Hot flashes are usually a private matter. Alison Teal shares hers.

Monday, April 12, 2004

*I hope those of you who celebrate Easter had one with the traditional delights of garlicky lamb and honey ham, dying and hiding eggs and – my personal favorite – exploding Peeps in the microwave. We are once again in Key West where all those little pink, yellow and blue Easter chicks of my childhood have found refuge and are now an army of free-range, island hens and roosters. There is a movement here to do away with the liberated poultry. The roosters crow too early in the morning, they say. Of course they say this over the din and mayhem of unmuffled motorcycles, so I haven’t fully heard their complaints.

*This last couple of weeks we have been chairs of and gone to the major fundraisers in Northern California and Washington. Our son, Nicholas, worked the one in Chicago. All were chaotic, over-subscribed, and fabulous. Fortunately we stayed away from the one in L.A., a party that brought about the campaign edict: NO MORE FUNDRAISING EVENT IN ANY PRIVATE HOUSE IF THE CANDIDATE IS PRESENT.

*A week ago, I talked about some of the problems in the campaign. Since then Sam and I spent several days in Washington. Though the problems are far from solved, I want to assure you that most are being addressed. We were relieved to see that people at the top levels of the campaign and the DNC are well aware of the huge concerns people have. I came away feeling encouraged and as comfortable as one can ever be with a political campaign. I thought that Mary Beth Cahill in particular was focused, non-defensive, and moving quickly to deal with the on-the-ground staffing issues. Now that there is money it is possible to hire staff for all the battleground states plus some of the large dollar states by May 1 and to staff other states before the convention. It is important to remember that at this time in 2000 we had multiple candidates and none of their campaigns were staffed in more than the early primary states. It is also important to remember that only a few weeks ago there was no money in this campaign.

It is even rumored that buttons and bumper stickers may be widely available soon. Not yet, but soon. We hope.

Also on the positive side, Bush has spent forty million dollars on political ads, his Joan-of-Arc has spoken to the 911 committee, and he is still behind in the current polls. Also John Kerry may have a new joke writer. At least he said that he now knows that Bush/43 stands for the president’s approval rating. Not a knee slapper, but it’s a start.

On the not so positive side, we, you and I, have to stop whining and get busy. So kill that inner child of complaint -- and believe me, I’m speaking mostly to my very own bratty and whining pre-pubescent darling – and just get on with it. Do something. Become a part of Moveon.org’s national bake sale (Bake Back the White House.) Abuse all your friendships by asking constantly for money for Kerry until people give just to shut you up. (You can do that at this site: https://contribute.johnkerry.com/index.html?source_code=00012094 ) Stop complaining (except among ourselves and to me directly, of course) and start organizing, raising money, talking to people and registering voters. As a levelheaded possum once said: We have met the enemy and he is us.

*And now, given that we have no time to lose, I am going away for a couple of weeks. I may check in with a few recipes and outrages, but otherwise you won’t hear from me until May sometime. I am having a birthday and need to lick my wounds in an undisclosed location.

*One last thought -- a stock tip actually -- Invest in TiVo. With millions being spent on campaign ads all going only to the 14 – 19 targeted states…well, enough said.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

The press is fired up about Kerry’s shoulder operation and lack of visibility. Having the operation now seems like a good idea to me. He’s got a marathon in front of him and he needs to be in the best shape possible. But what do I know? I was part of a campaign when the candidate was not only absent but also silent. In 1968 Senator McCarthy went on a monastic retreat shortly before the Democratic convention and took an oath of silence. Sam remembers many frantic phone calls to Brother John hoping for instructions on what to do about one impending disaster or another. Jeremy Larner, who later wrote the screenplay The Candidate, wandered the headquarters singing “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”

I do, however, have serious concerns about the campaign. They’re just not orthopedic. In the last four months, we’ve traveled all over the country, talking and listening to hundreds of people. These are people who care deeply about the election of a Democratic president in the fall. Most of them have concerns and ideas. Some of the ideas have too narrow a focus and are more about naval gazing than winning an election. Some of the ideas are completely crack pot. Many, however, are thoughtful and worthy of attention. Whether we are talking to college students or moguls, farmers or artists, certain concerns are raised repeatedly – many of them by readers of my Hot Flashes. These concerns are not obscure and other people must have heard them. I hope and assume the campaign will deal with them. But they haven’t yet.

