Politics is all about images.
Consultants want us to see their candidate draped in the flag, doing something athletic, kissing babies. And they want us to see their candidate's opponent wearing a silly hat, tripping over his own feet, refusing to kiss a puppy.
Good images: The candidate surrounded by firemen. Surrounded by veterans. Surrounded by family.
Bad images: The candidate surrounded by Michael Moore or supporters with elephant trunks on their heads. Surrounded by protesters made up of the wackiest elements of their own party.
Good image: The candidate chewing on his lip, talking about hope. Bad image: Chewing on his pessimism, talking about national malaise.
Good: The candidate staring into space, seeing his vision of the future. Bad: Staring into space, searching for a coherent sentence during a TV interview.
Good: Throwing a ball for a dog. Bad: Throwing up at a state dinner.
Good: Flying a plane onto a carrier. Bad: Riding a tank around a football field.
It has become fashionable to abhor the image of convicted murderer Willie Horton used in attack ads against Michael Dukakis in 1988. Since this was partly my fault, I would like to give it an award for the all-time best and most effective such ad.
Early in 1988, I was a guest at a Marblehead Republican Town Committee meeting. Another guest showed a short film about Willie Horton, who had murdered a young service station attendant and, while serving time for this vicious crime, was let out of prison on one of the furloughs that were Dukakis administration policy. He went to Maryland, broke into a home, and tormented a young couple; they later came to Massachusetts to ask for an apology from the governor, Dukakis, who refused to see them.
The next day, I contacted my friend, Grover Norquist, a Washington-based political operative, to tell him about this issue. After Dukakis won the Democratic primary, Grover recommended the Horton attack ads to the first George Bush campaign.
During the primary, I was contacted by Al Gore campaign staffers about Dukakis tax policy. I told them to forget taxes and use the Willie Horton issue. On Super Tuesday, they did, but it was too late for Al that year. It got the ball rolling for the Bush attack ads, though. They showed Horton's evil face up close, then a revolving door reflecting the furlough policy.
Much was made of the fact that Horton's face was black, and the ad has been called racist. In fact, his race was irrelevant; the ad was an accurate image of the values and arrogance of the Dukakis administration.
In this 2004 presidential campaign, more images will be offered to us and we will accept and remember those that capture our imagination.
I don't think I'll see anything to replace the image I have right now of John Kerry at the beginning of his speech accepting his party's nomination at the FleetCenter last month: "I'm John Kerry and I'm reporting for duty." Give me a break. He doesn't even report for work in the Senate.
Here is my image of George Bush — and he's not actually in it. I want to share this with you because most of the media didn't bother; so unless you were watching the parade of nations on the first night of the Athens Olympics, you might have missed it.
There had been speculation in said media that American athletes would be booed when the United States was called because, we have been told, America is very unpopular in most of the world.
Usually the United States comes last in the alphabetically arranged parade, but because they used the Greek alphabet this year, we were announced quite early. The crowd went wild, cheering and clapping for our athletes and, I think it was clear, for our country.
Next to home-court Greece, the two other countries that got the most applause were Afghanistan and Iraq. Obviously, the audience loved seeing Afghan women finally allowed to participate, and it seemed happy to know that the Iraqi athletes would not be beaten this time if they returned home without medals. It was clear, with the applause for the United States, that they understood the connection among the three countries — that we had freed those Afghan and Iraqi athletes and their countries.
George Bush's leadership made this happen. I think it reminded many Europeans that we had helped save them from tyranny, too, not so long ago. The audience, despite some disagreements with our policies, appreciated what a great advocate for freedom America has been.
The cheering international crowd is the image I shall carry into the election this year. I hope American voters will see that our president represents the best of what we are, and decide to keep him.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.