There is a largely accepted philosophy among political operatives which suggests that a candidate must defend him or herself and fight back hard when attacked.
That philosophy is certainly being put to the test in the Kerry camp where his handlers must come up with a strategy to deal with the onslaught of anti-Kerry propaganda being pushed through the airwaves. We are still in the early stages of the campaign, but the Bush team has already served up nearly 50,000 negative and often misleading ads.
According to Kathleen Hall Jamieson: “There is more attack now on the Bush side against Kerry than you’ve historically had in the general-election period against either candidate. This is a very high level of attack, particularly for an incumbent.”
I always find it interesting that politicians focus their efforts on negative ads when the rest of world’s top marketers stay positive. Can you imagine a Coke commercial that criticizes Pepsi for flip-flopping on the saccharine vs nutrasweet issue, or a series of Harry Potter ads that imply that Shrek was once in favor of a 50 cent gas tax hike?
So far, Kerry (who certainly can claim tough-guy credentials) has been fairly careful in his responses when it comes to the negative ads. In fact, he has been fairly careful, even quiet, when it comes to his side of the campaign.
Now according to the accepted political philosophy described above, Kerry is making a dire mistake. But maybe Kerry is employing another time-tested strategy perfected in the ring by Muhammad Ali: The Rope a Dope.
Newsweek offers up the Sock Puppet Theory described by an interviewee who had just listened to another careful Kerry speech: “Kerry did not address Iraq as clearly as I would have liked. But my dislike of George Bush overrides everything at this point. You can put a sock puppet next to Bush and I would vote for it.”
Are things, in recent weeks, going so badly for the Bush team (reports of infighting, Iraq scandals, lack of discipline) that Kerry is better off just staying in a neutral corner for awhile? In the Rope a Dope strategy, you wait for your opponent to punch himself out. In this case, Kerry may actually be watching an opponent who is beating the hell out of himself.
Think about it. The Bush ads are not having the desired impact. Kerry is holding his position and has even gained some ground in the swing states. Maybe the impatience among many in the Democratic Party is just that.
The numbers clearly indicate that Kerry has proven his ability to float like a butterfly.
We may have to wait a while to find out if he can sting like a bee.