Published on Thursday, September 9, 2004 by CommonDreams.org
For Kerry, it's Time to Speak to America
by Guy Reel
Few remember it now, but Bill Clinton came very close to running for president in 1988, then later abandoned the idea and decided that 1992 was his year. But what impressed many in the press corps at the time - I know because I was one of them - was the innovative way Clinton had planned to kick off his campaign. The Arkansas governor planned to buy national TV network airtime, during prime viewing hours, to lay out the case for his candidacy. He wasn't planning to run ads, at least at first - Clinton was going to buy network time so he could make a thoughtful, policy-filled speech directly to the American people.
It was a remarkable idea and very innovative at the time.
This is noteworthy because it may be time for John Kerry to do the same. He could buy a few minutes of prime time, on several networks, in order to speak directly to Americans about the course of this campaign. It would have the effect of a presidential address - and it would carry the weight of a direct, urgent appeal to voters.
Why should Kerry spend millions on such a risky move? The answer is simple - at this crucial moment, the country needs to hear directly from the only person who can unseat George Bush. It may be the best, and only, way to break through the outrage of the scurrilous lies that have marked the Republican campaign from the beginning. One of its main purposes would be simply to point out the defamatory, fearful and contemptible way in which Bush has run for re-election. But Kerry could also use the time to contrast his vision with Bush's pettiness. For it is quite easy to assess this race when one looks at the campaign - how Bush has run for re-election demonstrates the quality of the man.
Kerry could point out that:
Kerry could also point out the shrill, fearful cries from the other side. One need only look at the face of Zell Miller to understand they are deeply afraid, not for America, but for themselves. For Kerry, some simple contrasts would suffice. He could note Cheney's outrageously self-serving claim - a claim that puts America at risk by inviting attacks now and later - that a vote for Kerry could lead to further terrorism. He could compare Cheney's hysterical hyperbole and compare it to John Edwards' message of strength and opportunity for America. He could laugh off Zell Miller's spewing and venomous convention keynote and ask voters to compare that speech to Barak Obama's vision of inclusion and hope.
These attacks, Kerry might remark, represent a certain desperation, and, it certainly appears, a serious lack of judgment and stability. Here's a line for Kerry: One must wonder about the motives of those who are so desperate to hold on to power that they become unhinged at the prospect of losing it.
Kerry, of course, would have to point out that he had no choice but to make this address, that he had done so with a heavy heart. He would also have to conclude with his alternative vision for the world - respect for allies, fighting terrorists through strength and not fear, and finding a better way at home by building consensus - not by destroying it.
Would Kerry ever take such a risk? Maybe not. It would be difficult to do - he could not come across as wounded or defensive; he would need to be somber, self-effacing, friendly, indignant and straight-talking. It would be the speech of a lifetime, and he would have to communicate that he was doing it for the country and the world, not for himself.
But as the mass media become more and more important to people's perceptions, it has become apparent that nation needs for Kerry to stand up in the national media and refuse to accept the way this campaign has been run by the president. In the most important election in a generation, the country has faced few of the most important issues because of Bush's smears and his campaign's lies.
It would be a bold, gutsy move. It would have to be tough on Bush, but tough in a way that Bush rarely is - simply by telling the truth.
Guy Reel is an assistant professor of mass communication at Winthrop University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org