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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Strategy Notes:
John Belisarius

How much damage did the Swift Boat attacks really do – and what can Dems learn from them?

It would be hard to find a Democrat right now who doesn’t think that the attacks during August by the Swift Boat critics were extremely damaging to John Kerry and that a much earlier and more combative response to the accusations would have substantially reduced their impact. With reports of new smear attacks on the horizon, many democrats consider the two generalizations above as the unquestioned basis for planning the democratic response.
But, surprisingly, the evidence for both of these conclusions is not as clear as it might seem. The analyses that have advanced this view have generally said something like the following: “Well, Kerry’s poll support fell during August and the Swift Boat attacks were the biggest news story that month so the one must have caused the other”
For example, Newsweek’s summary of its most recent poll argued,
Kerry’s campaign, on the other hand, may have been hurt by the television ad campaign launched against him by Vietnam veterans who question his record. Just 45 percent of all voters view Kerry favorably (down from 53 percent in late July) and 46 percent view him unfavorably (up from 37 percent).
This direct jump from the swift boat ads to the level of Kerry’s popularity is, to put it mildly, a pretty breathtaking leap of statistical inference (and one that is probably not a good idea to try out in Stat 101). But, if you look closely, many commentators argue along pretty much the same kinds of lines.
Commentators get away with this kind of “seat of the pants” thinking because, like most people, they rely heavily on gut, instinct and experience to reach conclusions and frequently use polling data more like decoration for their ideas then as actual proof.
But if Democrats want to make serious use of public opinion data in planning their political strategy, they need to begin by examining the data in a different way, focusing on results that can actually inform choices between alternative strategies.
In the case of the swift boat ads there are three key questions a practical political strategist would want answered: how effective actually was the attack, how much of an effect did the delayed response of the Kerry campaign have, and what impact, if any, did the attacks and the controversy have on the image and reputation of Bush and the Republican party.
1. How effective were the ads?
On the first question – how successful were the attacks – it is important to distinguish between public opinion about Kerry’s participation in the anti-war movement after he returned from Vietnam and the specific challenges the Swift Boat critics raised about his military service. As noted previously, Kerry’s anti-war activities during the early 1970’s had always been certain to anger and alienate a significant number of veterans and families of men who had died in Vietnam. According to an August 23-26 poll by the Annenberg Center for Public Policy, some 60% of the veterans who were familiar with John Kerry’s anti-war statements disapproved of them.
But in regard to the specific allegations raised by the Swift Boat critics that Kerry did not actually deserve his medals, the Annenberg study found that only 24% of the sample agreed in contrast to 55% who thought Kerry did indeed deserve them. In fact, even a majority of traditionally conservative groups such as men and veterans agreed with Kerry rather then his critics on this issue. It was only among Republican partisans and in the closed conservative media environment created by talk radio and cable TV that the percentage of those who thought Kerry did not deserve his medals ever rose above 30%.
Even after the Republican convention this negative view of the ads has persisted. In a Sept 3-5 Gallup survey, only 21% of the respondents felt the ads were “generally accurate” in contrast to 40% who felt that they “distort the truth” (another 40% were either unfamiliar with the issue or had not formed an opinion)
It is unquestionably disturbing that the Fox/Talk Radio/Republican Party media machine can convince 20% of the American people of charges that are rejected by most other Americans. But, while the attacks clearly twisted media coverage of Kerry in a negative direction during August and prevented Kerry from focusing attention on “his” issues, as an attempt to actually damage John Kerry’s image and reputation with voters outside the loyal Republican base, the data from the Annenberg survey (and other polls as well) indicate that the smear campaign was essentially a failure.
2. Would a faster response by the Kerry campaign have prevented the smear from taking hold?
The Annenberg survey also calculated day by day data during mid-August which showed that the number of people who doubted that Kerry deserved his medals gradually rose from about 20% on August 10, when the advertisements had been in the news for about 6 days, up to 30% by August 18th when the Kerry campaign first forcefully responded. After that, the percentage of doubters then sank back down to about 20% by August 26th as an increasing number of eyewitnesses, documents and editorials in major newspapers appeared supporting Kerry’s version of events.
Given the 10% decline in the percentage of people who doubted Kerry’s earned his medals that occurred once the Kerry campaign and the media began firmly challenging the attacks, it would indeed appear that an earlier response might have prevented the smear from gaining traction in the first place. But, before accepting this conclusion it is necessary to consider that significant sympathy for Kerry was created by the perception that he had been the victim of a two-week long, totally one-sided attack. Had the Kerry campaign responded furiously to the charges the same day they were launched, the counterattack would almost certainly have been spun by the critics as an attempt to “hide the truth” “create a cover-up”, “bully Vietnam veterans” or “prevent an honest debate”. This accusation, in turn, would then have been used to demand that the mainstream media criticize both camps for “negative politics” rather then just the Republicans and could easily have weakened the very categorical rejection of the accusations that finally appeared in the editorial comments of major newspapers like the L.A. Times and Chicago Tribune.
This does not mean that the slow response of the Kerry campaign was the right strategy. But it does illustrate that, in responding to smears, there are often significant trade-off’s between conflicting objectives that have to be taken into consideration.
3. Did the controversy damage the Republican Party’s image and reputation?
Regarding this final issue, the Annenberg study found in late August that 46% of the respondents believed the Bush campaign was behind the ads, in contrast to 37% who did not. By the time of the Republican convention an increasing perception of the party’s behavior as generally unfair had clearly taken hold. In the September 3-5 Gallup poll noted above, a majority of 52% of the respondents felt that Republicans had “attacked John Kerry unfairly” in contrast to only 42% who did not. (The democrats, in contrast, were seen by most voters as not having attacked Bush unfairly). Similarly, 50% of the Gallup sample felt the Republicans had spent too much time criticizing the Democrats during the convention in contrast to only 39% who thought they had maintained the right balance.
Lessons for next time
There are several conclusions suggested by this data, conclusions that go beyond the currently popular view that democrats should respond to any future smear attacks as rapidly, forcefully and aggressively as possible.
First, it is probably impossible to prevent smears from taking hold within the conservative “echo chamber” of Fox and talk radio and it may be a misuse of resources to attempt to achieve that goal. The more important and achievable goal – preventing the smear from spreading beyond that audience – is probably best pursued by energetically demanding that the mainstream media fulfill their journalistic obligations by emphatically and categorically labeling false accusations as baseless on their editorial pages rather then attempting to debate the issues directly with the smear group itself.
Second, while a very rapid and aggressive response to new accusations can clearly be desirable, it must still be balanced with the need to appear fair, unruffled and unafraid of open and honest debate. A shrill or intemperate counterattack, even if launched at the earliest possible moment, can have little effect or even be counterproductive.
Finally, Republicans have significantly damaged their image and reputation among many moderates and opinion leaders by embracing an essentially dishonest, “win at any cost” approach during this campaign. This tarnished reputation is an asset democrats should energetically exploit. Not only does it reduce the appeal and legitimacy of Republicanism in general, but it makes it easier for Dems to successfully deflect future smear campaigns. Ronald Reagan’s famous response, “There you go again”, with which he portrayed Jimmy Carter’s repeated challenges to his character as tiresome evidence of unfairness, provides one model of how such a strategy can be successfully executed.

