in the photo-op worth a billion words
TV pictures really count,
so, forget those issues
By CHUCK McFADDEN
If you look at the facts carefully and work at it a little, you will find that the president's tax cut proposal really won't do much to create jobs, and in fact most of the benefits will indeed go to the rich.
If you check the facts carefully, you'll find that the administration first said the president's tailhook landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln was necessary because the carrier was too far out to sea to make the trip by helicopter, then changed its story. Now the White House says the president instead merely wanted to experience a carrier landing while riding aboard a jet instead of a helicopter. You'll find that the carrier delayed getting into San Diego so the president could do that, even though the thousands of crew members aboard hadn't seen their families for a long, long time.
You'll also find that Vice President Cheney has said that Saddam Hussein "has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons" and Cheney has also said it was "only a matter of time before he acquires nuclear weapons." Well, which is it?
The nation's elite media outlets such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, along with a number of nationally syndicated columnists, have been screaming about all of the above for weeks now, and you know what?
It doesn't matter.
Only the pictures matter. The televised image of the president in a flight suit, greeting cheering sailors on the carrier deck, is what will win the president votes in 2004.
Careful, reasoned analysis of the president's programs is lost on most voters. Instead, they'll remember the television pictures of the likeable Bush on the carrier. One columnist polled her soccer-mom friends about it. One of them gushed that Bush was "a hottie."
A hottie. And that, my friends, is the state of American presidential politics in the Year of Our Lord 2003.
The Republicans seem to have grasped the concept that if you repeat a simple idea often enough, and loudly enough, and reinforce it with carefully staged television images, it will become accepted. It isn't The Big Lie, exactly. More The Big Spin.
Questions about the rich getting richer because of the Bush tax cuts? "Class warfare."
The varying rationale for the carrier photo-op? Don't be churlish and petty.
The Democrats, meanwhile, are reduced to unwatched debates featuring nine candidates fuming against one another. Three of them, Al Sharpton, Carol Moseley Braun and Dennis Kucinich, are jokes. They will be gone by early next year, but in the meantime, they have months to wander around the political landscape, reinforcing the notion that the Democrats are the Laurel and Hardy of 21st Century presidential politics.
If they want to win, the Democrats must rid themselves of the idea that an earnest exposition of the issues is going to capture many votes. They must learn all over again that, yes, selling candidates is like selling soap. If they don't learn that, they lose. It's that simple. That grim. That awful a reflection on the insight and psyche of the American electorate. The Republicans know it. The Democrats don't.
It isn't as if the Democrats don't have anything to work with. The Bush Administration is target-rich. The president nominates candidates to the federal bench who believe that women should be submissive to men. His attorney general shows great promise as a first-rate political liability. In an age when scientific/medical achievement receives heavy news coverage, Bush says the jury is still out on the Theory of Evolution. He opposes gun control, which polls for 40 years have shown most voters favor. He opposes abortion rights. His record on the environment is abysmal. He thinks it's okay to favor the rich, and doesn't much trouble to hide that. There are questions about his service with the Texas Air National Guard. (But he looks great in a flight suit.).
If the Democrats want to win, they must find a way to paint broad-brush pictures, and do it not via op eds in the New York Times, but in sock-it-to-'em television footage. And they are also going to have to find a way to make their surviving presidential hopeful into the kind of candidate who is concurrently "presidential" and someone voters would like to have a beer with.
Ronald Reagan proved that a likeable man trumps issues. George W. Bush is proving it all over again.
Is this a cynical argument for the Democrats to take the lowest-common-denominator approach to presidential elections? To kowtow to the basest urges and ignorance of the voters?
Let me put it this way: The Democrats might want to start searching for their own aircraft carrier.
©2003 by Charles M. McFadden. The McFadden caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel.
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