A clinical psychologist explains the role of emotions in our choices at the ballot box and why he believes Democratic candidates, if they want to win, urgently need to change the way they communicate with voters.
Drew Westen is professor of psychology, psychiatry and behavior sciences at Emory University and founder of Westen Strategies. He is a political consultant to Democratic leaders and candidates.
Diane Rehm: According to clinical psychologist, Drew Westen, Republican strategists seem to understand something that Democratic strategists do not. Voters make choices with their hearts, not their heads. In a new book, he explains the connections between emotions and political choices, and how for too long Democratic candidates have given voters a choice between the Grand Old Party and the “Bland Old Party.” He argues that if Democrats want to get elected, they need to communicate with voters in a more meaningful way. His new book is titled “The Political Brain.”
How do our emotions win our vote and why?… It’s good to meet you, Drew Westen! I gather that this book has kind of taken off and gotten you into the limelight because of this message about emotions leading the way in the polling booth. Explain what you mean.
Drew Westen: What it basically means it that voters don’t start out by adding up all the issue positions and the facts and figures, and make a distinction between, “Well, let’s see, who best matches my rational self-interest?” That’s the idea that’s been worrying around in the heads of Democratic strategists for about forty years. It doesn’t fit with anything we know about how the mind and brain actually work.
DR: Tell us how the mind and brain work in regard to political decisions.
DW: Well, probably the most important message of the book is that the political brain is an emotional brain. We evolve to care about things like our kids. If you make an appeal about our children or, frankly, about someone else’s children, we’re much more likely to recognize it right away. To give an example, I’m sometimes asked why I wrote the book. My answer is the same: because I’m the father of two little kids. I was looking a year and a half ago at the world we were leaving them with, and I couldn’t stand it anymore.
DR: Couldn’t stand what?
DW: I couldn’t stand that we were leaving them – here’s another example of something that sounds so uninteresting to the average voter – that we have this enormous national debt. If you talk about the national debt, and you say, “The national debt has grown to an extra $500 billion dollars, a trillion dollars,” people hear that and they think, “Okay, big deal.” They don’t feel anything. In the words of the great immortal, unsung political strategist, Ella Fitzgerald, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing!” You can talk about that national debt in very different ways. I think Democrats could easily say that this president, who’s claimed to cut taxes, has actually levied the largest new tax in history that any president has ever levied, and that’s a tax on childhood, a tax on our children, a tax on the unborn.
DR: How so?
DW: Because what he’s done is to take one program after another. The war, for example. I have to say, as a parent, it drives me crazy. Not just because of what it’s doing to our soldiers and their families. It drives me crazy because the fact is that no one has had the courage to pay for it. That means that our children are paying for it and our grandchildren are paying for it for interest. Every time I see another supplemental passed that doesn’t say “how am I going to pay for this?” I know who’s paying for it. It’s my three-year-old daughter and my six-year-old daughter and that makes me mad…
DR: Do you think that up until now – up until publication of your book – that Republicans have had a handle on the connection between emotions and votes?
DW: If you can take something as inherently boring as the estate tax and turn it into the death tax and get people to think “that’s not fair! They’re taxing you for dying?” then I think we could probably figure out how to talk about how they’re taxing us for being born.
DR: How would you talk about the estate tax if you were a Democrat?
DW: This is where if you understand the brain you understand that it’s this unbelievable patchwork built by evolution. It isn’t about reason vs. emotion. It’s about how do you make an argument to people that is reasonable but that grabs them emotionally and lets them understand where you’re coming from, what your values are, and why they should care about it. With the estate tax, that’s one where I’d actually use some numbers, where I would say, “You know, the estate tax, where it was before, didn’t touch 98% of Americans. It touched 2% of Americans. And you know what? Those 2% of Americans are the 2% who get the most from this country. If you get that much from this country, you can give a little bit back. “
DR: So if you call it a death tax, then it apparently or seems to cover the entire population.
