Sunday, 5 September 2004

Pondering the bounce

I’ll admit I was about the last person who would have predicted a large convention bounce for the incumbent—heck, I’m on record predicting a narrow Kerry victory, and that was largely predicated on Bush receiving about the same bounce (i.e. zero) that Kerry did due to a polarized electorate.

As Robert Garcia Tagorda notes this evening, the Democratic postmortem—and perhaps the recriminations—have begun. Robert argues that the DNC’s singleminded focus on Kerry’s military record as a qualification for office created the media frame for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth to have an open line of attack on the challenger.

I suspect there may be a separate dynamic at work as well. All party conventions (aside, perhaps, from the Communists’) wrap themselves in the flag and try to emphasize their party’s “big tent” nature. Of course, these frames don’t work as well for some as for others; attempts to paint the Republicans as an open-minded party committed to diversity (however defined) result—often with some basis—in snickering and eye-rolling from anyone with a modicum of knowledge of American politics, while Democrats’ wrapping themselves in the flag leads many observers (including myself, in my more cynical moments) to ponder that many of the party’s adherents would rather burn the flag than use it as a cloak. Thus, parties also have to do something else at a convention to make it a worthwhile exercise.

The trouble for the Democrats is that essentially all they did at the convention was a “gung ho,” flag-waving exercise that nobody bought—the leftist base found it offensive, while a lot of other people found the whole exercise downright implausible. Contrast the Republicans, who—despite the cringe-inducing emphasis on the “big tent”—managed also to articulate a message on national security that is so effective against Kerry that the Democrats have had to resort to smearing Zell Miller as a racist (if, by “racist,” you mean “any politician who ever was elected to public office in a Southern state”—I can draw the same lines between many prominent “real” Democrats and bigots, but apparently Democrats don’t want to talk about the sheets in “their guys’” closets) and both Dick Cheney and George Bush as relapsed alcoholics.