The Dunno Crowd
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 13, 2004; 8:31 AM
Get ready for four months of carrying on from undecided voters.
The press goes nuts over undecideds every four years. But there are so few of them in this election, according to the polls, that I believe every one of them will be interviewed at least once by November. In fact, there could be one reporter assigned to every undecided American.
Call them the Purple People, since they belong to neither red or blue states.
If the past is any guide, we may not get a whole lot of insight from them, even though they are seen as holding the election in their hands.
I have no quarrel with folks who are trying to make up their minds between Bush and Kerry. What drives me crazy is voters who are not undecided but willfully ignorant. That is, they can't make up their minds because they pay so little attention to politics.
I thought about this after reading a Washington Post interview with Charlotte McFarland, an Arkansas woman who has lost a number of jobs. She said she's definitely not voting for Bush. Fine. But then she said:
"I don't know about Mr. Kerry. I just don't know where he stands on the issues."
Excuse me, but it's not all that hard to find out. Pick up a newspaper, grab a magazine, turn on the television, listen to the radio. Kerry's positions are out there. He repeats them every day.
I don't mean to pick on McFarland. I understand people who are busy with their jobs, their children or their daily struggle tuning out the world of politics. I'm not saying they should know the nuances of each candidate's education plan. But in about 10 minutes, you can learn that Kerry would raise taxes on those earning more than $200,000; has a big and expensive health insurance plan; supported the Iraq war but criticizes the president's handling of it; supports abortion rights; would provide more college aid than Bush, and supports more gun-control measures while stressing that he's a hunter.
Whether you like Kerry or he leaves you cold, whether you feel a Massachusetts senator with a wealthy wife can connect with the problems of average folks or not, is very much a gut-level individual decision. But to say you don't know where he stands is just another way of saying you haven't bothered to find out. One of these two men is going to be the next president. Maybe reporters should just move on to the next interview subject when people say they don't even have a vague idea of what the major candidates stand for.
Kerry's trying to make sure minorities know what he stands for, as the Los Angeles Times reports:
"On the day that his campaign announced massive ad buys focused on Latinos and African Americans, Sen. John F. Kerry derided President Bush for refusing to meet with the NAACP and insisted that his values mirror those of the average citizen, while Bush's do not.
"Kerry spoke to an estimated 200 local Latino, African American and Asian American politicians this morning crowded into the ballroom of a black-owned and -operated hotel in a federal empowerment zone in the predominantly black Roxbury district of Boston.
"Of more than 40,000 hotels in the country, he said, it was one of fewer than 40 owned by African Americans."More than 180 local residents worked on the construction," Kerry said, and "92% of the permanent staff of this hotel are going to be people of color."
Bush, meanwhile, is playing defense on the war, as the New York Times reports:
"President Bush on Monday vigorously defended his decision to go to war against Iraq, saying the invasion was the right thing to do even though no banned weapons had been found there, and claiming progress against terrorism and the spread of unconventional arms.
"In his first substantive remarks on foreign policy since the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on Friday saying that the main assessments used to justify the war had been overstated or unsupported by the underlying intelligence, Mr. Bush briefly acknowledged the committee's concerns and called its conclusions helpful.
"But in the main, his speech was a broad reaffirmation of his approach to heading off potential threats from terrorists and nations seeking or holding nuclear, chemical or biological weapons."
And the veep is singing the same tune:
"Vice President Dick Cheney yesterday said his Democratic rivals have been 'trying to rewrite history for their own political purposes' through their criticism of the Bush administration's decision to wage war based on flawed intelligence," says the AP.
"Senators John F. Kerry and John Edwards, the presumed Democratic presidential ticket, reviewed the same reports on Iraq that were given to President Bush and supported the decision to go to war, Cheney said."
Has the bounce finally materialized? USA Today thinks so:
"John Kerry is getting a boost from his selection of North Carolina Sen. John Edwards as his running mate, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll shows.
"The Democratic ticket now leads President Bush and Vice President Cheney 50% to 45% among likely voters, according to the survey taken Thursday through Sunday, with independent candidate Ralph Nader at 2%. The Kerry-Edwards lead widens to 8 points, 50%-42%, among registered voters.