DW: Absolutely. And so what you never want to do as Democrats is to use the words that Frank Luntz has developed. This is one of the things that Democrats have been hearing for a number of years but still have been slow to pick up on, really. You never use Republican language. You listen to it carefully and you have to think, “They don’t do what we do. We just use language randomly. We use whatever comes to our heads when one of our people shows up on “Meet the Press.” They’re making stuff up as they go along. The Republicans aren’t doing it that way. They’re choosing their language carefully. Every time we use the words, “No child left behind,” “the clear skies initiative” – every time we use their words we’re putting political capital in the piggy bank of the Republican Party.
DR: I wonder how the political processing that goes on in the brain is different from the rest of the decisions we make. Why is politics separate from any other decision?
DW: That’s a great question. In some ways I think you’re getting at the heart of the issues, which is that it actually isn’t all that different in some ways. Sure, there are some differences. Other primate species have politics. If you look at the way chimpanzees band up into coalitions, it looks an awful lot like what happens on Capitol Hill. But what’s so similar is the way we make decisions. We don’t pick our spouses by adding up the rationality and utility of “let’s see what the likelihood is this person will get this amount of income over a number of years and let’s discount that by the likelihood that some body part will sag…” That’s not how we make decisions about our spouses. It turns out that if you look at the evidence from 50 years of electoral history and about 50,000 respondents to survey questions over the past 50 years, that’s not how we pick our presidents either.
DR: So we go into that voting booth and what’s going on?
DW: The data show that the four biggest influences on people’s voting are all emotional. The first one is the feelings about the parties and their principles.
DR: So party first.
DW: Party first. It counts for about 80% of people’s votes. If you think that’s irrational – and a lot of people who have heard about the ideas in the book but haven’t read it say, “Aren’t you just advocating people blindly, irrationally making use of manipulative emotional appeals?” If you actually think about how most of us vote, I don’t know about you, but I know you’re an educated voter, I’m a relatively educated voter, and when I start getting down that list beyond president, senator, congressman and now getting a little lower down that list, I won’t say how much I know about anyone below that! But downstream, those candidates, what I know most is, I look at that “R” and I look at that “D,” and what that tells me is if this person is likely to share my values. And know what? That’s not a bad decision rule to use! If both parties have a coherent brand, if they both have a story about who they are. That’s why, again, that’s one of the reasons the Democrats, again, have had so much trouble. We all know what a conservative is. Very few of us really know what – and you can’t even call it a liberal anymore because it’s been 20 years since a Democrat has called himself a liberal on air when he was running for president, and 40 years since one did it and won!
DR: And because the term “liberal” has been labeled by others as such a negative word!
DW: Yes. It’s hard to imagine a world where –- and this is the world that, from the point of the view of a Democrat – you can say about an incumbent, “He’s a conservative!” Can you imagine a world in which we could say something like that and win elections? You just have to use the same principles that the Republicans use, but use them ethically.
DR: You’ve said there are four things. First, party…
DW: Yes, first is the feeling towards parties and their principles. The second is gut-level feelings towards a candidate. Again, people think, “Well, I’m a much more rational voter than that!” Just listen by the water cooler sometime in the next week, and your most educated friends, politically aware friends, you’ll hear them make statements like, “You know, I just don’t like him!” Or “There’s just something about them that just doesn’t feel right to me.” Those are the kinds of things one hears all the time. Those are the kinds of things that voters use all the time. The third point is feelings about specific attributes of the candidates. “Strength” “Leadership” and (if you’re a Democrat) “Competence” and if you’re a Republican, not so much! Finally the fourth is your feelings about the specific policies of the candidates, particularly at a time like now, with the Iraq war. But that’s a distant fourth and off the list is a more distant fifth: your beliefs about the policies and positions of the candidates.
DR: …You’ve also done some brain scanning, which I find fascinating. What did you learn? What were you seeking to learn?
