Tuesday, April 13, 2004

WAR/NOT WAR

(A friend sent me an e-mail he sent to a friend of his, an American, who has lived in Europe for many years. His friend voiced some opinions which led me to think about how people will make their decision on the first Tuesday in November.)

I remember elections past when there were minimal differences between the "planks" of each party and what their candidates were saying. There was always rancor, but little name-calling and virtually no negative advertising. So what changed?

In 1960, for the first time a candidate looked at the "model" of how to run for President and did something very different. He used all the means and methods that are used in the business world to introduce a product, mass market it in a way that will both satisfy an existing demand for it AND create demand for it by appealing to previously unmet "needs". Oh yeah, he also "bought" business, much in the same way a big national company (e.g., Wal-Mart) prices to drive competitors out of business in key markets. It worked.

Kennedy's team of Madison Avenue creative talent combined with in-depth market research (a/k/a polling), plus the added benefit of his connections with Dick Daley (Chicago), Lyndon Johnson (Texas) and mafioso Sam Giancana (slush funds) won him the election by a whisker. As with G.W. Bush, Kennedy didn't win a plurality, but did win a majority of electoral votes. He knew Nixon's weaknesses and he hammered them home, and he used his buddies to make sure he won key markets.

As this strategy has developed over the years, it is clear that what you hope to identify is one or more issues that will quickly polarize the country into two camps, with your guy being in the favored camp. It's that simple. It isn't about what each party believes in. In that regard, there really hasn't been much of a change for decades. It's about selling the product.

Coke - Pepsi. Bush - Kerry. Ford - Chevrolet.

The good thing about each of the above choices is you can compare. Taste them. Analyze them. Test drive them. Then decide.

But how do you win the fence-sitters? How do you touch a nerve? What is the polarizing issue? The economy? Jobs? The Deficit? Iraq? Maybe, but I don't think so.

It's four simple words -- Are we at war?

The more I hear Kerry, his words tell me he doesn't believe so. He certainly believes that terrorism requires an American response, but he only seems interested in reactive responses, not proactive, and he wants NATO and the UN to be involved. He also wants much of the effort to be managed by law enforcement, here and abroad. I don't see John Kerry using the phrase "pre-emptive attack".

It's hard to triangulate those positions with a belief we are at war, so I'm guessing the answer Kerry would give to my question is "no". (I hope someone asks him, but I doubt he'd answer with a "yes" or "no", no matter what he believes.)

However, there is no doubt the answer Bush would give in a nanosecond is "yes".

Many of those who will vote for Kerry don't really believe America is at war.

Many of those who will vote for Bush believe America is at war.

That would be my single question exit poll on November 2nd.


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