"The choice of Edwards helped Kerry consolidate support among Democrats and those who lean Democratic. Three weeks ago, 85% supported Kerry. Now 92% do.
"But Edwards didn't draw more support from his fellow Southerners. In the June poll, 44% backed Kerry, the same number as in the new survey."
So much for a regional strategy.
The Nancy Reagan factor has taken an unexpected twist, as picked up by the New York Daily News:
"Ron Reagan says he won his mother Nancy's blessing to speak at the Democratic convention on embryonic stem cell research - and a vow from John Kerry to reverse Bush administration restrictions on the promising science.
"'She's okay with it. She supports the issue,' Reagan, 46, told MSNBC's 'Hardball with Chris Matthews' yesterday.
"And now, apparently, the Democratic presidential hopeful has agreed to do for Nancy what President Bush has steadfastly refused to do.
"Ron Reagan said Kerry called him to thank the late Republican President's son for agreeing to a prime-time appearance at the Democratic convention. And, Reagan revealed, Kerry said 'that his first act as President of the United States should he be elected would be to sign an executive order reversing the Bush administration's policy on embryonic stem cell research.'"
Here's an idea that got shot down quickly:
"A suggestion that terrorism might delay the November election raised loud cries of 'no' yesterday from both Republicans and Democrats," says the Washington Times.
"The chairman of the House committee that oversees federal election law said devising a plan to postpone the Nov. 2 presidential election in case of a terrorist attack creates 'serious and complex' constitutional problems."
New York City, you may recall, postponed its mayoral primary on 9/11.
Andrew Sullivan is now Officially Conflicted about '04:
"I am passionately in favor of an aggressive war against the Islamo-fascists, but I'm open to debate about tactics and strategy. I certainly don't believe that a pro-war position means some kind of blind fealty to Bush-Cheney. And, of course, as a small government, balanced-budget, libertarian homo, Bush Republicanism is anathema in so many ways. But every time I listen to Kerry, I cannot help but feel that he is hopelessly out of touch with the threats we face and might make our budget problems worse with his healthcare proposal. So I am stuck between a president whose party now officially wants to purge itself of gays and a senator I cannot trust to fight the war we need."
American Prospect's Michael Tomasky says the press is barely noticing that Bush is no longer the moderate he campaigned as in 2000, as underscored by his stance on the gay marriage amendment:
"I know I'm hardly the first person to make this observation. But the important thing here is not how many liberal columnists make the observation. The important thing is that the mainstream media take notice and get the trope into the news columns. Compassionate conservatism had no trouble at all getting onto the front pages in 2000, when many a piece of 'news analysis' remarked, with wide-eyed, childlike wonder, on Bush's centrist posture.
"We're about halfway through this general election campaign, and I sure don't remember seeing many news analysis pieces about the hard-right tenor of this campaign. Rove understands: Give something a reassuring and euphonious name, and journalists will repeat it forever. This year's strategy, we can be sure, will remain unchristened by Rove, who must be chuckling about how easy it all is.
"Undoubtedly, Bush will make a feint or two toward the old compassion motif at the GOP convention (if he doesn't do even that, the hard-right strategy will be on unusually naked display). Will those feints be enough for the media to swallow the story line again, after four years of policies like the ones we've witnessed? One important aspect of the right wing's successful attacks against the 'liberal media' has been to force the major media to self-censor a finding that is objectively true just because it happens to coincide with a strong liberal point of view. But liberals didn't press this administration's policies or design its reelection strategy. The media's job for the next five months is to describe these things not as Bush and Rove wish them to be portrayed, but as they actually are."
Joe Trippi's book, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," is not exactly wild about Kerry, as the Weekly Standard's Matthew Continetti observes:
"Howard Dean has made his peace with the Democratic party this year. But what about in the future? Dean could always splinter from the Democratic party if his constituency grows disgusted with it. Or he could become the Democrats' answer to Pat Buchanan, someone wreaking havoc in the party from within. In other words, Dean debated Ralph Nader today, but might he not one day find himself a Nader-like figure, an independent candidate who sees no difference between the two parties? Stranger things have happened. And one way to judge the likelihood of this happening is by reading what Trippi, the ur-Deaniac, has to say about the head of the Democratic party, Massachusetts senator and presidential nominee John Kerry. And here's the thing. Trippi doesn't seem to care for Kerry. Not at all . . .
