Over the past four days, I had the chance to see in action and spend a little time with our last two nominees; I saw John Kerry speak last Saturday on the 35th anniversary of his testimony to the US Senate and I saw Al Gore last night at the showing of his new film, An Inconvenient Truth, in Boston thanks to the courtesy of one of the film's producers, Lawrence Bender.
It was interesting and enlightening to see how these former captives of the DC-based, consultant and pollster-driven worlds have broken the shackles that bound them during their campaigns, and now, willingly and with passion, speak openly and honestly about what they actually believe in and hold true to themselves.
Ironically, it was not just the same class of consultants that led both men to believe they couldn't talk about what they cared in, it was the exact same consultants - most clearly, Tad Devine - who in Joe Klein's new book is quoted with pride about how he personally convinced Al Gore not to speak about the environment. They also talked John Kerry out of attacking George Bush on the failures of the war on terror, the failure of 9/11 and the failures in Iraq - who had time when there was so many domestic issues to cover?
Al Gore not talking about the environment means it's not really Al Gore talking - the environment is his passion - his soul - and what makes him real. John Kerry not talking about veterans, and war, and international relations and patriotic dissent, takes him away from everything that made him the person he is. It's not about polling, it's about authenticity and being true to yourself. This doesn't show up in a focus group of undecided voters in Florida, but the lesson comes through loud and clear on the first Tuesday in November.
Should Al Gore and John Kerry have known better? Yes. Does the buck for their respective losses stop with them and no one else? Absolutely. But what if each man decides to run again? How should we judge them?
I believe that only those who have gone through the vortex of a Presidential Campaign can truly appreciate the enormous physical, mental and emotional toll it takes, and only those who have done it and lost, can truly understand what it takes to win.
Trust me, you might not believe that Al Gore and John Kerry know much, and you have every right to be angry at them for losing and you have every right to disagree with my premise, not to mention that the fact that I fully admit I would support and work with John Kerry first in 2008 and if he doesn't run, I'm going to try and convince Al Gore to run - but please, take it from someone who survived, barely, the 2004 election, these two men who lost everything -- they know how to win.
Here's what they know the other candidates don't.
1. The DC-BASED Legacy Consulting TV Uber Alles World Is Dead.
You know that the way they do political tv advertising doesn't work. I know it doesn't work - but guess what? Candidates and campaigns don't. It's what they know and they're going to keep doing it - until someone does it better and wins.
All the other candidates think that Al Gore and John Kerry ran bad campaigns, but Al Gore and John Kerry know - they ran the wrong campaign. John Kerry and assorted Democratic and Progressive groups spent hundreds of millions of dollars on t.v. media and LOST GROUND versus 2000. They spent more money on t.v. than any Democratic candidate ever has and it didn't work. In fact, in the 15 true swing states, they spent more money than any other advertiser over the last six months of the campaign, and it didn't work.
Why? Because in the 2006 media mix, t.v. is a brand-building broad message media (which is how the Republicans use it, flags waving, Bush hugging a child who lost a parent in 9/11, constant repitition of simple broad themes) - it is not a Rapid Response issue-appropriate media (which is how the Democrats use it.) Furthermore, like it or not, Presidential campaigns are not fundamentally about issues - so t.v. spots cheaply produced with a candidate talking on-camera about issues only benefit the person who's getting the 8% commission.
Every other candidate will start with the wrong place as regards to television, is it part of the mix? Absolutely. Is it the dominant media it was twenty years ago? No. The two guys who spent hundreds of millions of dollars the wrong way, they get it now.
Al Gore uses a Mark Twain quote in the film, "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." Everyone else that's running is sure they know how to win, only two guys know that what everyone else thinks is the path, just ain't so.
2. The Democrats Haven't Won A Presidential Election In The Modern World.
How did Al Gore, the sitting Vice President in a time of great prosperity lose to a short term Governor from Texas?
How did John Kerry, a decorated war hero, not win in a time of war?
Because that its core, the thinking that dominated their campaigns, the conventional wisdom, the things they know for sure, is all based upon lessons learned years ago in a different world.
Again, the Republicans far better understand the emerging technologies of our time and how to use them - the Democrats model their campaigns on, at best, the model that Bill Clinton used in 1992. But what was that 1992 world like? What was the average voters life like back then? Think about it. No Internet. No email. No Ebay or Google or Amazon or Yahoo, heck, there were barely cell phones.