DW: What we did was, in the midst of the polarized 2004 election, right at the height of the election around September and October, we scanned the brains of partisan Democrats and Republicans and presented them with information about their own candidate that was threatening. And we first presented them with something they’d like to hear. They’re reading a message in a mirror about their heads. A Kerry example would something like: “In 1996, John Kerry was on “Meet the Press” and he said, “We have to put everything on the table on Social Security. We have a generational responsibility to solve this problem.” A totally honest statement. I have to say in John Kerry’s defense, in many of these cases we slightly doctored these quotes so that they would sound right and be equal length for reasons of experimental design. So I don’t know if those were his exact words, but that was the kind of thing we presented. Then the next slide comes up and it says, “In 2004, John Kerry on “Meet the Press” said, “I would never touch Social Security. We can’t look at things like means-testing. We have a generational responsibility to our seniors to protect them.” And here you are faced with a clear contradiction and what we asked subjects then was, “Do you see the contradiction?” And what we found was really quite striking.
DR: What did you find?
DW: Well, as a scientist, I was thrilled by what we found. But I have to say as a partisan I kind of hoped we’d find the Fox News circuits of the brain, the parts that light up when people are distorting the date until they twist them around to get them to look like what they want them to be. That Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were really brothers, twins separated at birth. It turned out instead that Democrats’ and Republicans’ brains worked exactly the same. They were mirror images of each other. Democrats responded to Kerry’s contradictions just the way Republicans responded to Bush’s. They both couldn’t recognize the contradictions for their own team, but they could recognize it clearly in the other side. That’s what we found in behavior. What we found in their brains at that time was even more interesting.
DR: I guess what’s so fascinating is that you say that for quite some time now Republican strategists seem to intuitively understand the role that the emotions play in this whole process. And Democrats have failed to get it! How come?
DW: There’s a lot of reasons for that. Part of it, I think, is that as Democrats we’re pretty cerebral people by and large, and we like to think that we make our judgments in a cerebral way. I think it’s led us to an irrational commitment to rationality.
DR: But don’t you think Republicans are cerebral in their own way?
DW: Frank Luntz is. George Will is. Certainly a lot of neocons are quite cerebral. I think that’s a part of it. I think another part of it is that Republicans are much more from business. They come much more from advertising. You can see this in everything they do. They use market mechanisms to determine whether or not to use a consultant. And when a consultant has a losing record, they say, “ You’re outta here!” And when a Democrat has a losing record, they say, “Wow, what a big resume.” And they hire him again. It’s the same thing with the way they use language. They understand how the mind work in advertising. I don’t mean to analogize selling a president to selling toothpaste. But there’s a little more of an analogy there than many of us would like to admit.
DR: Before you wrote this book, there you were at Emory University. Nobody really knew about the work you were doing. Once this book came out, once you started writing articles about this, what happened?
DW: I’ve gone from complete obscurity to relative obscurity! …It’s been a wild ride. I have to say that there are Democrats out there who really do get this. A lot of rank and file Democrats get this. Most of our funders get this. The people who do fund-raising, the people who support Democrats. A lot of people -- and this is what’s been a surprise to me is just how positive the response has been among Democrats in leadership positions. If you had said to me a year ago when I first started writing this book – around the first of June – if you had told me who I would have spoken to by this time, who I would have presented to, who would be in my rolodex, I would have asked you what you were smoking and where could I get some!
DR: But now?
DW: You’re asking for specifics?
DR: I’m asking – yes, I’m asking both generally and specifically – to whom you are speaking and with whom you might be working.
DW: Well, I’m a firm believer in not kissing and telling, but I’ll tell you as much as I can because I’ve cleared things with people. I had an encounter over the weekend with President Clinton about this where his assistant called and was telling me about the president’s reaction…
DR: …to your book?
DW: …to my book. And he said, “The president would like to speak with you.” And so I knew I had these stories coming out in the LA Times and in the New York Times. I have to say self-promotion doesn’t really come naturally to me? So it took me about a day and a half to think, I really should call back and see if he’d be willing to talk to those reporters.
DR: So, just to be clear here, you did talk with the president?
DW: Yes. I spoke mostly with his assistant until we set up a time to talk. And he gave me some feedback. So one of the reporters asked me – Patty Cohen from the New York Times – “Well, when did you talk to the president and what exactly did he say?” And I said, “Well, you know, I don’t really like to disclose private conversations publicly. I can tell you he was enthusiastic about the book.” And I got the funniest message back from the president’s assistant who was with him after he heard what my response was, and he said, “I can’t remember the last time anyone’s ever said that as opposed to just spilling what it was they’d been told!” But I can tell you something about who I worked with because the people I’ve worked with have said it’s okay…
DR: Good! Who?