"Every time I see John Kerry on television, I am struck by the same thought. Whether he is snowboarding or playing hockey or wearing his leathers, sitting on a Harley Davidson motorcycle, the message seems to be the same: Aren't I amazing? His campaign spots, with their focus on his laudable service in Vietnam, tell the same story: Aren't I amazing? It's no different with the other Democratic candidates, or with George W. Bush . . .
"Got that? Kerry is 'no different' from 'the other Democratic candidates,' who are, in turn, no different from George W. Bush. It is a remarkable statement. And it reminds you of a simple truth: John Kerry needs Howard Dean and the Deaniacs to win in 2004. But how long will Howard Dean need John Kerry?"
In the New Republic, Jason Zengerle ponders the relationship between the Dems and a certain hot movie that's not Spider-Man:
"Moore's campaign shares the Kerry campaign's goal of evicting Bush from the White House. But, unlike the Kerry campaign, Moore's effort is radical and angry enough to appeal to liberals who, like Moore, believe the Democratic Party has been too soft in its opposition to the Bush administration and the war in Iraq. 'There's a tremendous appetite among Democrats to have someone say the things that have been bothering them for the last couple years,' says Moore spokesman Chris Lehane. '[Moore] and this movie have come along at a time when people are looking for someone to get up there and say something interesting. He's filled that void.' Or, as Moore himself recently told Entertainment Weekly, '[W]e can't leave this up to the Democrats. It's too serious now. I mean, this is a party that can't even win when they win. They lose when they win, you can't get more pathetic than that. We have to save them from themselves.'
" The question confronting Democrats is: If Moore is their savior, who will save them from Moore? . . .
"Moore's parallel presidential campaign poses a dilemma for Democrats. The Kerry campaign--mindful of the heat Wesley Clark took in the Democratic primaries when Moore, appearing on stage with Clark at a rally, accused President Bush of being a 'deserter'--is keeping its distance. While it obviously appreciates the scrutiny Moore and his film are bringing to bear on the Bush administration, a campaign spokesperson was quick to announce that the Massachusetts senator hasn't seen Fahrenheit 9/11 and doesn't plan to. 'The campaign will keep an arm's length from the film,' says a Kerry adviser. 'There's no upside to embracing a filmmaker who is likely to pop off at any moment with statements as inflammatory as they are impolitic.'"
And the big story in the Midwest: Da Coach for Da Senate?
"When it comes to Mike Ditka--the Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end, former winning Super Bowl coach, television football analyst, restaurateur, male-dysfunction medication pitchman, radio car salesman, casino spokesman, motivational speaker and clothes designer--there's never any shortage of promotion," observes the Chicago Tribune.
"But the 64-year-old Ditka also is causing a commotion among Republicans, who have been despairing over finding a replacement for Jack Ryan as their U.S. Senate nominee. Ryan announced his withdrawal from the race last month after the court-ordered release of his divorce documents...
"Talk of a Ditka candidacy also has been viewed by some Republicans as a reflection of desperation for a once-proud political organization that has seen its credibility damaged by scandal and infighting."
Finally, making Whoopi is now controversial, at least according to the New York Post:
"Some Republican activists are launching a boycott of SlimFast diet products to protest SlimFast spokeswoman Whoopi Goldberg's X-rated rant against President Bush at a New York fund-raiser for Democrat John Kerry last week.
"Chat pages on pro-Bush Web sites like FreeRepublic.com are posting links for complaints to SlimFast or parent company Unilever, along with reports from angry consumers about what they wrote in their complaints.
"A typical one: 'Realize that when Goldberg insults our president, particularly in such a vulgar fashion, she alienates half the country . . . Can SlimFast really afford to lose half of their potential market?'"
Imagine if she'd told a senator to go blank himself.
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