They can be summed up in four messages:

One. Kerry’s TV persona needs to loosen up. People want to see him be more conversational and less preachy, more personal and less distant. Sam and I have watched him interact with firemen and Vietnam vets. We’ve seen him working rallies until he has shaken the hand of every person present. We’ve seen him respond to hecklers with respect and dignity. We’ve seen him light up a room with laughter. We absolutely know he can be spontaneous, charming and funny. The charisma is there, but the warmth and immediacy we know hasn’t consistently come across on TV where he reverts to Senator speak. To quote Jeremy Larner again: “Kerry has not found a simple & down to earth way to speak that conveys the authenticity he had, say, in relation to his war experience. He is too often blasting away, even when right, in an exaggerated bellow which makes him sound like a politician.” Linda Gage suggests he should never be behind a podium but instead with a radio mic. And he’s always better with a live audience.

Two. The message needs to tighten up. Everyone welcomes Kerry’s recent more substantive statements but the prepared materials need to be more extensive and less clichéd. People are yearning for the ads and the website to have a significant focus. They are happy with the spotlight on jobs, the economy and terrorism, but they want some concentration on solutions. Constant repetition of the one-liners from the early speeches – including on the web site and in the hortatory e-mails from the campaign – simply isn’t enough.

Three. There is a need for more openness in the campaign. This is not new. It happens in every campaign. I remember the offensive FMBNH (For McCarthy Before New Hampshire) buttons in 1968 and I don’t think they helped bring people on board in latter primaries. We don’t have time to waste on who was there first. It can’t be us and them. I believe there hasn’t been a more important election in my lifetime. Everyone should be encouraged to feel he or she is a part of it. Describing longevity with the campaign as a sign of virtue simply drives away the newcomers who must be welcomed. This also means bringing senior leadership from other campaigns into senior leadership positions in this campaign.

Four -- and most important. There is no grassroots campaign. People want to be a part of something and they want to identify with others who are a part of it. There is enormous energy waiting to be tapped. But, except for three or four states, there is simply no visible evidence of a Kerry campaign. This may be appropriate now when the focus has to be on raising money, but it sure won’t be okay in the fall. There must be bumper strips, buttons, yard signs. I am sure some campaign consultant or another is saying none of this matters and is just a waste of money. They are wrong. I talk to everyday people standing in line in drug stores, in grocery stores, in doctors’ offices – and, yes, in too many restaurants. The election will be won in some states by only a few votes and it takes people – motivated, involved people – to get those last votes to the polls. We know too many people, young and old, who have tried to find a way to do something for the campaign who have been turned down -- and perhaps off -- by a campaign with no institutional capacity to use people effectively. All this is predicable and understandable given the pace at which the campaign has grown. But it will not be understandable or forgivable two months from now. We need to capture the energy and keep it alive.

The following are further ideas. I am reprinting them without attribution, but they have all come from various Hot Flash readers.

Let’s organize a movement to have people commit to spending a week of their summer vacations registering voters. Those who could afford it would go to the battleground states.

Make a Kerry sign available on the Web site that could be downloaded and printed for display in car windows. Bumper strips are better, but expensive. This would cost nothing.

We should have surrogates everywhere. John Lindsay had more surrogate speakers on the streets of New York in 1969 than this presidential campaign has now.

We need a variety of buttons. The one that exists is too expensive to be widely available and too big for most people to wear everyday. They must be available easily and cheaply – or free at campaign headquarters and events. I’d like to see a button a half-inch in diameter, which can be put on any suit jacket without making one look like a clown.

I am told by those few who get them that the campaign’s e-mail “talking point” memos are so repetitive and simple as to be insulting. They should be more timely and sophisticated.

There needs to be some structure of access; a sort of pyramid structure so that a volunteer – including some very sophisticated and experienced people in various fields -- can voice ideas and complaints to someone who sorts through them and gives the important ones to the next person up the food chain and so on, making it possible for anyone with a good idea to get it heard. And, perhaps even more important, it would give a structured way to give bad news. No one employed full time wants to give bad news to the campaign, such as, news about fund raisers who feel they are treated badly or volunteers who can’t get something to do.

There must be field campaign headquarters in the fall all over the country. Some may be free standing, many will be joint offices with other state and local candidates, but each needs to be staffed by someone who can take volunteers and put them to productive and rewarding use. Boy does this campaign not have that yet. It is so discouraging to want to help and be given nothing to do. Even more discouraging is not getting a phone call returned because the person in the office is too busy (common) or too self-important (sadly, not unknown). What the campaign needs is about 100 Joe Grandmaisons; people who can assess the strengths and weaknesses of a volunteer and use them effectively.

Where is the war room? We need advance planning, quick responses and at least a couple of thousand people who have detailed, daily talking points to respond to the Bush outrage of the day.

We all need to work to have the campaign be as effective as possible. We’ve got the candidate. We’ve got the energy. And we can win if we can just get everyone involved.

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