63 comments on “Strategy Notes:
John Belisarius

How much damage did the Swift Boat attacks really do – and what can Dems learn from them?

  1. blamethegreens on

    I am in the “metamessage” group more concerned about whether the SBV attack showed Kerry to be girlie-manish than whether anyone actually believed the ads themselves.
    The thing I remember most clearly about Dukakis in 1988 was his clinical and dispassionate response to Bernard Shaw’s outrageously provacative debate question about his support of the death penalty if his wife and daughter were brutally raped and murdered. How would Mike D. have responded to 9/11?
    As much of a policy wonk as I am, I do need to see a little fire in the belly of my leaders now and again.
    Damn the torpedoes, full spead ahead.

  2. blamethegreens on

    Agreed…the more talk about SBV and authenticity of CBS docs does take Kerry’s campaign off target.
    And that target is…..GWB’s disasterous last four years.
    Also, got to factor in Pug desire to supress voter turnout by going all negative, all the time.
    Come on, Dumbo…stay with us. You’ve got it half right.

  3. Dumbo on

    Oh my God, do you mean O’Neill??
    Yeah, I remember him saying he was a Democrat.
    I also remember him at the Republican convention in 1972, declaring the convention delegates from the State of Texas for Richard Nixon during the nomination count. He was “proud.”
    Big Democrat.
    Oh yeah, he’s a Republican donor, too. Maybe it’s like a dyslexia thing, but with party identification.

  4. Joe on

    Okay so attacking what the guy is running is now completely and totally wrong what is Bush suppose to do compliment the guy on his tie that isn’t politics. Now here are some facts for you the leader of the 527 group Swift Booat Veterans for Truth is bipartisan their leader is an avowed democrat threw tapes recorded by Nixon. Guess what this entire thing is absurd Bush is not the one attacking Kerry. It is the men who served with Kerry who came forward give their names and said he was unfit for command. Bush has thanked Kerry multiple times for his service.

  5. Dumbo on

    Rachel, I think most of us (with some obvious exceptions) are die-hard Kerry people. If there’s any argument here about what Kerry should be doing, it’s only meant as constructive criticism, an internal dialogue about what to do and what not to do.
    I like the way Mark Alan described it. The surrogates do the attacking, the candidate pretends to stay above the fray.
    It was interesting to me, though, that Bush didn’t exactly try TOO hard to stay above the fray. The artful way he avoided criticizing the SBVT ads had a snickering quality to it. Nobody, not even Republicans, really believed he had nothing to do with it. His statement was made to be carefully parsed.
    I’m sure that a big part of his base was energized by the knowledge that their leader was willing to “Go Nuclear” on the enemy.
    There is, however, a big advantage in not being the first to go nuclear, in terms of public perceptions. Kerry can (through surrogates) attack back in more personal ways now, with words like liar (wmd’s) and crooked (halliburton) that would have seemed too “shrill” before, but now seem like fair play. A lot of people that might have reacted badly, before, to such words could now have more of a “Bush deserves it,” reaction.

