BOB GARFIELD: It's not hard to find President Bush on the evening news. There he is being appalled by the torture at Abu Ghraib. There he is faced with an insurgency of Nobel laureates on global warming. This may not be the kind of publicity an incumbent necessarily savors, but where is the challenger? Why, he seems to have vanished. But if invisibility seems to be a handicap, recall that John Kerry was nowhere in media sight before he won the Iowa caucuses. Joining me now is someone with a vivid memory of the Iowa campaign, former presidential candidate Howard Dean. Governor, welcome to On the Media.
HOWARD DEAN: Thanks for having me on.
BOB GARFIELD: First of all, a semi-invisible John Kerry? Deja vu?
HOWARD DEAN: I think the only reason John Kerry's invisible is because when you're running for president, you have to go at each place that you stop and give the same speech. Well, the traveling press corps can't write the same story for their editor 30 days in a row, so they don't. They write snippets of who's doing what to who and what he has to do to win and all that kind of stuff. It's mostly news analysis, not much news. And it's a tough thing to try to figure out how to fix, because the readers probably won't want the same story 30 days in a row either, but that's what John Kerry is doing, and he's doing it very effectively, cause I've been with him on the stump.
BOB GARFIELD: President Bush is famous for message management. Does it strike you that we're seeing a sort of un-message management -- a conscious decision by the Kerry campaign to kind of hunker down at a safe distance while the president takes all the incoming?
HOWARD DEAN: I don't think so. I think what's happened is that the news is so dramatic that's coming out of Iraq and so dramatic that's coming out of the 9/11 Commission that most of the press just isn't interested in covering the positive things that John Kerry's developing like his economic message, but people don't like to write about that kind of thing in the press. They like to write about conflict, they like to write about bad news. They generally don't cover good news. And right now John Kerry is mostly putting out position papers and good news, and that's just not something, unfortunately, the media is very interested in.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, let's go back a couple of months, and also let me change the metaphor. In the spring, the Bush campaign spent something on the order of 70 million dollars attacking Kerry with a series of ads aimed particularly at those battleground states. And Kerry, against all that is writ holy in presidential politics, hardly threw a counterpunch. It looked for all the world like rope-a-dope --Mohammed Ali's strategy to absorb the punches and tire out the opponent.
HOWARD DEAN: That's a very interesting thing that you should say that, because that's exactly what people outside the battleground see. But what people inside the battleground see is an enormous effort on the part of groups like the Media Fund and Act and other Democratic-oriented political action committees and 527s who are throwing just as much in those states as everybody else. The general public outside the battleground states get a very different picture of the campaign, because we rely on national media to cover the campaign. But the local media covers the campaigns in the battleground states, and local television stations are saturated with ads both for the Bush campaign and against the Bush campaign. And so the battleground states get a very different picture of the campaign than I think most of the other states do.
BOB GARFIELD: You mentioned that Senator Kerry is effective on the stump. I have to ask you about that. President Bush, of course, is notorious for his inability to put together a simple sentence. Kerry seems unable to put together a complex one. You know, but not for the want of trying. He gets snared in all of his own excess verbiage.
HOWARD DEAN: I think both characterizations are wrong. I actually think George Bush is very effective on the stump. I think it's kind of an Eastern construction that he mangles sentences and so forth. People don't care about that. In fact, I actually think it endears him to a lot of the viewing public. Similarly, I think John Kerry has improved his ability dramatically, and I'm a victim of that, [LAUGHS] I might add. You know, the last three weeks in Iowa he did a tremendous job. His message is more concise. His thinking is clear and it comes through. I think they're both going to be good on the stump, going into the general election.
BOB GARFIELD: Hm. On the subject of making voters understand who John Kerry is, there are those commentators who say that's not necessary, because what he really needs is the anyone-but-Bush vote. Newsweek called it the "sock puppet" strategy as in: I'd vote for a sock puppet before I'd vote for George Bush.
HOWARD DEAN: It's not enough. Certainly both sides are now locked in to at least, my guess is, 45 or 6 percent of the vote. So there's 8 percent or whatever it is undecided in the middle. Now, you can't simply come along as a negative strategy -- anybody but the present incumbent. You've really got to have your own positive program. John Kerry has spent the last 3 weeks outlining his economic program, outlining his health plan, outlining his education plan, substantive addresses on foreign policy. The one thing he hasn't done a lot of in the last few weeks is bash George Bush. Partly, he's left that to others. Partly, events are conspiring to undo what the president's carefully crafted image. But he's building the blocks of a positive campaign, and I don't think you can win the White House just on the anybody-but-Bush theory. I think you've got to have your own positive image and positive campaign as well. And I think that this is the right time to be doing that.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay, Governor. Well thank you very much.
HOWARD DEAN: Thanks very much.
BOB GARFIELD: Governor Howard Dean is supporting candidates through his organization, Democracy for America.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up, the future of the music business.