Thursday, April 01, 2004

Defining Kerry

Deacon at PowerLine comments on Dan Balz' Washington Post article Bush Scores Points By Defining Kerry. Says Balz:

    "The senator from Massachusetts emerged from the primaries unscathed but still little known, a condition Bush's team set about to change with an aggressive plan to define the senator before he could define himself."

But Deacon comments:
    "I must say, though, that I have a problem with the notion that Bush has won a race to "define" Kerry, as though the Senator were a blank slate, the meaning of whose candidacy was ever realistically up for grabs. Kerry has been defining himself through his liberal, dovish public record for a period of 35 years."

This is a good point of course, but not really germane. The issue is not whether Kerry himself is a blank slate but whether public perception of him is. For the majority of the voters in this election, Kerry is an unknown quantity. For that matter, so is Bush as far as the undecided vote is concerned. Both candidates will need to define the parameters of the debate and the one who does so first will gain an early advantage.

But Deacon also adds:
    "it is more accurate to say that the Bush campaign has "exposed" Kerry than to say that it has defined him."

Hmm. OK, so he is trying to turn the debate from the Straussian or perhaps post-modern competitive model to a more objective model. Fair enough, and I more or less agree with him. But lets not forget that politics really is more like competition than like scholarship. It is possible to compete honestly and with respect for the voters, in which case "exposing" the facts should help you win the competition to "define" your opponent. But ultimately you cannot rely on the voters to draw the proper conclusions by themselves. This is a mistake too many conservatives make: relying on the facts to speak for themselves. They don't.

It is an easy trap for honest people to fall into, because it appeals to their basic sense of fair play and their overall optimism. But it is no less deadly for all that. We must make an effort to persuade people to our point of view. Call it educating them, if you like, but the point is that it must be active, not passive. In my view this is the number one reason why conservatism is not more popular than it is.

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