Wednesday, November 10, 2004


Martin Sheen for President?

Excerpt from "We Have to Evolve or Perish" by Will Towle (click on the title to link to the full article). I can see most of his points, but I wonder if "West Wing" is not too esoteric and brainy a TV show for many voters....

We Must Start Running Spokesmen, Not Statesmen

What do Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger all have in common? They are all successful Republican candidates who came to power despite having no discernable legislative or executive accomplishments. Each had a resume that was either thin (Reagan, Bush) or non-existent (Schwarzenegger). However, each one of them successfully portrayed an image of the values that he hoped to promote. Significantly, two of the three are professional actors. All were personally well received by your "average American" (the important "which candidate would you like to have a beer with" quotient). Each used this resonance with the voters to portray simplistic themes. Each dodged difficult answers to complex problems. Each became an executive controlled in large part by his handlers. But all achieved electoral success.

To call this a victory of style over substance is to underestimate what the Republicans are doing. The foray into Iraq is part of a well thought out plan to annex the oil fields of the Middle East and to use the might of the US military to influence the world. Although all of this is explained in detail in the position papers of right wing think tanks, not a word of that analysis is expressed by their candidate to the press. Instead we got "this is the guy who tried to kill my dad" and "he has connections with terrorists." Again, vague statements by a popular spokesman that displayed the essence of the agenda without any of the details.

As Democrats, we adopt the polar opposite approach. We run candidates with long resumes. We explain our reasoning with detailed bullet points. We think facts demonstrate the policies we promote. John Kerry had a twenty year in the US Senate and a decorated combat career. These facts were supposed to project the image of well reasoned domestic and international policy tempered by the personal experience of combat.

It didn't. Instead, W pranced around in a military flight suit and projected the image of someone who supported the military during this time of war. The fact that W went AWOL and then deserted from his military unit during the Vietnam war went largely ignored. The fact of John Kerry's lifetime support of the military got lost in the shuffle of his statements on the Iraq war and the Swift Boat for Truth attacks. Arguably, Kerry blew the best visual of his campaign when he appeared with his Swift Boat comrades at the DNC convention looking out of place in his Senatorial blue suit. He should have donned combat fatigues and his old naval hat.

John Kerry's nuanced and thoughtful comments (which we Democrats loved so much) became so much background white noise to the important parts of the electorate that we needed to support us.

As Democrats we need to recognize the Presidency is a position that is more symbolic than substantive. The electorate does not want substantive candidates. They want candidates who demonstrate the imagery and symbolism that gives them comfort. In 2004, Kerry failed to demonstrate a strong image of being strong on defense. Bush, who factually does not support the troops, convinced most Americans that he symbolically embraced the troops. He therefore won this important part of the vote.

Republicans rely on the candidate's handlers to deliver on the substance of the image that candidate has promoted. In large part, even Reagan and Bush supporters admit to this. Did Reagan or does Bush understand the details of the policies he promotes? No, he doesn't. But he can recite the "talking points" and get the sound bite on the nightly news. Karl Rove then does the rest.

Does this mean we need to run Martin Sheen? Maybe it does. The fact that this seems crazy to you means that you, as a Democrat, have not absorbed what Reagan and Schwarzenegger have done. There are many image-friendly Democrats who have the intelligence and fortitude to be good candidates. Many are already in politics but some will not be. I will leave that to the media savvy to tell me who projects the image we need. How about the Springsteen/Sheen ticket? Or the Obama/Oprah ticket? Let you imagination run wild here! To everyone who says I am crazy, I say one thing: AHN-ALD! AHN-ALD! A dopey Austrian-born body builder turned action hero is governor of California. And you said it would never happen.

(Will Towle)

(Thanks to my friend Jim Holt for alerting me to this.)

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