It isn't the economy, stupid.
Yes, Bill Clinton seized on the recession and voters' economic insecurities to win the presidency four years ago, but in the third year of economic recovery, those themes have lost much of their resonance. So why, in its first 30-second spot out of the Republican convention, is the Dole/Kemp '96 campaign trying to reach voters' hearts via their wallets?
"Today, taxes are the highest in American history," declares the voice-over, in the spot from New Century Media Group, Washington, amid shots of a vigorous-looking Bob Dole and a virile-looking Jack Kemp at the convention podium looking most presidential, and vice presidential, respectively.
"Bill Clinton says we have the healthiest economy in `three decades.' Believe that? America can do better. Bob Dole. Jack Kemp. Cutting income taxes on every family 15%. A $500 per child tax credit. Higher take-home pay. Bob Dole. Cut taxes. Balance the budget. Raise take-home pay. Tell the truth. Bob Dole. The better man, for a better America."
Bob Dole. Cut taxes. Balance the budget. Dispense with frills. Like extraneous parts of speech. List copy points. Repeatedly. In little spasms of language. Tell the truth. Or parts of it. Whatever.
In some ways this is a strong spot. The pictured energetic Bob Dole is very different from the enervated, seemingly dispirited, sometimes even disoriented candidate we saw during the primaries. In a deft twist, Dole is seen speaking but not actually heard speaking, which is much to his advantage.
And the glimpse of a satisfied Kemp sucking in a deep breath upon being introduced to the convention not only puffs out his athletic chest, it shows that he, unlike the president, inhales.
Beyond that, though, if only by what it omits, this initial foray does not highlight the candidate's strengths so much as loudly scream his weaknesses.
His decades of experience aren't mentioned, lest they finger him as a career politician and Washington insider. And his Senate majority leadership is strictly mum's the word, reminding dyed-in-the-wool conservatives of his compromising nature, and moderates of his rhetorical paeans to the right.
His biggest liability, however, is that he's running against an equally malleable politician at a time of peace and prosperity. Like Stevenson against Ike-with the only silver lining being that people genuinely liked Ike. Americans are perfectly prepared to dislike, distrust and even despise the president. From gays in the military to Waco to Whitewater to Medicare demagoguery to bimbo-alerts gone by, Bill Clinton has served for 31/2 years under a cloud of suspicion.
But he has also served effectively in relative peace and a booming economy, while expropriating Republican issues left and right and farther right, substantially disarming the opposition.
This leaves Dole the choice only of outlining his actual program, and his vision for America. The problem there being he has never exactly articulated the latter and he is already an inside-the-beltway laughingstock with the former. Balancing the budget after a 15% tax cut?
Economists and pundits talk about discredited supply-side theory, but the folks on Main Street see it more clearly:
A chicken in every pot it isn't. More like: pork on every plate.
Voodoo? Who do? Bob Dole, you do.