Kerry and Nader: "Glum and glummer?"


Geraldine Sealey
June 4, 2004 7:36PM (UTC)

The Associated Press is wondering why John Kerry and Ralph Nader are so down on America. With all of their negative talk, the pair "risk coming across ... as Glum and Glummer," the AP's Calvin Woodward tells us.

With his "sad eyes and a lantern jaw that underline the gravity of the situation," John Kerry sees nothing but bleakness in George W. Bush's America, we're told. "The America that John Kerry sees is weighted by millions of job losses, millions of people without health insurance, a 'wage recession' for those who do have work, schools begging for money, exploding gas prices and 'poisoned' alliances worldwide."

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And if you think Kerry has a half-empty outlook on America, get a load of that downer Ralph Nader. "Then there's the America that Ralph Nader sees. It's in really bad shape. He talks about foul air, impure food, 13 million hungry children, corporate domination, 'mindless' SAT scores 'controlling our definition of intelligence,' kids who need love being put on antidepressants instead, corrupt political parties, a government that hasn't had a good idea in 30 years, and a president who acts like an 'out-of-control, West Texas sheriff.'"

"If this is morning in America," Woodward says, "Americans may want to crawl back into bed."

Actually, Americans are already telling pollsters they want to crawl back into bed. Almost 2/3 say they're dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country.

Woodward lends advice from "students of political rhetoric" who say challengers should point out their opponents' faults without depressing people. Yet he points out that one of Kerry's latest ads is a "warm and fuzzy counterbalance" to his typically dour demeanor, "a family heavy portrait in which a soothing Kerry assures Americans: 'We're a country of optimists, we're the can-do people and we just need to believe in ourselves again.'" So, in other words, Kerry is doing exactly what Woodward says he should be doing.

In fact, it's not just one ad. A recent Washington Post analysis showed that Kerry's ad messages so far have been largely more positive than the president's. Bush is the candidate of negativity in advertising -- 3/4 of his estimated $70 million worth of campaign commercials so far have been negative (nevermind misleading) about Kerry. By comparison, only 27 percent of Kerry's ads have been negative. Recent articles in mainstream publications have marveled at just how negative the president's campaign has been so far for an incumbent. Bush ads have mainly steered away from the gauzy Reaganesque Morning in America approach and keep the conversation away from his own record and the nation's status quo.

While it's true that Kerry and Nader in these trying times face a challenge putting forth a positive message when there's so much to feel frustrated about, the real question is why President Bush's campaign finds so little to be rosy about that its ads rely on vitriol and butchered facts.

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Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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