Monday, November 29, 2004

The wreck of the Old 527

Anyone attempting to divine the meaning of the title need only click here. The song became a big hit for Johnny Cash, and subsequently was coopted by a band y'all might know something about.

And so the old 527 couldn't hit the brakes in time, the engineer was out to lunch, the brats on the side of the tracks put coins on the rails...something happened.

Perhaps it's too bold to say, perhaps wrong, perhaps too soon, but the experiment with 527's was a fairly thorough failure in the first round. Some successes have been broadly noted and rightfully lauded: ACT registered new voters, the Media Fund aggressively targeted Bush voters, and so forth.

So, why the talk of cock-ups? Anyone who spent any time in a swing state can tell you: the proliferation of 527 TV advertisements, and the requisite muddling of an already incoherent campaign message, was a total waste of money. Casual observers noted that the airwaves were cluttered with pretty much non-stop political cacophonious nonsense in the run-up to the election. Operating from the premise that all political ads are already full of shit, you had 20 different organizations all shoveling their own brand of shit down people's throats. How someone was to be convinced to vote for Kerry in such an environment is beyond me.

Further, without a coordinated front against Bush, the criticisms ranged from mortgaging our children's future to selling our children's present to refashioning impressions of our past. Perhaps three or four words were all we needed--an 'it's the economy, stupid' or 'compassionate conservatism'--and what we got was the message equivalent of the CPA exam. Imagining a bizarro world in which the Kerry campaign had actually developed a coherent public message, it probably wouldn't have done much good, insofar as paid media was such a mess. With such a turbid admixture of advertisements and sloganeering, whatever soap hawking jingle the Kerry campaign might have had would have been sunk before launch. Even earned media became difficult to come by, as the myriad anti-Bush groups jockeyed for still more precious airtime and those few scants mentions by Judy Woodruff.

Then there's the voter file and canvassing problems. MoveOn, ACT, and the Dems each had voter files, some of which might have been more accurate than others. More to the point, however, they duplicated efforts, double-time. The same low turnout neighborhoods were inundated, the same doors knocked, perhaps at the expense of other deserving areas. Frequent tales of jovially encountering another fellow canvasser on the beat were lovely for amplifying the joy of knowing there were others out there, but they belie a deep and legally binding divide which rendered our fractious coalition much less effective.

Basically, the means of communication between the groups must improve so that we may be able to avoid such pitfalls in the future. They certainly do present bold and interesting possibilities for future success, but this first go-round was embarassing for us all.