Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
November 10, 2004

Shrinking and Fading (Or: Why I Think It Would Be a Fatal Mistake For Kerry To Run Again)

This morning’s LA Times has an article (registration required) entitled “2008 Run Among Kerry’s Options,” suggesting John Kerry is contemplating another bid for the presidency.

During the campaign, believing that Kerry was the far superior choice to Bush, I refrained from criticizing him. If you’ve been following this blog, you also know I felt the photo coverage of Kerry was heavily biased. Because the campaign is over, however, I also have to say that the nature of that bias was not incidental. What the coverage did was telegraph many of the shortcomings that argue against Kerry running again.

Just to be clear, I don’t feel the mercilessly demeaning photo coverage of Kerry was at all fair — unless the press had been equally prepared to fix a lens on the “underside” of Bush, capturing a great deal more of his anger, contemptuousness, and anxiety. Fairness aside, however, the camera didn’t lie. What the photojournalism provided (in overabundant measure) was a snapshot of Kerry’s fundamental political and personal flaws, emphasizing core problems with stature; presence; standing; and energy.

What is the best way to illustrate what I’m talking about? Because I believe visual language is as illustrative and “readable” as pictures, I thought I would isolate some key lines from the LATimes article, drawing out categorical weaknesses in Kerry’s personality.

Energy Level

His friends, contributors and former campaign aides say he was energized by winning almost 56 million votes

Kerry’s energy level wouldn’t be so notable if it wasn’t as variable as it is. You can’t read about people close to Kerry without hearing of efforts to track his basic level of activation. If I had to account for the problem, I’d say it derives from passivity and/or regular episodes of low grade depression.

cameronkerry1

Presence/Visibility

At a campaign staff party over the weekend at a Washington restaurant, Kerry discussed his intention to remain engaged

“We intend to stay together,” Crowe said. “I’m with him. I’ve been with him for 30 years.” He added, “John Kerry is not going to fade away.”

Throughout the campaign, Kerry suffered (both in reality, as well as in press photos) from a lack of presence. The Newsweek special issue on the campaign, for example, cited Kerry’s regular tendency to physically withdraw from his family and staff.

As with his energy level, the main reason for added resonance around his determination to remain engaged is because of his tendency to disengage. (In Kerry’s case, it never seems to happen until there is an extra marshaling of will). Notice, also, how his associate refers to “fading” as a potential outcome. Besides this LATimes piece, ABC ran a similar story on their website dealing with Kerry’s future plans. The title? “Friends Don’t See Kerry Fading Away.”

Size/Stature

“The senator’s standing and stature have increased enormously,”

Despite being selected by his party as the nation’s potential 44th president, he returns to work next week as the junior senator from Massachusetts.

To be frank, Kerry has a real problem with his sense of stature. If anything, the “enormous” increase in standing reflects that too much remains to be gained. Also, it’s telling Kerry would be referred to as the “Junior” senator after 20 years on the job and the credible presidential run.

Conclusion

For all the talk about why Kerry lost, I think there are some simple conclusions to be made.

Personally, I don’t believe it had much to do with fundamentalist Christians or “moral values.” If you study the the post election analysis, the country is actually a lot less polarized (more purple, then blue and red) then the polarizing special interest groups would have you believe. Also, statistics bore out that most of the states with “Anti-Gay Marriage” propositions did not turn out voters in statistically higher percentages than did the rest of the country.

The main reason Kerry lost, I believe, is because of these character issues. Rove pegged Kerry from the beginning as a man who has trouble asserting himself and knowing where he stands. The Republicans exploited it to the fullest. When it came down to the wire, Kerry (as is his custom) started feeling the adreneline, became more emboldened, and then was much more able to express himself.

From that point, he did a tremendous job stating the case against Bush. However, he still had the problem of self-definition. And that’s where truly undecided voters couldn’t overcome the doubts.

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