DW: I’m doing one project with the Democratic political committee of the Senate that’s on messaging. They started hearing about my work in late September when I gave my first presentation on this stuff in Washington. That was in a room where I’m naïve enough where I didn’t know who most of the people were. Or I probably wouldn’t have maintained my continence. But I have had… I’ve presented to the leadership of the Democratic Party, presented at the Democratic Leadership Conference at their retreat, and will be presenting for them at their convention coming up. And I have had contacts with most of the – certainly most of the major presidential campaigns.
DR: Have you heard from anyone in the Republican Party?
DW: You know, I think they’ve probably figured out that this is a book that comes from the left. But it wouldn’t surprise me if I did. This speaks to a difference you were talking about. You were asking what’s the difference between Democrats and Republicans on this. I think the Republicans understood that they needed a Frank Luntz – they needed someone who would do messaging for them and when they heard that he had a good gut, they jumped on it. They also heard something else from him which is they understood that you have to use science to test your gut, because as good as your gut can be… My scientific background trumps my narcissism. I’ve got plenty of narcissism – anyone who would do this thing obviously has to. But at some point, you know, a good seventy to seventy-five percent of what I say is true, but I don’t know which seventy-five percent it is! And that’s why I have to test it scientifically.
DR: But you know, Frank Luntz was on this program after his book came out, and we got lots of email saying “why did you have this guy on – he’s a manipulator, he’s simply using words to make us think a = b and c = d. What’s different about you?
DW: I have to say I have tremendous admiration for Frank’s skills. I think he is a brilliant wordsmith and I do think that he got the idea that you test these things empirically. The funny thing about Democrats is that we campaign with faith in government and science and they campaign with the science and government of faith. Our campaigns are influenced by polling but most of that polling is designed to get the desired results. You poll to find out that it’s true (which it wasn’t) that the Democrats should capitulate to the president a month and a half ago about the Iraq war. You find it in your polls because you don’t ask the right questions. That’s the level of “science” that we often do. It’s a tremendous mistake. But the question that you asked: the biggest difference is that I actually believe the best strategy for winning elections is to tell the truth, and if you can’t tell the truth well, you get somebody to help you tell the truth in language that’s compelling to people. But I would never advocate, say, taking a bill written by polluters and calling it the “Clear Skies Initiative.” There’s only so far I would go and that one does cross my line! Again, I don’t think most of what he does crosses that line. I think he’s a brilliant guy.
DR: FDR knew how to use language, the language of emotion. Give us an example.
DW: Oh, his use of language was just magnificent. One of his fireside chats, very early on in his administration and obviously in the midst of the Great Depression. People are hoping for him – they’ve placed their lives and the lives of their children in this man’s hands in a way that we’ve never had to since that time and hopefully will never have to again. The way he appealed to people was, he basically said, “Look, this is the challenge we face. I’m not going to lie to you. I don’t have all the answers. I’ve assembled the best people I can. We’re thinking this stuff through the best we can. We do have some things we think are going to work. We’re starting to see some effects now. Teddy Roosevelt once said that ‘If I bat 750, I’ve exceeded my expectations.’ I hope that I can exceed those expectations in the process and that you’ll be taken care of.”
DR: What’s wrong or right with the way President Bush presents himself?
DW: I think the biggest thing that’s wrong with the way he presents himself is that he doesn’t tell the truth. That sounds like a partisan statement and it is of course a partisan statement. My brain works just like the brains of the subjects we studied. I think it seems pretty clear at this point that he wasn’t leveling with the American people about the reasons why he wanted to attack Iraq. I don’t think he was leveling with the American people about how the Iraq war has gone. I think this is actually a great example of where no amount of good emotional talk, no amount of spin that can possibly get your way out of as big a disaster as he’s created for the US foreign policy.
DR: We’re going to open the phones now. …First to Guilford, Connecticut. Good morning, Marian, you’re on the air.
[Bad cellphone connection. Call cut short.]
DR: To Fairfax, Virginia, and Liz.