  6. BJ Clinton on

    Sounds so nice, I’ll say it twice.
    Good, sound argument. Well stated.
    Clinton was not wimpy. Clinton was slick. Now that was a Democrat!
    Slick Willy, God protect him, must feel dissed by you guys pimping for that lightweight, Kerry. Don’t diss Bill.
    Vote for my boy, W.
    4 More Years!

  7. BJ Clinton on

    Mark Alan,
    I can’t tell if you are Democrat or Republican, but I like the cut of your jib!
    Isn’t it refreshing to see a Democrat willing to brawl because he thinks he has the issues, and ain’t afraid to go hard!
    Sorry, dude.
    But you could always switch sides or maybe just wait…
    4 More Years

  8. rachelrachel on

    Maybe your memory is fuzzy, but yes, Clinton was widely regarded as a wimp by many on the left. He was wimpy, indecisive, not willing to fight for Democratic values, waffling, evasive, not answering questions directly, caved in too easily to the Reupblicans, etc. Molly Ivins (is she far enough to the left for you?) wondered if Clinton, a child of an alcoholic who had an excessive desire to be liked, had the guts to piss people off to get the things done that needed to be done in the country.
    Clinton was at his worst when trying to answer questions about the war in Vietnam. Rather than giving a straight answer such as, “I was opposed to the war and I did what I could to protest against it,” he gave one pathetic, whining, waffly answer after another.
    It’s astonishing that you can’t remember this stuff.
    Focused? You really have no memory of this at akk, do you? With one of the Clinton aides telling the press she was worried about “bimbo eruptions”? Clinton would go on a local TV station talking about how he “didn’t inhale,” and it would make the lead story of the eleven-o-clock news. Don’t tell me you don’t remember that, either? Carville’s famous note to Clinton, “It’s the economy, stupid,” was written because Clinton was not focused, that he would ramble on and on and go off message.
    And, of course, you are wrong when you say that every attack was answered. Some, like the list of people who had mysteriously disappeared and were supposedly killed at the hands of Clinton, were ignored. If the campaign had responded to them, it would have given them a kind of legitimacy that they didn’t deserve.
    Clinton was brilliant, and so was Carville, but like any presidential campaign, theirs was chaotic.
    Clinton ran a positive, optimistic, and upbeat campaign. The campaign did generally refrain from personal attacks, not out of any desire to be nice, but because it made good political sense.

  9. mark alan on

    You are truly a piece of art when you say:
    “I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember Clinton, but he was a nice guy, and people on the left called him a wimp.
    But he was able to be elected to two terms.
    Sometimes, the nice, “wimpy” candidates are the ones who win!
    dear rachelrachel I am old enough since I did work on the 92 Clinton campaign. Sorry, I’m on the far left and no one was calling Clinton a wimp. Clinton was a “nice guy” duh! The campaign was led by Carville, who was ruthless. He attacked and was focused at every turn. He never let a attack go unanswered and he did it in a timly matter. A good campaign, such as Clinton’s had a great image of a nice guy as does W. it’s the surrogates and people behind the curtain that do the attacks, smears and yes lies.
    This is exactly how W. played the swiftboats. Although he knew in advance and has direct connection to the scums who put out the ads. W. came acrosss as “above the fray” . When he came out with McCain and said 527’s should be stopped as well as “We honor Kerry’s military service.” Rove and co. played it brilliantly!
    Clinton’s staff was on a war footing, they had a war room, they attacked, they were focused. Remember N.H. where Clinton only came in 2nd or 3rd, yet Carville brilliantly played the media, thus a looser became ” the comeback kid”
    It’ really a choise we on the left must face, and you rachael have sided with the looser Shrum and the wimpy, “nice” democrats. I’ve gotten over the whole niceness and lets play fair campaign that looser democrats constantly play. I’ve learned that “nice campaigns NEVER finish first” especially when you face Rove.
    Hopefully, Rachael you will learn this lesson to!

  10. frankly0 on

    Here’s the problem with John Belisarius’ analysis. It dismisses the Swift Boat ad explanation for Kerry’s dip in the polls without offering up another.
    I think it’s fair to say that Kerry is now probably 4-5% behind Bush, averaging various polls. Well into August, Kerry was probably about 5% up.
    Can we admit that SOMETHING happened between then and now? Can we acknowledge that it’s important to figure out what that is, and address it before it happens again?
    The claim by many Americans that the Swift Boat lies didn’t affect them, and that they don’t fully believe those ads is hardly by itself convincing evidence that some significant number of them weren’t affected by them, perhaps in conjunction with other smears from the Republican Convention (think Zell Miller), enough to switch to Bush. Voters always dismiss negative advertising when asked about it in polls, but they always seem to respond to it. The numbers we’re seeing in the Annenburg poll are of a piece with that.
    I do think, though, that some of the recommendations Belisarius makes are very useful. I particularly like the idea of making a big issue of the dirty politics the Republicans have been waging, and exploiting their loss of credibility and honesty in any further attacks they launch.
    But I don’t agree that the Dems should not very aggressively attack Bush, particularly on matters of character. I think that Bush has so much bad stuff on his side that, unlike the Republicans, the Dems can do this without any lies or even real distortions. Finding true faults in Bush’s character is shooting fish in a barrel.
    The Dems can and should emphasize that these are COUNTER-attacks, that they are defending the honor of an unjustly smeared man, and I think they can make that case VERY effectively. Launching such a counter-attack will demonstrate that Kerry truly is a man capable of being aggressive when fairness and simple justice demands it — not a point likely to be lost on voters.

