Ah, good ole John Kerry. He is the poster child for how to absolutely blow an election.
Why is he relevant in 2012? The Republican presidential nominee will be in roughly the same position as Kerry was in 2004 and may well fall into the same trap as the failed Democrat.
Let’s go back to 2004. The Democrats were in a great position to take the White House. George W. Bush was a controversial president who appeared to be losing popularity on a daily basis. The economy was a concern, government spending had alarmed more than a few people and Bush was largely responsible for getting the nation involved in a war in Iraq that wasn’t exactly going well and was becoming very unpopular.
The Democrats, in short, were in a position to topple Bush and they may have done that with a strong candidate. Instead of a great candidate, however, the Democrats nominated John Kerry.
Kerry’s campaign slogan should have been, “Vote for me because I’m not George Bush.” Kerry ran around the nation griping about Bush. He boldly promised to not ever be George Bush, in fact, and appeared confident that was enough to become president.
Kerry failed. His biggest problem, it seems, is that Kerry spent most of his time trying to convince people to not vote for Bush instead of giving them reasons to vote for him. Americans are, arguably, more interested in voting for something they believe in rather than simply voting against something they don’t.
Think about it. We’ve seen that play out time and time again. I’ve been voting in presidential elections since 1988 and have rarely voted for a candidate – I’ve voted against plenty of them, however. I’m reminded of the Bill Clinton-Bob Dole election back in 1996 when a friend of mine returned from the polls. He said he held his nose and “did the right” thing by voting against Clinton, but was none to happy with Dole.
Here in 2012, the Republican who gets the nomination will likely be tempted to gripe about Obama. Yes, he can talk about the rotten economy and the failed stimulus spending. And, make no mistake – Obama’s stimulus packages have been horrible failures. The point of stimulus spending is to help create jobs so that the tax base will increase and the government will get back the money spent on stimulating the economy. When those jobs aren’t created, the government has effectively thrown a bunch of money out the window.
The temptation to complain about Obama and his policies is certainly there as this president is a magnet for controversy. There’s everything from the remarkably odd decision to block the Keystone XL pipeline (thus potentially causing that oil to wind up in China) to healthcare reform to, well, playing a bunch of golf.
I’d wager the Republican nominee who focuses on Obama’s controversial decisions will fail miserably in the upcoming election. Sure, pointing out Obama’s faults is fair enough, but a successful candidacy is built on outlining policies that are attractive to voters. Giving voters something to believe in and support is far more effective than simply telling them that voting for Candidate X is less dangerous than voting for Candidate Y.
Obama clearly did that in 2008 with his “hope and change” message as well as the “yes we can” slogan (I still think he swiped that from Bob the Builder, but it worked). Obama had a lot of enthusiastic support from people inspired by his campaign while John McCain simply did not. The outcome of that election was predictable, wasn’t it?
Republicans should take that lesson to heart. Voters had rather vote for a candidate they like then against one they don’t.