But the Bush administration cannot afford to look downbeat, as it has recently. President Bush's appearance on "Meet the Press" was hardly inspiring, and his economic advisers made the error of overestimating job growth. Still, it looks as though the Bush administration is beginning to see the light. "We have seen remarkably pessimistic rhetoric from the president's opponents," Scott Stanzel, a spokesman for the Bush campaign, told USA Today. "We believe that will provide a clear contrast between President Bush's positive, forward-looking record and the anger and negativity from the president's opponents."
The forward-looking message began Monday night, with Bush's address to the National Governors Association. "Regardless of your party, I hope you have this sense of optimism I do," Bush stated. "I was elected ... to make this country hopeful."
This message needs to be honed and emphasized. The new slogan adopted by the Bush administration -- "Steady Leadership in Times of Change" -- needs to go. The slogan aches of uncertainty and fear. It sounds like an investment ad. The Bush administration needs something bold, optimistic and colorful: "A new American sunrise." Or "America rising." Or "America on the ascent."
It's not guaranteed to work. There are some significant differences between the 2004 election and the 1984 cycle. Reagan's administration looked wonderful in comparison with that of Jimmy Carter; for Bush, comparison with the most recent Democratic president means a Bush/Clinton matchup. On national security, John Kerry has been able to make headway, largely because of intelligence failures and Bush administration public relations weaknesses. Kerry's military experience is sure to remain a major issue as well.
Nevertheless, this campaign should be one of broad visions for America. If Bush sets himself up as the optimist and Kerry keeps his long-face politics, this could be 1984 all over again.
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