  11. ira on

    Maybe this INCREDIBLE data will calm people down:
    This is 7-day rolling data from Rasmussen’s daily tracking poll for four key swing states, released on Sept. 11.
    Note: Bush’s numbers among independents significantly worsened from a release earlier in the week — he lost between 6 and 11 points in both FL and PA in only three days.
    Also note that in both FL and PA Kerry is doing better among independents tha among Democrats.
    Thanks to jsmdlawyer, http://www.dailykos.com/user/jsmdlawyer, at dailykos.com for this data.
    Sorry for the formatting, but I don’t think there’s a way for posting neat columns in this text box.
    FLA. (69-29) (30-69) (65-34) (34-66) (29-66)
    MICH. (84-14) (17-83) (87-13) (15-85) (15-84)
    OHIO (84-12) (17-81) (86-13) (23-76) (17-78)
    PENN. (78-19) (25-73) (80-20) (27-71) (15-79)
    FLA. (74-14) (23-75) (81-17) (23-77) (21-78)
    MICH. (53-42) (39-61) (58-35) (40-59) (29-64)
    OHIO (60-31) (38-60) (61-38) (41-59) (18-66)
    PENN. (78-18) (21-79) (79-19) (22-78) (11-84)

  12. warp resident on

    Charlie, you are exactly right to focus on the internals on the Newsweek poll. There appear to be two schools of thought on the party ID compostion. The Zogby school believes that polls should be normalized for party ID from actual elections, and that figure has been leaning more and more dem in the last three presidential elections. Then there is the Dick Morris school that believes that the republican tilt in the sampling such as the one you quote is not an artifact, but an actual reflection of changes is voter demographics. I’m still not sure where Ruy stands on this issue. However, it’s worth remembering that Zogby was among the more accurate in predicting recent elections. Morris has yet to be right about anything.

  13. rachelrachel on

    I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember Clinton, but he was a nice guy, and people on the left called him a wimp.
    But he was able to be elected to two terms.
    Sometimes, the nice, “wimpy” candidates are the ones who win!

  14. rachelrachel on

    Charlie T.:
    “Kerry’s campaign could have responded to Bush’s flipper-flopper ads with a “tit-for-tat” response advertisement long ago. It would have greatly blunted the effect of Bush’s ads, which unfortunately have embedded themselves in the psyche of many American voters.”
    It might have. On the other hand, it might have drawn more attention to the issue. Who knows?
    In 1992, Bill Clinton was branded as a flip-flopper, but I don’t remember him airing any ads to defend himself against that claim.
    There are various ways of responding to an opponent’s attacks: defending yourself against the charge, counterattacking, or ignoring it completely.
    Any competent campaign will do a mixture of all three.

  15. rachelrachel on

    Maybe this is the way you arrived at the conclusion, by thinking that the presidential election is nothing but a prize fight where whoever can beat the shit out of the other guy will win, but you haven’t addressed any of the specific issues that John pointed out.

  16. CharleyCarp on

    I’m not really conversant in the Kerry/Weld race, but I have the sense that JFK can get down and dirty when necessary. And it’s still a long way until November. The margin of victory will be people who mae up their minds in the last few days, and, in my opinion, everyone who’s going to make up his/her mind in advance of that has already done so.
    I think it makes sense to save the negativity until after those folks have already seen the positions on the issues. Otherwise, they’ll have 45 days of “Bush hatred is JFK’s only position” pounded into them, and when it comes time to really knock the Pres down, people won’t go our way, they’ll just stay home. We don’t want undecideds to stay home; we need them to agree with s on the issues.

  17. Sky on

    Hey BJ Clinton,
    Let me quantify another Clinton for you and the reason we’re supporting Kerry now:
    22 Million new jobs
    8 years of peace and prosperity
    Reformed Welfare laws
    100k new police
    Reduced poverty rates among children
    Respected in the world
    assualt weapons ban
    Family Medical Leave Act
    A federal surplus
    Oh, yeah, and a BJ. Funny how the opposition has
    a fetish with another person’s personal life and mistakes. Let’s move beyond “who’s good and who’s bad, and talk about who’s right and who’s wrong.”

  18. Charlie T. on

    Two quick points:
    1) Kerry’s campaign made the deliberate decision to “stay positive” during the July convention. Criticism of Bush & Co. was quite muted given Dubya’s miserable record: the only really harsh (but accurate) “red meat” attacks on Bush came when Al Sharpton went “off message” and blasted the GOP record on race.
    2) Kerry’s campaign could have responded to Bush’s flipper-flopper ads with a “tit-for-tat” response advertisement long ago. It would have greatly blunted the effect of Bush’s ads, which unfortunately have embedded themselves in the psyche of many American voters.

