Monday, July 12, 2004

Inner Nerd

Kerry's (Silent) Vision

This column by Sebastian Mallaby raises an interesting question: Would Kerry be better off if his handlers allowed the "real" Kerry to show up at his campaign events and in his speeches?

As Mallaby notes, Kerry is, at heart, a thinker and a policy wonk. He's what, in school, you called a nerd. Mallaby also claims that if Kerry unleashed his inner nerd on the public and demonstrated that he's really thought about the issues and how he can make life better for ordinary Americans, he'd make Bush look terrible by comparison. After all, Bush right now has NO domestic agenda for his second term; his entire focus is on being re-elected and maintaining the "gains" of his first term. If Kerry really started talking about his plans for health care and education, Mallaby contends, voters would recognize that he has "the vision thing" and elect him in a landslide.

Sarah Vowell makes a similar argument in an essay about the fall of Al Gore in her wonderful book, The Partly Cloudy Patriot, but she takes Mallaby one further. She suggests that nerds should present their smarts on the campaign trail, but do so in a self-deprecating manner. Can Kerry bring himself to do this? It may be the perfect way for him to bring his ideas--which the American electorate has shown itself to prefer to the "ideas" of Bush--to the people in a way that makes them sit up and take notice. Rare is the policy aficionado who can sell his or her wonkish nature straight-out. John Kerry must realize he's no Bill Clinton or John Edwards on the stump and learn a rhetorical wit that lets him put forward his plan to improve America without sounding like, well, the Senator from Massachusetts. If he can do that, he won't just win. He'll crush George W. Bush like a bug.

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