Andrei Cherny on Bob Shrum and the Kerry Campaign

Andrei Cherny looks at some of the errors in Bob Shrum’s new book, and in the process shows where Kerry’s campaign went wrong:

So, first off, my name is “Andrei Cherny,” not “Andrei Cherney.” When you have a name like mine, you get used to having it misspelled. But paging through his book, this was the first clue I had that the fact-checker had been tied up, gagged, and thrown into a dark basement.

Second, Bob Shrum claims that he and I collaborated on the “Bring It On” theme and strategy that reshaped perceptions of Kerry’s candidacy and, as polling demonstrates, made him the nominee. I have never told the story of how that shift came about. I still don’t believe I should. All I will say is this, Shrum fought against it for three months, arguing that such clear, straight-forward language was “macho,” “Bush-like” rhetoric and not the sonorous phrases that a future president should be using. He consistently quarreled with any attempt to demonstrate that John Kerry was the one candidate who had the qualities and qualification to go toe-to-toe with George W. Bush in the first election after 9/11. The 2004 election was always going to be about national security — as well it should have been. Shrum resisted this every step of the way, opening a hole in the public’s perceptions of John Kerry big enough for a flotilla of “Swift Boats” to pass through.

Third, Bob Shrum completely skews the story of John Kerry’s botched announcement speech. He works overtime to claim that the press disgust with the speech had to do with the weather in South Carolina rather than the fact that the speech was a soporific collection of clichés that reinforced the perception that Senator Kerry was just another typical Washington politician mouthing the same empty platitudes and promises Democrats are sick of hearing every four years. Shrum also writes that I was kicked out of a campaign meeting after daring to disagree with him about campaign strategy. This never happened. It is manufactured out of thin air.

Why does any of this matter? If it was just a disagreement between two advisors, it would not. But something more is at stake, because the crux of the disagreement between Bob Shrum and myself was this: he believed, in both the primary and the general election, that John Kerry’s campaign and the Democratic Party would be successful if we remained vague, above-the-fray, all-things-to-all-people. I believed then, and still do today, that people want bold leadership, that they deserve honesty and will respond to it, that the old answers just don’t ring true anymore. That debate is being played out in today’s Democratic Party. And its outcome has real consequences.

Though Bob Shrum consistently misrepresents my views, I never believed that John Kerry should adopt some sort of “mad-dog” attack strategy against either Howard Dean or George Bush. Anyone who knows me knows that this is not my style. What I and others thought he should do was stand up and tell America who he was, to not just offer up poll-tested pabulum but take stands that showed the same courage in 2003 and 2004 that he had demonstrated in Vietnam and on many occasions in the U.S. Senate. We thought he wouldn’t lose voters by defining himself and saying where he stood, he would gain them. Bob Shrum disagreed, John Kerry chose to follow that course. On election day, polls showed that most Americans wanted a new president, they just did not know where Democrats would lead.

When I was involved in the campaign’s blog and forum, I was also concerned about how Kerry’s message was made excessively vague. My advice was “Let Kerry be Kerry.” I had hoped that we would see this happen in 2008 but that’s not to be. There’s still hope we’ll see this from another former candidate who learned the dangers of listening to all those experts the hard way.

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1 Comment

  1. 1
    KerryDemocrat says:

    When I saw John Kerry speak early on in his campaign, his speeches kind of reminded me of a Grateful Dead concert. If you have ever been to one, the music would be very jazzily incoherent for a long period of time, slightly out of sync, yet with touches of brilliance and then suddenly the groove would come and you would be listening to some of the most amazing music. Kerry’s speeches were much the same, until later in the campaign when he would merely hit on those flashes of brilliance in an assembly of very pure political thought that was dead on the money.

    However, we face an American public that is increasingly swayed by a cult of personality bashing and not one of thought and ideas. Debates and ideas don’t matter as much as slamming a candidate based upon crap that just plain gets made up. The lazy voter buys into it in enough numbers to follow the other guy or be sickened to the point of failing to vote.

    Put that together with targeted illegal voter suppression and voila…you wind up with 4 more years of the biggest idiot to ever hold public office.

    Sad.

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