  19. rachelrachel on

    Mark T.:
    Stop bringing up Dukakis.
    I don’t know if you’re a real Democrat or a Republican troll, but this is a Karl Rove spin point that you are perpetuating.

  20. Ed on

    John Kerry is doing just fine. The numbers look better now and by next week he should be back in the lead. Then don’t forget the debates just one on one the hero against the zero no neo-con puppetiers pulling Georgie boy’s strings.

  21. rachelrachel on

    Carville, of course, was one of the engineers of the successful Clinton campaign. Clinton beat the elder Bush by focusing on the issues, on the things that people care about, not by engaging in endless and pointless mudslinging.
    Clinton attacked Bush on the issues, just as Kerry is attacking Junior on the issues. Clinton did not make attack the character of his opponent, which is one reason why people liked him.

  22. rachelrachel on

    Mark Alan:
    If you have been following the Kerry campaign at all, you’d know that he has been relentlessly attacking Bush, his policies and his record. This notion that Kerry has not been attacking Bush is pure Republican crap.
    Carville’s advice to Kerry seems to be the exact opposite of what you would have him do: the recommendation was to put less emphasis on security and more on domestic policy. And Kerry’s first round of ads, about Medicare, seem to suggest that he’s following that advice.

  23. Charlie T. on

    I must say that I’m from the Carville, Gabby Hayes, Mark Alan, and Dumbo school on this. We Democrats need to fight fire with fire.
    The Republicans don’t play fair (and never have): at the very least we should hit back and hit back hard. Use the word liar on TV whenever it’s warranted! Why do Democrats have such a hard time calling Bush and his minions liars? Sitting there, taking it and expecting such attacks to blow over never works. Dukakis found that out (to his and our dismay)…I had thought and hoped that Kerry would have learned that lesson coming into this general election season.
    By the way, I fully agree that putting the flip-flopper tag back on Bush through a response ad should have been done long ago. It would have blunted so much of the criticism that voters have only of Kerry right now, while putting the lie to Bush’s “you-know-where-I-stand” Texas B.S. that the news media is continuously pedaling out there.
    Let’s hope our standardbearer’s campaign will be more aggressive over these last 50 or so days. Time is running out.

  24. mark alan on

    Is John Belisarius really Bob Shrum is disguise?? Give me a break, Karl Rove must be laughing his ass off! Why are wimpy “nice democrats” always in control of our campaigns?
    If you don’t think the swiftboat ads seriously hurt Kerry you are living on another planet! These are the same people who said the “flip-flop”ads and charges were not working!
    People, if you look at any poll you will see that the “Flip-flop” charges have stuck to Kerry. A simple and easy response was for the Kerry camp to nuetralize this charge by buying ads that play clips of numerous W flip flops (tarriffs, 9-11 commission, nation-building, war on terror winnable.) But noooo will just sit back and take it!
    Now, the swift ads did two things, they raise questions, but most importantly they showed what kind of man Bush and Kerry is. Bush(Rove) will do anything to win, even having the audicity to go after Vietnam service, while W was awol and Cheny was a coward. What balls!!! The kerry response was lame and wimpy( thankyou Shrum!) Instead of a news conference where Kerry stands tall and says “how dare you diminish my service to this country! While I was killing commies you two boys were partying and running scared back home!”
    What do we get? Edwards and the kerry camp begging and pleading “please stop these ads, and reject these negative ads….please! please!” How pathetic!
    Some rightly point out if Kerry cannot defend his own service and honor quickly and proudly, then how is he going to defend the U.S. against terrorists??
    You see this has a cumulative effect, which is why Kerry is where he is.
    I can only hope that people like Shrum and Belisarius get out of the campaign business for democrats (Could they really be republican plants?? I really wonder) After all Shrum has a 0 and 7 record, and ran the losing campaigns of Mondale and Dukkais.
    Pray that Carville is soon the leader who will fight fire with fire and who has actually won national presidential campaigns for democrats! I hope that he will have the balls to go after W. on what his whole campaign is based on:” I am the strong 9-11 President.”
    This is b.s., forget about the goat episode,how about Clarke’s repeated warnings, memos such as “Bin Laddin determined to attack in the US. and constant chatter that said an attack was imminent! And W. responded by going on a 30 day vacation at the ranch before 9-11!
    This is so ripe for an attack! Fire back! Yes, wimpy democrats negative ads and smears will always win! So get some balls if you really believe in a progresssive agenda and fire away or all is lost!