Liz: My sister is social psychologist. You may have heard of her, Jennifer Lerner, who also studied the effect of emotion on cognition.
Liz: One of her studies showed that fear and anger – she was looking at the effect of fear and anger on what we think. We think that we’re just thinking what we think! But in fact, when we’re put into a state of fear, we tend to devalue our own ability to make choices and we go along with what’s offered to us, and follow leadership more. When we’re in a state of anger, we tend to feel more empowered, more confident – whether or not that’s realistic. This is not only about elections but it also talks about the larger impact of emotion on directing policy and choices in our country. I always think about her study at times when I feel like the White House is putting out information that’s perhaps intentionally meant to make the American public fearful. Like talking about raising the threat level or potentially raising the threat level without really giving people anything to do.
DR: Interesting point!
DW: Great point! And we just saw this again a couple of days ago when Michael Chertoff came on. I don’t know what the purpose of that communication could possibly have been when he said, “Well, I hear there’s a lot of dangers out there…”
DR: No! He said, “I had a hunch!” And then everybody jumped on it and tried to make sense of what is a hunch! Why is he telling us what’s in his gut! If there’s really a threat out there, tell the American people, don’t just tell us you have a hunch! What’s the purpose of saying there’s a hunch? Do you believe that the White House instructed him to say that or do you believe it came off the top of his head?
DW: It is hard to imagine that a person in his position could make that kind of really inappropriate statement out loud without someone clearing it from the top. Maybe he did. Maybe he did that on his own. But you know, as Republicans are starting to defect now from the president on the war in Iraq, and things are looking really bad, suddenly “look out for the terrorists” again. We’ve heard this a lot of times. This is one of the greatest examples of the Democrats to use the available science. Because there’s actually science on what happens when people get afraid, particularly afraid of their mortality…
DR: So. We haven’t heard from the Democrats on this particular statement.
DW: We haven’t heard from them yet, and I think we keep hearing Democrats worried that they have to have an ironclad case…
DR: What do you want them to say right now?
DW: What I’d want them to say is – it comes back to FDR. What I’d want them to do and think they should have done in 2004 against George W. Bush and should have done in 2006, is to play the tape and say, “You want to know what a real leader sounds like when we’re confronted with an enemy far more fearful than Osama bin Laden,” and then play the tape that says, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” And then you play the tape of George W. Bush saying, “You’d better watch out! You never know when those terrorists are going to bomb us.” Know what? The Republicans are aware of the science on this. They’re aware that there’s science that suggests that people move to the right when they get afraid about their lives.
DR: …Drew Westen is an avowed Democrat. He’s working with a number of Democratic candidates for the presidency and has talked to former president Bill Clinton himself who praised him for the content of the book. As I read the story about that, Drew, the president acknowledged he was underlining certain sections of the book to pass on to Hillary. I want to read you an email on the Hillary question. It’s from John in Ashburn, Virginia. “The ‘gut’ reaction factor seems to be working against Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Many otherwise staunch Democrats find it hard to accept her as their candidate. What is she doing wrong? And is Barack Obama doing a better job at hitting the right emotional chords?
DW: This is where I’ll be a little less… a little more cautious than I normally would be, simply because I have been in contact with the different campaigns. I wish them all well. I hope they all continue to do a better and better job. I think it’s clear that we have two candidates who have a gut level ability to connect with voters this year. And it’s an unusual year to have that, where we have both Barack Obama and John Edwards who, if you watch them on the stump, have a tremendous capacity to connect. Hillary Clinton it doesn’t come as naturally to. And I have to say, to be perfectly honest, if you’d asked me six months ago did I think she had a shot in a general election, I would have said probably not. Her debate performances, though, have been substantially better than I or anyone else would have expected. I think there’s a good reason behind that. I think she’s following some principles that make a lot of sense.
DR: Such as?
DW: Well, what Americans want from their president is strength and warmth? They want strength because they want to know that you’ll protect them and their families. They want warmth because they want to know that you care. And they want to be able to identify with you. She does strength beautifully and interestingly has managed the minefield of strength as a woman who has made herself a very credible commander in chief. In those debates, you could picture her as commander in chief because she is one tough person who’s not going to let anyone do anything to the US and not fight back. She doesn’t intuitively do warmth so well. But what she has been doing is to use more emotion language as she speaks…
DR: Give me an example.
