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High Definition Politics

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You’ve heard of High Definition TV? It has a sharper image, and is especially good for cartoons.

Get ready for High Definition Politics: it has a sharper image, as both parties try to paint the other’s Presidential candidate as cartoons (to us both sides seem to be Looney Tunes).

First you had the George Bush TV ad blitz, aimed at softening up the image of John Kerry as a flip-flopper who is weak on defense. Depending on who you talk to (the view depends if they have a D or a R in front of their name) these ads either helped define Kerry so the Democrat is already has blown the election, or these ads didn’t do much except to keep Bush from sinking in the polls.

Each side attempting to define the other is not new. But this year’s timing is new — the War of High Definition TV is accelereated way ahead of schedule, since the campaign was launched full throttle some time ago. This means both parties are frantically trying to “define” the other candidate (which means hammering home a negative image of a candidate that sticks).

Now brace yourself for the Kerry Commercial Bitz — not to be confused with the Hari Kerry (John Kerry on “Good Morning America” putting in a performance that suggested Kerry campaign bigwig Bob Shrum MUST be a Republican mole…) blitz. According to the New York Times, this new three week Kerry TV offensive will entail some $27 million. The Times says:

    Campaign aides and other Democrats have argued for weeks that while Mr. Bush’s heavy advertising barrage may have defined Mr. Kerry in a negative light for some voters, there is still plenty of time to change perceptions. The new campaign is to include two spots, aides said. They will tell his life story and lay out the major themes of his candidacy.

The problem: with the help of Republican ads, Republican surrogate campaigners, the “GOTCHA!” media (with an appetite to eat both major candidates) plus Kerry’s own not-ready-for-Good Morning-America-let-Alone-Prime-Time bungling, John Kerry is starting to come across as a Michael Dukaki with a military record.

True, Kerry wouldn’t look like Snoopy in a tank, but today’s Kerry would probably bore the enemy to death.

Meanwhile, details of his military record are not as widely known as Kerry forces would like. The Bushies are successfully linking Kerry to all kinds of images (flip flop, French, weak on defense, contradictory on his war medals, etc.). So for the next three weeks Kerry’s big TV offensive will continuously hammer home — what else? — info about his biography and his Vietnam military service. Some things:

(1) There have been ominous rumblings from various Democratic and media sources about Kerry’s ability to win and gain back the momentum. Base support has begun to sag. He snatched the front-runner status away from Howard “I Have A Scream” Dean because Kerry looked like a winner. That imagery is slipping away due to an inept and tepid campaign.

(2) Defining a candidate works. Al Gore and Michael Dukakis waited until it was too late. Bill Clinton refused to let the GOP do it during his 1988 run. Kerry has reacted like Clinton but run a campaign like Gore’s and Dukakis’.

(3) Kerry was on the defensive most of last week. Before that, Bush was on the defensive. The race is going to be a see-saw, right up to election day. Distrust all pundits.

(4) The country is almost evenly split, with Ralph Nader getting a tiny but election-changing chunk. So whoever wins the swing voters likely wins the election.The problem: there are an increasingly small number of actual swing voters.

(5) The biggest determining factor in this election is likely to be events beyond both candidates’ control: the economy, another terrorist attack, the trends in Iraq from summer until election day. And the country is so evenly divided that any major event could shift the outcome, in either direction.

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