  25. gabby hayes on

    perhaps you should simply read my earlier post:
    John Belisarius, you wrote a good analysis.
    I think it worth noting that the sum of the parts in August was not reflected in your data.
    A Prize fight takes place. There are the judges scoring points and calling rounds. And then there is the crowd, which picks the winner based upon what IT sees.
    We lost the battle of that fight in August because we were boxing for points, not for style, and not for the audience that mattered.
    I’m old school, and old school says that you are all over any story that comes out. You expose the opposition immediately. News is like snow in an avalanche. Once it sets, it is concrete.
    Kerry let a lie get legs by not stomping the dog shit out of it the first day.
    Posted by gabby hayes at September 11, 2004 10:40 PM
    rachel, the data all show that Kerry has taken hits on his positives and increased his negatives during the past 6 weeks, largely due to the relentless attacks, many of which went unanswered for three weeks.
    Kerry has been playing defense, and not well. He is losing the battle of the perceptions, and he’s losing it with the voters who cannot or will not make up their minds, largely because they’re idiots who respond well to the kind of nonsense the Republicans specialize in: BIG TALK.

  26. Joe on

    Some times Americans make aboslutely no sense to me. Attacking some one for his record and not personally is unfair. So how exactly do you presuade everyone that you are better than the other person if you are not allowed compare your records? Yet calling Bush an idiot, a moron, a cowboy, a warmonger, a extremist, and a liar isn’t unfair when let’s look at this. Bush has proven himself to be quite intelligent at least you think he would considering he beat Gore, he got a lot of his inittives through Senate and Congress, and he had to deal with one of the worst economies in all history which started its dip at the emd of the Clinton adminstration and then staarted to recover due to tax cuts and then had the World Trade blown wow ways to shake confidence and the economy yet it is recovering. A cowboy and warmongerer well let us look at that he waited till the U.N. had made quiet clear it wasn’t going to follow up its resolution before acting. He made sure that he did have some allies such as Britian and Australia. An extremist because he was the first president to fund stem-cell research. A liar because every last intelligenca agency and leader on the face of the known universe including Kerry agreed with him that Saddam had WMDs. So making personal attacks which are patently untrue arre perfectly fair whereas making attack based on a persons record is not. At the convention Kerry was compliment and thanked for his service though Kerry is obviously mistaken or lying about it because he claims he served two tours of duty in Vietnam when a tour of duty is a year. I’ll give him the benefit of doubt on not knowing anything about the military. And I’ll thank him for his service but not for what he said after the war about our soldiers being murders which was false.

  27. rachelrachel on

    Do you have any evidence to back up your claim? Unlike you, Belisarius has taken some polling data and is making an attempt to interpret them. If you think that there is something wrong with his analysis, perhaps you could explain what you think is wrong with his logic.
    Let’s assume that the phenomenon you’re talking about does occur, that Kerry by not coming out sharply and attacking his accusers, makes himself look weak. How does this counterbalance with the impression of many voters, documented in the polls by Belisarius, that the Republicans attacks are seen as unfair?
    Assuming that both of these phenomena take place, one good for Kerry and one bad, does this add up to a net plus or a net minus?

  28. gabby hayes on

    Dumbo, you wrote:
    “The major problem posed by the SBVT ads wasn’t their content, the credibility of their smear, nor how may people believed it. The problem posed was this: “Is Kerry tough enough to defend himself?” I know, this is a very nuanced analysis, but I think it’s critical. Rove DOES nuance.”
    That is hitting the nail on the head.
    And the picture of a skinny old man standing straight up trying to windsurf was one we didn’t need in the mix.
    Perception IS reality to the voters we are fighting for, and IMAGE sells over substance every day in the American market. The best basketball shoe is the one with the most perceived studliness, irrespective of reality.
    Bush is a poser, but he knows how to pose. He bought a ranch just so he could present an image, one that he had never, ever been in his life. He’s copying Reagan, also a poser.

  29. rachelrachel on

    Dumbo, that was not Ruy who wrote the article but John Belisarius. If your reading skills are so poor that you can’t even pick up the author’s name, how many other things could you get wrong?

  30. Berryboy on

    Too often the tempetation is to look for absolutes or definitve answers to problems created by the Swift Boat ads. In large part the so-called main stream media entended the life to the Swift Boat nonsense with it’s so-called fair-balanced reporting, some suggested that Kerry should have given them an interview to clarify his position. Yeah, Right!
    Although, some Democratic folks suggested a rapid response was needed, I do not beileve it was to the level as the media reported. Ginsburg’s resignation effectvely ended the matter as Bush & Co. were being negatively by this issue; I doubt that much will be made of Kerry’s post Vietnam actions of the seventies.
    In short allegations with no sound support were given even weight with established military records, and ads of statments by numerous indivuduals who had praised Kerry in the past. Thus, the numbers outside of the Bush & Co. connected media and die hard Republicans quickly recognized that this issue is a hoax. The timing suggetsted that the idea was to effect poll numbers before the convention, and increase the post convention bounce. The questionable Time and Newsweek polls of a week ago are not getting the attention as they did in the five days after the Rep. convention(I believe they are bogus!).
    In sum the Bush & Co. stratergy of the past six weeks gained little if any ground for Bush, but did bruise Bush’s existing credibility problem. Contrary to the so-called conventional wisdom I believe Bush’s convention was very poor and as the weeks grin on the pundits will begin to ponder why!
    The analysis was exceptional; I wonder what took Belisarius so long.

