Monday, September 27, 2004


How John Kerry Will Win The Debates

I've been reading a lot of blogs lately that have been giving advice to John Kerry about what he should say at the debates; items he needs to talk about, statistics he needs to bring up, quotes he needs to repeat, and so forth. In my opinion, this is all unnecessary. John Kerry is an intelligent man. He is highly educated, well read, and thoroughly informed about current events. He does not need our help when it comes to the issues.

Where I think John Kerry could use some advice is in his delivery. The one legitimate criticism I've heard about him is that he's unlikeable. I, personally, don't think that this should matter. He's not running for homecoming king, he's running for President of the United States, leader of the free world. His personality shouldn't have anything to do with it as long as he's qualified for the job (and when compared to his opponent, he's more than qualified). However, there is an entire demographic in this country that votes based upon which candidate they would rather have a beer with. This is George W. Bush's strength; he appeals to the beer drinkers, the NASCAR fans. I'm not saying these people are ignorant, but they like their leaders to be more like them, to speak their language, to take a simpler, plainer approach.

As a teacher, I've had to learn this approach. Sometimes, less really is more. Too much information can be a bad thing when you're trying to appeal to the masses. So as a public service to the Kerry campaign, I offer the following pieces of advice:

  1. You can not assume that anything is common knowledge.

    When you become knowledgeable about a specific subject, it's easy to forget that others may not know what you're talking about. Although there are certain things that we hope that we can take for granted, it's never a good idea to do so. For instance, I'm sure that Senator Kerry is quite knowledgeable about the every day work of the U.S. Congress. He understands the workings and dealings that take place on a daily basis and he is much more aware of the content of many resolutions and bills than the average person. Therefore, when he says something like "I voted to give the president the authorization to use force," he knows exactly what he's saying, but Joe Lunchbox doesn't understand the difference between the authorization to use force and war. In his opinion, they sound like the same thing. Points like this need to be explained. It can be tricky when you're on a time limit, but it can be done. This is necessary to establish a basis for further discussion and a clearer understanding.

  2. You have to talk to people like they're four.

    Part of George Bush's appeal is that he is perceived as an average guy. He mis-speaks, he sticks his foot in his mouth, he screws up the punch-line to jokes. Who among us hasn't done that? He uses words that my children can understand, like evil and thug. He laughs at his own jokes as if he knows he's a dork. NASCAR Bob can relate to this guy. He understands all the words he's using, he feels for him when he says something stupid, and he knows what it feels like to have people think he's a dork. To appeal to this person, you have to speak their language. Use monosyllabic words and short, simple sentences. Anything more can be confusing.

  3. You can't pour a bucket of knowledge into a shotglass of a brain without spilling.

    People are looking for the basics. The more information you give them, the more they're likely to forget because details can sometimes cloud the picture. Long, drawn-out explanations to simple, straight-forward questions confuse the listener and cause them to lose interest. Keeping it simple can work wonders especially when the subject may be confusing in and of itself. Take foriegn policy as an example. Explaining the minute details of how you would persuade our European allies to contribute to the war effort is bound to be a snoozer, but saying that you will repair broken trusts and damaged friendships is something everyone can understand. Put simply, give the listener what they need to understand your position and no more. The "what" is always more important than the "what else."

By following these simple guidelines, John Kerry will find that he can appeal to a wider base. He doesn't have to persuade his ardent supporters or the Bush haters, they're already on-board. He can forget about swaying the hard-liners and the wingnuts, they're a lost cause. It's the independents and the easily influenced among us that Kerry needs to connect with. If they can't understand what you're saying, they're not likely to vote for you.

I have no doubt that Kerry will win the debates on his own, but I'm concerned that he will receive the Al Gore treatment. Although Al Gore was clearly the more informed candidate in 2000, he was labeled as the loser because of his inability to connect with the common person. That label turned off a lot of potential voters. John Kerry can't take that chance. This is why I offer this advice. I hope he heeds it.


A post within a post.

Has anyone else noticed the lack of terror alerts since George W. Bush took the lead in the polls? We haven't had a terror alert since before the Republican Convention when Howard Dean accused them of being politically motivated. I'm going to make a prediction: If John Kerry wins the first debate on Thursday, we will see a terror alert by the end of the weekend. Anyone want to make their own prediction?

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