Let me make one point very clear. Howard Dean proved what American businesses discovered in the Internet Bubble - it's difficult to survive online along. The Legacy World is critical to winning, it's full of hard-working, smart people but it's no longer the only world a politician can afford to operate in.
Furthermore, the Legacy World by definition starts in the postion of strength - it should and will be there - but you have to bring the Legacy World together with the Real World - you have to have an online strategy that's real and funded and strong that works with your offline efforts. It's what every business in America learned but no candidate has.
But do you think Al Gore learned a few things about this merging of the worlds during his board meetings at Apple? Do you think that John Kerry has looked back and wondered what it means that the netroots and grassroots far out-raised the traditional side in 2004? Do you think both men don't know about the power of a 3,000,000 person strong email list? Next.
3. "I'm doing it my way."
Both Al Gore and John Kerry followed the path they believed they were supposed to follow. They are smart men who followed conventional wisdom and history and did everything they thought they were supposed to do - and both men lost elections they should have easily won.
This time around, both men would do what they want, when they want. They would speak about what they want, when they want and how they want. Their campaigns would be set up where they want.
Should both men have done it their way the first time around? Maybe. But you have to understand - imagine going to the people you think are the best doctors in the world and they all tell you your leg will get better if you wear a brace, are you going to wear the brace? Sure. But if your leg gets worse not better, are you going to take it off? Exactly.
4. The Republican Medusa Will Do Anything To Win.
Destroy your service record? Check. Jam the phones? Bingo. Fight a recount? No question about it. You'd think that everyone who considers running as a Democrat would understand that the Republicans play to f'ing win, and that's all there is to it.
But Democrats who haven't faced the evil, don't. I had the chance to spend a few private moments with one of our top 2006 Senate candidates, someone who is going to get hammered post Labor Day, he was, and remains oblivious to the venom he is about to face. When asked how he was doing, he replied with a laundry list of consultants and strategists and pollsters.
I sat down with one of the other top candidates for 2008 at a private dinner recently. He's a good man, and intelligent. He doesn't know what he is getting into - he can't. He will not be able to win the war ahead because he doesn't understand the terms of engagement.
One of his advisors told me about sitting next to and chatting with one of the strategists who organized the Swift Boat campaign, I was shocked. You don't sit next to these people and break bread. You castrate them and force feed them their privates and don't think twice about it.
Al Gore and John Kerry have seen the worst of what the Republicans will do. Would you prefer a candidate who knows that? Or one who has to learn for him or herself - at our expense?
5. Being the nominee is the loneliest, hardest thing you will ever do.
You surrounded by people, you're never alone but you're out there by yourself night and day. Precious fewpeople in the campaign really care about you. You're exhausted, always. You're sick and run down for six to nine months. You barely eat or sleep. And in the middle of all that, you're expected to be charming, witty and never make a mistake.
You need people who love you and care about you with you, right there by your side. You need to create a campaign structure that you control but don't run. You need to build an organization that can go from being an Iowa-centric retail politic structure with under 50 key people to a national powerhouse in sixty days. You need to run a Fortune 500 company that's under attack from the opposition and you never get to spend a day iin the office.
You're in waters that only one or two people alive have ever been in. You get advice from everywhere all the time. The hopes and dreams of hundreds of millions of Americans rest in your hands. At its core it is the hardest, most difficult, most intense thing I can imagine a human being doing.
And it's a zero-sum game. You win - you're the President. You lose - you're nothing.
The two guys who lost are the only two men on the face of the earth who know this. This is why these two men alone can say they're not sure they will run again, these two men alone know what it means to run, believe them when they say they may not do it.
But both men have found themselves. Every American should see the movie, An Inconvenient Truth, it's a powerful story with real hero, Al Gore. Every American should support John Kerry in his call to bring our troops home from Iraq. Those are two Democratic leaders with two critical causes.
Ironically, Howard Dean recently released a six point plan about what the Democrats stand for. I only recall that there was nothing about the war on terror and it called for a 'transition' in Iraq.
Want to win in 2008? Here are the two issues that are the starting points for the Democrats: Stop Global Warming. Withdraw from Iraq. And here are our two leaders. Al Gore and John Kerry.
We need them both to run.