If there was one shortcoming of John F. Kerry in the past, it was his inability to get a clear message out. But this seems to be a thing of the past. Meet the new Kerry: on message and more sound-byte friendly.
A clear message will be essential to let the average citizen know what issues Kerry stands for. Judging by the way his campaign managers are scheduling events lately, “the” message may not have been found yet, but at least Kerry is giving speeches that are much more defined than in the past.
Wednesday’s discussion panel at USF’s Theater 2 on biological terrorism attacks was a good example of his recent technique of sticking to one message per event rather than trying to cover everything at once. It is working in his favor.
In the past, he essentially gave the same speech he had already given before. For example, during his spring break visit to Ybor, he reiterated a speech he had given in two other locations in Florida the same day. This is no wise use of Kerry’s funds or the voters’ time, and definitely does not get Kerry the media attention he will need to compete with incumbent President George W. Bush in the coming months.
According to Friday’s New York Times, Bush has amassed a campaign fund of more than $200 million, while Kerry has only $115 million. Bush also has the “home advantage” at the White House. Kerry needs to be more efficient in order to not run out of funds and grab news coverage. Sticking to concise messages will help him achieve this goal.
Wednesday, he decisively said, “We are not as safe as we could be,” in reference to possible terrorist attacks. Unlike Bush, who has been accused of using fear of attacks to his advantage, Kerry objectively enumerated the shortcomings of the system and offered methods to fix the failing system. As Thomas Mason from the USF Center for Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance said, what the country needs is not a “paralyzing fear, but a call to action.”
Statements like this play right into Bush’s latest assertions that the country is better off under his leadership. The self-proclaimed “war president” is hoping the country will stick with him rather than take the chance of bringing in a new guy. In order to compete, the burden is on Kerry to prove he is up to the task. The sight of Kerry appearing as part of a panel of experts also showed the clear difference between him and Bush. While the president has been openly criticized for never admitting mistakes and ignoring advisors, Kerry already has shown in practice how he plans to listen to experts and take their advice seriously once he takes office.
Leadership, another main focus in the Bush campaign, is also quite different the way Kerry proposes it. Kerry, for example, suggested having one person who oversees all matters concerning bioterrorism rather than several in multiple sub-departments of agencies. Communication is clearly not a strength of the current system. Head of the Department of Homeland Security Tom Ridge was downplaying the terror threat last week, mere hours before Attorney General John Ashcroft essentially said an attack was certain in the next months. An interconnected system with clear structure, as Kerry and members of the panel including experts from USF said, is essential. Accountability is the key term here. While Bush is not prepared to acknowledge any mistakes he made — let alone take any blame — Kerry proposes to offer leadership and vision while ensuring that the process is transparent. While Bush may be able to claim leadership as one of his strengths, transparency is definitely not among them.
Kerry, therefore, is doing the right thing by sticking to the issues at hand. By formulating clear statements, he will make it much harder for Bush to dismiss him as nonchalantly as he has done in the past. By offering hope and alternatives through objective criticism, Kerry is gaining a good foothold to compete with Bush’s “gloom and doom” / “must stay the course at all cost” scenarios.
Sebastian Meyer is a junior majoring in geography and an Oracle Opinion editor.