THE ruling Republican and opposition Democrat parties in the United States are in somewhat of a quandary over who their next presidential candidates will be. However, Dr. J. Gregory Payne, who has served as a political speech writer for political leaders in the United States, including Senator Hillary Clinton, Senator Robert Dole and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley as well as advising Senator John Kerry at the lest election, told the Bullettin yesterday that Tony Blair would be the perfect Democrat candidate and that he would win. We'll make a deal, you can take George and we'll have Tony, Dr. Payne joked yesterday. A recent poll in the States gave Blair a 40 percent opinion rating, 10 points more than Bush. He's attractive, his accent is appealing, he's smart and talks well and is not afraid to apologise in public, Dr. Payne said. The only thing Americans would be a bit wary of is his wife, we're not used to vocal and overly-active First Ladies, she would have to take more of back seat. Laura Bush is so popular because she says so little, he added.
Being attractive and appealing is what Payne says is now absolutely vital to winning US elections. In fact it's vital in most elections in today's political environment of negative campaigning. Both Kerry and Bush ran negative campaigns, no one was explaining to the voters why they should vote for them, it was all about why they should not vote for the other candidate, he said. The Republicans had their negative flip flop' campaign ready to roll two years before the Democrats even named their candidate.
On the day John Kerry was unveiled, 5'000 flip-flops were sent out to the media with Kerry's name printed on them and that became one of their great accusations against Kerry, that he flip-flopped over policy. Kerry made two big mistakes which the Republicans locked on to straight away. They went to town over Kerry's I voted for the war bit I then voted against it...* comment and also his decision to go wind-surfing off Martha's Vineyard during the campaign when he should have gone to his mother's farm. The public can relate to farms better than images of him changing sail in the wind, that just fuelled their claim that Kerry blew like the wind' on many key policies, Dr. Payne explained. There's no question, Kerry was the smarter and the brighter of the two, but American elections are now one big reality show and, at the end of the day, most Americans would rather have a beer with Bush - so he won his second term. Remember, the difference was just 50'000 votes cast in Ohio. Had they gone Kerry's way, the outcome would have been different and Ohio was one of the states where electronic voting machines were used but there is no proof or receipt of vote, so I don't think the voting machines will be used again, he said. Ohio was the battle ground for the most expensive political campaign ever mounted and it was all highly negative. It's all about public relations and celebrity endorsements nowadays and there is no law against candidates lying about their opponents. Look at the mess over the Kerry v. Bush war records, the press eventually resolved the issue and Bush got caught out, but it still didn't cost him important votes. The damage had been done against Kerry by then, he explained. Bush was also the first candidate to seriously court the Hispanic vote and he managed to do well in that area and, as we all know, the Republicans really went for the Evangelical vote and that proved crucial. However, they are going to want a pay back at some point and have a certain control over the Republican party now, Dr. Payne said.
What he is worried about is that negative campaigning is being adopted elsewhere and what concerns Dr Payne is that the winner of a negative campaign does not need to have any clear policies to get to power. The public are then left with a new President or Prime Minister who, with regards to his policies, they know nothing about. To my surprise, when I have been invited to advise parties overseas, they are asking me to take my negative experiences with me. It's an expensive way to campaign but it's very effective, he said.
But, he admitted yesterday that, whoever the Democrat candidate is going to be, the American public want political change and the Republicans are going to have a very tough job in holding on to the White House.
Dr. Payne, who is also advisor to the Bill Clinton Foundation, said yesterday that the latest polls have 57 percent of public opinion against the war in Iraq.
IRAN The pro-Bush media did a good job in keeping the reality of the war from the public, no caskets and body bags, but the situation has changed now and most people don't like what they see. Americans are starting to get angry over the huge human cost of the war and the financial costs which their children are going to have to pay for. People are starting to feel deceived over the weapons of mass destruction claims and the Mexican wall and National Guard patrolling the border are not going to warm the hearts of the Hispanic voters either, Dr Payne said. The WMD issue is where Bush would have redeemed himself had he apologised to the nation, but he didn't. When it all appeared black and white, good versus evil, Bush couldn't falter. Americans like to feel they are doing the right thing, their duty, fighting evil in the world, especially post 9/11 but, Americans are also puritans, they approve of people admitting when they've done wrong, look at Clinton. But Bush seems incapable of admitting mistakes and the public are losing faith in their president as they know Bush's international policy has not been as clear cut as people were led to believe. So, who are the alternatives? While Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are close friends, some say that Clinton is protecting his wife's back should she run, while Bush has referred to Bill as the brother I never had'. Hillary has already started her campaign behind the scenes. Her biggest hurdle has been winning the Democrat female vote - but the problem with her is, while she would probably win the party's nomination, she will not win the general election. With regards to the Republicans, John McCaine would win the general election but will not win the party ticket, so it's going to be interesting. Condoleezza Rice is unlikely to get the party ticket for the Republicans because, even though they will not say it in public, she is an Afro-American woman while Giulliani's stance on homosexuals and abortion does not lie well with the Republican grass roots, he said yesterday.
Whoever does move into the White House is not going to have to worry about conflict in Iran. Dr. Payne, apart from stating that the American people will not back war with Iran, the possibility of America getting a bloody nose is too high. I firmly believe that dialogue is going to bring about a solution this time and I think the international community will make the United States follow that path, he said.
Dr. Payne is a Middle-East expert.
He recently co-founded the general Director of the Saudi-American Exchange, the first grass roots, people to people public diplomacy effort in the wake of 9/11 and he is a firm advocate that the United States needs to be more involved in public diplomacy when it comes to foreign policy.
He does however consider Israel to be a point of reference with regards to the Iran issue now that the country's new government is less head strong and aggressive than before.
What is more, Hamas have been taken out of the equation somewhat by being elected to office. Think about it, if you're a revolutionary group dedicated to fighting the establishment and then suddenly you become part of the establishment, your wings are clipped, he says, agreeing that the IRA suffered a similar problem.
Dr. Payne, as a media expert, was also involved in the trilogy of conferences on the Global Rhetorical Phenomenon of the Death of Diana. Her funeral was the biggest media event to date and I wanted to ask why. Her speeches were not great but, especially in the States, everybody claimed they could understand her. I have a nagging mother-in-law too, my husband has been playing away, I've suffered from anorexia' this is what people were saying. It was all about image. Just like the US elections.
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