DW: Oh, probably the best example is her use of humor in the debates. She has made sure than in every debate you’ll hear a couple of times she gets in that comment that everybody laughs at. It allows them to connect with her that isn’t intuitively her strength. And the thing I try to talk to Democrats about is that Republicans understand you choose your own instant replays in debates. You need to make sure you’ve got those lines in there that you really want people to hear, because most people won’t listen to the debate but they will hear those replays on CNN and MSNBC… and NPR.
DR: Let’s go to Don here in Washington, D.C.
Don: Hi. Dr. Westen, I attended your lecture at “Take Back America” this year. Brilliant thesis. I have the book in front of me. On page 187 . My question is this and it may be controversial but I think we need to put it on the table. I’ve been a Democrat all my life. I find it hard to believe the Democrats have been oblivious to this whole dynamic. I just cannot accept that fully. So my question is, what are the chances that the Democratic Party has been intentionally hobbled from within for the benefit of the Republican Party? And perhaps corporations?
DR: “Hobbled from within”?
Don: I think John Kerry, in the middle of one of the most important campaigns for America went windsurfing and taking questions from a reporter – I’m saying somebody’s sabotaging John. In a Woody Allen sperm suit. Getting that photograph. There’s sabotage going on, to my mind!
DW: A lot of people, particularly on the left, have had concerns about the corporate ties of the Democratic Party. There’s an ongoing debate about what attitude towards corporations and trade and those kinds of things should be. I think your point, though, about Democrats not responding… or showing up in a wind-surfing outfit – how to understand it is really difficult to explain. In the book what I talk about is that the Democrats have really been compelled by the dispassionate vision of the mind. The main thesis of the book is really that behind every campaign lies a vision of how the mind works. That vision is implicit. It’s rarely articulated. But it influences everything a campaign does. Democrats have been blinded by this dispassionate vision of the mind that says, “Just appeal to people with the right policies, the plans, and let’s poll and make sure we got the right issues.” And to come back to terrorists, terrorism is a great example. If someone is running on terrorism and you say, “Well, let’s take that off the table and let’s instead talk about prescription drugs,” those prescription drugs better be Valium, otherwise you’re going to lose.
DR: What do you mean by that?
DW: I mean that what Democrats typically do when make decisions about how they’re going to pick their campaign themes, instead of doing what Republicans do which is they say, “Look, here are my values. Here’s my autobiography. This is what’s compelling about me and what I care about. I’m going to tell you exactly what I think about every issue that matters to me: I believe that life begins at conception, no ifs, ands, and buts. I believe that the Second Amendment is inviolate. I believe in (this is a funny one!) fiscal responsibility. I believe in smaller government (that one’s pretty funny, too!). “ But we all know exactly what they mean because they tell us what their values are.
DR: You say that the Democrats made a huge mistake in both 2000 and 2004 in not taking on the issue of George W. Bush’s character. Why didn’t they?
DW: They didn’t, I think, because… part of it was because of the misunderstanding about what you can get from polls and focus groups. If you ask people questions like, “Do you dislike negative campaigns? Do you prefer a candidate who doesn’t dignify attacks,” they’ll always say, “Yes.” And if you listen to that, you’re making a tremendous mistake because you don’t understand how the mind works. The fact is, the way the mind actually works is that we are influences unconsciously all the time and … it affects networks of association, ideas, thoughts, feelings, emotions…”
DR: So the Swift Boat campaign?
DW: The Swift Boat campaign is a perfect example. If you think from the point of view of how networks in the brain work, then you would never not dignify a response because if the other side is talking about something and you’re not, you’re giving them exclusive rights to the networks of the public to define public opinion.
DR: So if you had been advising John Kerry at that very moment that the first Swift Boat ad came out, what would you have told him to do?
