned, sound, non-media-perverted judgment, and, yes, some reasonable people do think that Dean's speech was somewhat extraordinary.)

This aspect of that Media Whores item you sent around earlier is right on:
The most that can be said is that, if the phony outrage harms Dean, he was not sufficiently prepared either to avoid or respond to the phony outrage over his speech (what a disgraceful "standard" for political performance we've sunk to).
Yeah, it's a disgraceful standard, and yeah, we've sunk to it, but at a certain point, unless Howard Dean's election will bring with it a concomitant widespread reformation of the media business, he's got to play the game set up by the press.

Dean can certainly choose to behave however he wants. But my contention is that, given that he's already been tarred (yes, unfairly, stupidly) by the media as "angry and unstable," maybe he should try harder not to seem "angry and unstable."

So getting up and screaming after Iowa does not mean, in the world of sense and reality, that the man is, indeed, angry and unstable, but in the media world in which we live, yes, it will mean that he appears to be thus.

It's not my fault he got up and screamed, it's not the television cameras' fault he got up and screamed. At a certain point it is Howard Dean's fault.

(Can you see that I'm cynical, and utterly browbeaten by the way things are? Yes, I am. But is this cynicism not sort of a realism?)

Now Dean knows, viscerally, what the game is all about, and he's now begun to play it.

In his first speech after the Iowa scream, he acted calmer and more statesmanlike. Then he went on TV with his calm and mellow wife.

Yes, playing the game is utter bullshit, but until we have an entirely different media in this country, it's what a candidate must do.

I submit the notion that John Kerry at the outset of his campaign was tarred (unfairly, stupidly) as seeming aloof, arrogant, aristocratic, patrician. His campaign, consequently, started to sink, fast.

What did he do? He left New Hampshire - the place where these perceptions were stronger than anywhere else - and went full time into Iowa. And he went out and acted against what may (or may not) be his true nature. He started speaking in shorter sentences, gave shorter speeches, worked hard at going door to door, going to schools, going to the American Legion halls, answering questions, eating chili with firemen, wearing sweaters, all that. He leaned heavily on his war experience and on his ties to veteran communities. He stopped talking like a smarty pants and started yelling a bit more.

Then he won in Iowa (and now in NH), and the storyline on him now is how he "reinvented" himself, tightened up, got back to his grassroots, matured, learned how to campaign again. In short, he got plastered by the media, he saw the game, he played the game, and it served him well.

Yes, he played the game, and sold out to the media, etc. But without changing the substance of what he stands for, he's managed to avoid constant, crippling coverage about his "aloofness" and "arrogance." Isn't that the thing to do?

….Maybe he's already played the media game to the media's satisfaction… ….Maybe they'll not seek to destroy him again should they have another opportunity….

The media spin on Dean is, of course, that he's angry, volatile, out of control, and un-presidential. I think the problem that some Dean supporters, and perhaps the Dean campaign itself, are having is that they've been (very rightfully) pissed off by the shallowness and imcompleteness of this picture. They've become defensive and denied that the charges are true.

But it doesn't matter if the charges are true. What matters is what the candidate and the campaign do in response to the charges. Dean folks, I think, demand purity, true belief, and commitment from their candidate and their campaign, which is noble. But the choice is only: either play the game or don't play the game.

To that end, I think by now Dean ought to know how the game will portray him, and if he knows that the press is calling him "angry" and "unstable," the last thing he should do is go onstage and yell and scream. So maybe that's his nature, maybe he does "lead with his heart and not with his head," but even if so, if he wants to win, perhaps he's got to stop being himself, or at least modulate his self a bit.

It's true: Dean's not played the game by its rules yet, but he's starting to play it now. After Iowa, he's changing his message, he doesn't talk about how politicians "lie to voters," he's not going to hoot and holler, and he's going to drag his wife out to talk to Diane Sawyer. Good. It's the smart thing to do.

Regarding Gore, maybe I'm a revisionist, but I tend to no longer believe that the media (on their own) destroyed Gore. I think they had some help from Gore himself. Think about how you'd rate Gore if he were running today, among Kerry, Dean, Clark, and Edwards. I honestly believe (unless I can no longer trust my own sentiments) that I'd rate a Gore candidacy BEHIND those of Kerry, Dean, Clark, and Edwards. All these guys are actually better candidates than Gore was.

I was just thinking the other day that if Dean had run in 2000 against Gore, I think he might have beaten Gore and even beaten Bush!

(I've been thinking back to this notion, too: how was there any way, under Heaven, that the choice of Lieberman for Vice President was going to do anything other than sink Gore's candidacy? Think about it. Did you think, after Lieberman was chosen, that Gore had any chance to win? I don't say this as an Anti-Semite - I love Semites, by God, and I love America! - but c'mon!)


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