  31. AWC on

    Though I don’t concur that there was any truth in the Swift Boat smear, I agree with Brian that we sometimes try too hard to find a bright side.
    That said, it doesn’t take an optimist to note that 1) the Dems are close to even against an incumbent who was at 90% approval a year ago, 2) they’re winning the state races, and 3) the market based evaluation systems (IEM, Tradesports) give Kerry between a 35 and 50% chance of winning the election.
    Finally, I can’t help but wonder whether Brian knows Kerry the man or whether he’s simply repeating attacks on JFK’s character emitting from Kausfiles, Bush ads, and more rabid sites.
    Until Mickey tells us specifically what JFK did to justify his rancor, I won’t accept his assessment as anything more than a personal grudge, with no objective validity. It’s not like Mickey seems like a good guy; he comes off as a jaded (if sometimes amusing) jerk with a private s-list and an obsession with welfare reform and union busting.

  32. brian on

    A lot of whistling past the graveyard here. Kerry went down because he is not a very likeable/effective candidate and there was enough truth in the Swift Boat charges to cause further doubt about him. When an “analysis” cites as good news that 55% believe Kerry deserved his medals, the reality of the weakness of the analysis sets in.

  33. BenA on

    What drives Ruy’s “irrepresable optimism” is a commitment to look at public opinion, not the mood of the media, or even the media’s often warped spin of public opinion. For whatever reason (I’m an historian and I suspect we’ll be spending the next century or so sorting this one out) the media has basically become an extension of the Mighty Wurlitzer (Exhibit A: Swiftboad Coverage. Exhibit B: Treating LGF as an expert on the history of typewriters.)
    The bottom line, despite everything (Diebold, the Electoral College, the media itself), voters will decide this election. So at the end of the day, though they can have some impact, Tweety, Faux News, and all the bloggers in the world won’t be deciding who wins.

  34. Dumbo on

    I have to strongly disagree with this post of Ruy’s. This is an important analytical point.
    Those who have played commodity markets are familiar with the difference between fundamental analysis and technical analysis. Fundamental analysis tries to predict the future price of a commodity by what’s happening on the ground, while technicians focus on what’s happening in the markets themselves, through market sentiment indicators and things like that. It was always my experience that technical indicators were more reliable.
    Ruy, like a market technician, says that a change in the market can have multiple causes other than the obvious ones.
    My own sense during August, however, was that whatever showed up in the polls,whenever, was less relevant that what was happening on the ground. There was a very effective strategy at work, and it wasn’t being countered.
    Let me make the following point, and it’s the most important. The major problem posed by the SBVT ads wasn’t their content, the credibility of their smear, nor how may people believed it. The problem posed was this: “Is Kerry tough enough to defend himself?” I know, this is a very nuanced analysis, but I think it’s critical. Rove DOES nuance.
    This was reinforced by the following RNC convention, which focused on three themes: manliness, toughness in the face of terror, and the imminent danger of terror to the American public. Combine these points together with the SBVT ads, and the overall message is subtle but effective: “We’re all gonna die if Kerry wins cuz he’s such a wuss!”
    This is a very coherent message. Now, combine this again with the masterful playing of the media, which was easily sucked into the SBVT ads (and how much more reluctant they are to pursue the TANG or Kitty Kelly stories). The incredible failure to defend or fight back didn’t go unnoticed by anybody.
    Kerry has cleaned his act up some. There is still the problem of press manipulation, which has to be worked on either before or after the election, and God knows I would prefer to see them do it before the election. Still, when this election is over, and Kerry loses, they will say it was lost in August because Kerry didn’t fight back and lost the public’s confidence.
    If we do win, they will say it was because of how Bush screwed up his four years and because Kerry was able to reorganize and fight his way back, regaining the confidence of America in him as a competent leader.
    To that end, I think that personal attacks on Bush are not just allowable and forgiveable by the majority of people, but they are necessary and desirable. Tit for tat smears mean we lose our pure white virginity as the morally superior force, but I don’t think sentiment right now WANTS a morally superior president. People want a tough, competent, and realistic president. Being the good guys just reinforces the Massachussets wussy liberal image they are trying to impose on us.

  35. jg on

    Kerry should just release and ad using the “My Pet Goat” footage and be done with it. Stop messing about.
    Kerry only wins if he can convince more people that Bush is in fact a wuss and not a strong leader at all. To do this, he has to attack who Bush is now – not who Bush was 30 years ago. Everyone already knows he was a spoiled rich kid who got out of the Guard and the public doesn’t care – they didnt care when Dan Quayle did it and they don’t care that Bush did it.
    When we will Kerry campaign learn?
    Release the Goat!

