Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Well whadya know: Despite the Philly Cheesesteak incident, despite his colorful language during an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, and despite his leather-clad Harley appearance on the Tonight Show, former front-runner John Kerry regained said status by trouncing his opponents in Iowa.

Howard Dean was left looking like an idiot screaming out all the states' names he could remember after he was relegated back to long-shot status. He sounded more like Jesse Ventura during his spandex and feather-boa days than a man who would be president. (And you know that little high-pitched shriek he made at the end of his tantrum will serve as his defining sound bite in the coming week before the New Hampshire primaries.)

Now that the campaigns have come full circle, you can't help but wonder how fast this is going to spin around until nausea sets in. Howard Dean rocketed to the top of the polls by characterizing himself as an angry outsider. After he had the lead, the outsider image vanished, and he was subject to excessive scrutiny. Now Kerry is back in the spotlight -- the next target to be torn down. If anyone is in a safe place, it's John Edwards, who beat expectations with a second-place finish, but didn't do too well to garner all the attention.

However, if there's a lesson to be learned from Iowa, it's that negative campaigning can have negative consequences. Dean and Gephardt were considered the favorites in the Hawkeye State, so they hacked each other to bits with negative ads, letting Kerry and Edwards take the high road to the lead.

I have never seen a candidate take a lead over an opponent through negative ads. Yet politicians keep trying. Unfortunately Iowa's lesson will be lost as candidates get desperate during the primaries. Lieberman is waiting in New Hampshire and will probably continue his attacks on Dean. Kerry has an advantage in the Granite State, considering its proximity to Massachusetts, so Clark is already taking aim at the Vietnam veteran, saying the senator's military record is nothing compared to his own in Kosovo.

Speaking of the Bay State (doncha love how writers use state nicknames to avoid repeating the name of a state?), I spent the weekend in Boston, and I got to see some of the N.H. televised political advertisements that trickled over the airwaves into neighboring markets. The commercials all follow new campaign laws that require candidates to prominently and verbally declare their approval of their messages in their advertisements.

The point of the law is to make sure a politician doesn't launch a cowardly attack on an opponent without also taking credit for the ad. That's all fine and good, but the ads that I saw complied with the law in a very awkward manner. The candidate would be giving a strong soliloquy about why he should be president, then near the end he would say, "that's why I approved this message."

Yes, we all know that a team of cunning political minds craft a candidate's image and words before the cameras start rolling. But can't those brilliant minds think of a more fluid way to meet the letter of the law? I'm not an expert on McCain-Feingold, but wouldn't "that's why I'm sending this message" or "that's why I created this message to tell you ..." pass legal muster?

If not, they should somehow finagle the law to allow some sort natural dialogue. Otherwise, that may mean we'll hear President Bush tonight during the State of the Union Address say something like, "Our economy is growing by leaps and bounds. At least that's what the TelePrompTer says."

And concerning the big speech, I have no plans to watch it tonight. Aside from the nominating conventions, the State of the Union is the single most overly hyped event in politics. When I used to watch the speech, I noticed that afterwards the skies seemed bluer, the clouds seemed whiter, the sunshine seemed sunshinier (even though it's always night time in the dead of winter) all because some politician told me that "The state of our union is STRONG." If there ever were a time for the news media to filter out the crap and bring me the highlights, this would be it.


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