January 20, 2004

: I watch TV…

It occurs to me that I can treat victory-night performances in the same way I treated the debates: as television experiences. So here’s my experiential analysis of the Iowa caucuses.

I saw three presidents last night while watching CNN’s coverage: John Kerry, John Edwards, and Richard Gephardt. Dean’s third-place victory scream–yes, it was a primal scream right there on the TV–was just more evidence that this man either 1) does not have a competent campaign communications staff or 2) does not have sense enough to listen to them.

I have been resisting the “angry” meme and its master narrative. But the Iowa results may indicate that this meme has more substance than I had at first thought. William Saletan puts it this way:

If you watched Zogby or other tracking polls over the past week, the most striking gap was between the favorables of Kerry and Edwards and the favorables of Dean and Gephardt. (Favorables are the numbers showing how many voters have a favorable opinion of the candidate and how many have an unfavorable opinion.) Kerry’s and Edwards’ unfavorables–the percentage of respondents saying they had an unfavorable opinion of each of those candidates–hovered around 10 percent. Gephardt’s number was around 20, and Dean’s was around 30. (Evidently Dean beat Gephardt because he had enough commitment from some supporters to cancel out the loss of others.) Comments from caucusgoers tonight and over the past week confirm that Iowa wasn’t so much won by Kerry and Edwards tonight as it was lost by Dean and Gephardt. Moral: In a big field, belligerence doesn’t pay. While you’re beating up the guy on your left, the guy on your right is coasting to victory.

In 1988, Gary Hart lost the nomination because he was caught, well, you know. What (else) will Howard Dean do to lose this nomination?

I thought Gephardt delivered a dignified parting address. While he is one of the five that I think need to be gone by the end of next week, I at least wanted to see him make it to the end of next week. With Moseley-Braun out, that leaves Kucinich, Lieberman, and Sharpton left to provide comic relief. After New Hampshire, it won

9 Responses

  1. Dr. Bonzo 

    Dr. Cline,

    I’m right along with you both in your assessment of how Dean’s scream came across and in your increasing interest in Edwards.

    How well do you think the “my Daddy worked in a mill” meme can work for Edwards? (Or, to turn the question around, how could Edwards use his non-patrician background to best rhetorical advantage?)

  2. Dr. Bonzo…I think he’s doing an excellent job of using his background. Now, it’s a use similar to Gephardt’s. But Edward’s personal style (good looks and Clinton-like personal connections with average folks) further enhances what is normally a good stance for Democrats .

    I particularly like how he juxtaposes hard work in the working poor and middle class with the lack of generosity he sees in the rich. While some might call this class warfare (and it is), I don’t see that as a problem considering that’s been the classic split in politics since forever.

    The question, then, is this: Can Edwards convince the independent, middle class person that his/her political fortunes are better served looking down the economic ladder than up it? I think he can because the middle class knows it’s far easier to slide down that ladder than climb up.

  3. Richard ~ 

    Re: The angry meme, I sometimes wonder how a Teddy Roosevelt would be critiqued and if his ‘bully pulpit’ would need to be handled in modern times of media coverage.

    I still find Dean to be the leader of the pack, but the question still remains as to whether he’ll be able to make the transformation to obtain the stature of a Teddy, or be relegated to the locker room ravings of a football coach. This is the one where the substance is, but it’s a mystery as to whether the proper/sellable sound bites can follow. Fascinating to watch.

  4. Richard…time change 🙂 Teddy would have a difficult time of it, I’m afraid. That’s too bad in a number of ways and for a number of reasons.

    The thing is… Dean has some good raw materials. But I get the sense that he doesn’t listen to good advice and/or allows himself to be carried away in the heat of the moment–neither good traits for a president.

  5. Dr. Bonzo 

    Dr. Cline, if I were advising Edwards I’d tell him to try to hire Kevin Phillips for strategy advice in this regard. (I’m in the middle of Phillips’s American Dynasty, and the depth of Bush’s patrician background and sense of entitlement, as Phillips paints them, is really shocking.) I have no idea if Phillips would take him up on it, but it would be fun to watch if he did.

  6. Well, having been in the audience for Dean’s speech, I have to say that live it played very, very well. It really worked. People next to me literally made the decision to volunteer in NH as a result.

    Almost everyone who was there were literally stunned to see how it played on TV. It was that different in context. Live it was amazingly powerful…on TV it played hard. Interesting how that worked.

    (Of course, it also helps to have the press chop up segments out of context to each other.)

  7. John…I watched it live and uncut on CNN. And my “analysis” is based on that experience.

    I have no doubt it played well to the crowd.

    The problem for Dean, however, is that most Americans experience politics through television. He needs to get hip to that fact fast or he’s going to throw away this nomination as surely as Hart did in 1988 (assuming that one must actively lose the nomination for the Mayer model not to work).

  8. Doug 

    You’re analysis is right on. Howard Dean’s “concession” speech seems to be doing him in. It makes me recall Gary Hart, and maybe even Dukasis’ tank moment. I’m a Republican myself, but I just can’t imagine the Democrats nominating someone who has such heavy baggage now. Can you imagine the commercials in October if Dean is the nominee? Ouch! 🙂

  9. Doug 

    Ooops..”Dukakis” that is…