DW: Well, I would have told him what I did tell him in a memo. I don’t know if it got to him but it did get to his campaign because we have a mutual friend… I sent a single page memo about a day after it was clear he was not going to respond and said, “You have about 24 more hours to respond or you’re going to lose the entire South. And you’re going to lose the election. You’re going to drop 15 points in the polls.” All of which is exactly what happened. And there’s some good scientific reasons for that. One being that Southerners are characterized, particularly Southern males, by what anthropologists call a “culture of honor.” If someone dishonors you, someone speaks to your face ill of you and you don’t respond, you’ve been shamed. Two hundred years ago that would have led to a duel! And here’s this man who’s a war veteran who’s being run against with a story that he’s going to be weak on terrorism – he’s going to be weak on national defense. Someone punches him. What does he do? He says nothing. He waits three weeks, and then he sends his female campaign manager out to write a letter to the campaign manager of Bush imploring him, “Please take it down!” Boy! If you want to send a message about what you’ll do if America is attacked, he sure sent a powerful meta-message. And he could have done it very differently.
DR: What message would you have sent regarding George Bush’s character?
DW: I would have said at that particular point, I would have suggested that Kerry get right out on TV immediately and say, “President Bush: for you, a man who dodged the draft, who did nothing but protect the borders with Louisiana while being a staunch advocate of the Vietnam war, who called your daddy up and said, ‘Get me out of this,’ when you got the call and said ‘Please! Send some Texas millworker in my place to get shot at…’ For you to say to me, a war veteran with the shrapnel still in my leg that I don’t deserve the Purple Hearts that I earned? And to put on a campaign ad like that? That shows I don’t deserve my Purple Hearts? Every veteran in the US you’ve just affronted. And to do this in the middle of a war when we have ‘boots on the ground’? What do you think this says to our soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan who are fighting bravely, who are taking bullets right now? That someone, someday, is going to come back and make fun of their Purple Hearts? How can you have the moral authority now to be commander in chief?
DR: So why would you believe that, as a Democrat, John Kerry would not want to do that?
DW: Well, he should have done that. And if he’d done that, I think he would have won the election probably handily. The same way Al Gore would have won the election if he’d responded to the character attacks on him, that he was a serial exaggerator. Here was a guy who was running against a man who’d spent most of his life with his liquor cabinet better stacked than his bookshelves. He’s a guy who’d been investigated by his own father’s SEC for insider trading. He had handed his entire state over to polluters to such an extent that at his Crawford ranch he couldn’t actually fish in the river. He had to stock man-made lakes because he’d allowed the polluters to pollute so badly that he couldn’t fish on his own ranch. Who had put to death a woman who, like him, was a born-again Christian and who for 16 years had lived as a model prisoner. This was Karla Faye Tucker. I think it was Tucker Carlson, actually, who asked him, “What were her final words to you when she pleaded for clemency?” He pursed his lips and he said, “Oh-h-h please, please save me!” That wasn’t on ads that people saw over and over with a candidate running as a “compassionate conservative,” that is absolutely malpractice by the consultants and the strategists and by the candidates themselves.
DR: We should say, Drew Westen, that Rush Limbaugh is not very fond of you! Let’s go to Miami, Florida. Good morning, Ed. You’re on the air.
Ed: That book should be forced – forced – reading for every Democratic candidate from president to county commissioner in the Democratic Party. I can tell you, and I’ll refer specifically to Miami: I was a member of the DNC and I was a member of the steering committee in Dade County. I quit after two years out of frustration. All of the Democrats, national candidates, came to south Florida were exactly Republicans-in-drag. They did not show any of us the difference between the two parties, the difference between the two candidates. And the proof of the pudding was Kerry. Four months before the election of 2004, President Bush gave a “gift” to the rightwing Cuban Americans in Florida, signing incredibly cruel, almost criminal sanctions, against Cuban families, in which you could not go to visit your mother [in Cuba] even if she was dying. You had to wait three years. By the way, those sanctions are still in effect.
DR: Interesting point.
DW: I think his point is a great one. The problem with Democrats is that they hide their values in the fine print. What we should be saying to the American people is, “There are two parties. We have competing value systems. It’s not the party of values vs. the party of policy prescriptions. It’s a comparison of two parties with two sets of values.”