  36. K8T800Pro on

    I think JK responded to the SB Liars about as effectively as he could have. He waited until the print media outlets had gathered and published their debunkings and links to Bush/Rove, and that was the moment when the “whites of their eyes” could be seen. Any response made before that point could not have been made with any kind of foundation or force and would have been met with the usual “he’s becoming shrill”, etc. from the White House spin doctor Mr. McClellan. Not that he didn’t try to push that meme anyway, but when he did, it already looked predictable and hollow.
    As re: to Kerry not standing for much of anything at all – I’m sick and tired of hearing this totally synthetic talking point over and over. JK stumps out there and states what he stands for almost daily. The nat’l media proceeds to under-report it, then pretends he hasn’t stated anything. The difference between what you can see in localized media outlets/CSPAN and the nat’l media is astounding and I for one, believe that I see exactly what the nat’l media outlets are up to. They know who is buttering their bread, and all things considered, it’s encouraging to see JK/JE do as well in the polls as they are. Liberal Media Conspiracy my arse.

  37. treetop on

    If they mattered, Susan, it wasn’t because of the direct ad buy in a few states but because of all the indirect publicity from everyone talking about the ads.

  38. susan on

    Can I point something out? These ads mostly only aired in THREE STATES!! John Kerry’s unfavorability rating has undeniably jumped in every poll out there, but I don’t see how these ads explain it. There are 24 million veterans, and Kerry’s popularity has slumped significantly among them, I’m sure they have their own networking that communicated beyond the 3 states. Lots of these people are convinced that Kerry smeared all of them as war criminals, which makes them highly motivated against Kerry. But we still don’t have a full explanation for such a jump in Kerry’s unfavorability rating.
    I think it is because John Kerry is perceived as not standing for much of anything at all. People don’t know what his positions are on much of anything, and don’t understand what exactly he would do if elected. Many people are quite skeptical of Bush, and very open to an alternative, but when the focus on Kerry, they don’t get it yet. He’s going to win just by saying, Bush sucks, and I went to vietnam.

  39. Blevins on

    Well, BJ’d Clinton, let’s use your moronic logic: there are millions of people across America who are convinced President AWOL lies with every breath he takes. Are you in agreement that Bush tells the truth and those millions are all liars.

  40. Greg on

    How many of those 264 vets served on Kerry’s Swift Boat? If they were all on there, surely the boat couldn’t have beey very swifty….

  41. BJ Clinton on

    What is this obsession with turds. Was there a problem with your potty training?
    The rest of you folks need to ask yourself why Kerry hasn’t cleared this up by having a one-off press conference with the media. Or how about simply releasing the records. Are all of you in agreement that Kerry is telling the whole truth and 264 vets are all lying? Man, thats some strong koolaid!
    Just a thought.
    4 more years!

  42. Gail on

    Not to be a “hangdog” but I wonder how the Bush Mafia will spin the Korea blast – “A vote for Kerry insures the next blast Korea sets off will be at the US”

  43. Bernard Yomtov on

    One issue you do not address is the nature of Kerry’s response to the Swift Boat ads.
    I felt that the tactic of asking Bush to denounce the ads was sophomoric. I don’t it gained Kerry anything.
    I agree with gabby that the reponse should have been quick, and I think it should have been a direct counterattack on the group. Just show them to be liars – loudly.

  44. gabby hayes on

    John Belisarius, you wrote a good analysis.
    I think it worth noting that the sum of the parts in August was not reflected in your data.
    A Prize fight takes place. There are the judges scoring points and calling rounds. And then there is the crowd, which picks the winner based upon what IT sees.
    We lost the battle of that fight in August because we were boxing for points, not for style, and not for the audience that mattered.
    I’m old school, and old school says that you are all over any story that comes out. You expose the opposition immediately. News is like snow in an avalanche. Once it sets, it is concrete.
    Kerry let a lie get legs by not stomping the dog shit out of it the first day.

  45. rachelrachel on

    August was a month when the campaign had planned to lie low. They were not surprised to find that Bush had a slim lead after the convention.

  46. js on

    Witten should consider that Kerry had zero advertising in August, while the Republicans had their convention. And, unlike the Democratic convention, the media actually allowed the public to hear some speakers. Admittedly, especially on the final night, that might have scared off more than it drew in. Still, Bush’s speech was only witless if you happened to parse it. It sounded presidential in a Cliff’s Notes sort of way.
    I do tend to think Ruy’s irrepressible optimism should be repressed, at least until the Democrats recapture the House.
    As for the Swift Boat response, it’s advantageous to wait “until you see the whites of their eyes.” It was only as Swift Boat vets appeared on media that they made false statements that could not be spun away. The moment Larry Thurlow claimed there was no hostile fire in an incident in which he himself won the Bronze Star, it was very clear he was lying (thanks to Kos and Douglas Brinkley for noting this). Similarly, Schachte made a widely reported claim of being present when John Kerry won his first medal, a claim that could be debunked.
    There are two lessons. One, the time to respond is when you have something to respond to. Two, individuals such as those posting here need to actively engage the media and shame them into doing journalism.

  47. witten on

    There is something that went wrong for Kerry
    in August – if it wasn’t the failure to respond
    more vigorously to the Swift Boat attacks,
    then what was it? Whatever it was, let us hope
    the next 7 1/2 weeks are different.

  48. brian on

    Mickey Kaus is making fun of this site’s contortions in trying to explain away bad polls. Unfortunately, it is a fair reading of the various explanations recently offered here.


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