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Monday, November 15, 2004

Here come the recriminations

The Washington Post carries some interesting analysis of why Kerry lost. Essentially they believe that what mesage he had was unfocussed, whilst his campaign was chaotic. They are a bit harsh on Theresa Heinz Kerry in my view. She is described as 'a disruptive force.....who often looked "sullen," was deemed a "hypochondriac" by the staff and had a knack for "silencing a cheering crowd."' Only in America would a candidate's spouse and family be expected to act as a political extension of the candidate. Who could blame her if she found the whole experience alien and dispiriting?

As you need to register to see the article I have copied some extracts below. The findings of reporters from Newsweek are particularly interesting:

• Kerry was both "cranky" and more indecisive than he was portrayed by the media. "I couldn't get the man to make decisions," said former campaign manager Jim Jordan. As late as days before the Democratic convention, Kerry was still "dithering" and presiding over endless discussions on whether to abandon public financing for the fall campaign before deciding against private fundraising. Top aides grew so tired of Kerry continuing to seek advice on issues they considered settled that they took away his cell phone.

• Kerry "never did learn how to deliver a speech" and was privately counseled by Washington speech coach Michael Sheehan on shifting to "a more conversational style." Ted Kennedy told Kerry he used "too much Senatese," and the candidate's daughter, Alexandra, tried to get Steven Spielberg to intervene. Kerry would cross out his speechwriters' most pithy lines as too "slogany."

• Teresa Kerry was a major "distraction" who "demanded everyone's attention, including her husband's." During the primaries she told Jordan: "I want you to issue a challenge for me to debate Howard Dean." On a Grand Canyon hike meant to provide footage of a happy family vacation, "Teresa was soon complaining of migraines" as the candidate kept pulling along "his sullen wife and children." Later, Kerry confidant John Sasso told her that she was being too critical of her husband and depressing his spirits. Reporters said last week that the billionaire heiress was banished to travel on her own before they could write about her impact.

• By the fall, Kerry was "unhappy" with senior advisers Robert Shrum and Tad Devine and "annoyed" with communications director Stephanie Cutter, described as too slow-moving and the target of frequent complaints by the traveling press corps. Several Kerry aides call the depiction of Cutter unfair, with senior adviser Joe Lockhart saying: "She had a Herculean task and overall did a very good job."

Ryan Lizza of the New Republic magazine has a less soap-opera-ish analysis that seems more pertinent to the issue:

"The largest caucus of recriminators, one that spans ideological boundaries and includes critics from every corner of the party, argues that Kerry failed to offer a compelling message. As Kerry seemed to realize in his speech Saturday night, the no-message critique is congealing into conventional wisdom. I heard it in every conceivable permutation from almost everyone I interviewed. 'I don't know that we ever knew what it was we were saying about George W. Bush,' says one senior member of the team, whose job it was to come up with a message about Bush.

"It was a problem that plagued the campaign as soon as they stumbled, penniless, from the primaries into the general election. 'When we got into the general, nobody knew how to go against Bush,' says a senior campaign official. '[Senior adviser Bob] Shrum and [pollster Mark] Mellman built this strategy against Bush, 'Stronger at home, respected in the world.' What does that mean? We never even had strategy memos.' By the fall, things were no better. 'If there was a clear message in September about why you elect Kerry and defeat Bush, most of the people in the campaign were unaware of it,' says one senior strategist hired late in the campaign."

I am sure that there is much more to come but the question that all the critics need to answer is could any candidate have beaten Bush? In retrospect, I do not think so.

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