Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Power of the Campaign Narrative

All successful presidential candidates have had a coherent, appealing story, while the losers tell bad stories -- or more often, no story at all.


On November 4, 1979, Senator Ted Kennedy, preparing to announce his primary challenge to President Jimmy Carter, sat down for an interview with Roger Mudd of CBS News. Polls showed Kennedy far ahead of the beleaguered incumbent, and many political experts at the time expected the youngest son of America's political royal family to take the mantle from his two slain brothers and charge to the White House. But when Mudd asked him a simple question -- "Senator, why do you want to be president?" -- Kennedy could not offer a simple response. His rambling, muddled answer dealt his campaign a terrible blow.

It may seem strange that someone who had made the decision to run for president couldn't sum up in a few sentences what the purpose of his candidacy was. Kennedy's problem was not that he didn't have a good reason to run -- he had plenty of them. His problem was the way he thought about that run. He thought about issues, he thought about the weaknesses of the president he was trying to supplant, he thought about the programs he wanted to institute. What he didn't construct was a story that explained his candidacy to voters and offered a narrative structure for journalists to use when reporting on him.

No comments: