Kausfiles Special

The Perfect Campaign

Many people dread the distinct possibility of a nonstop presidential campaign between now and November. But the two candidates, mindful of the recent presidents who took time off from vigorous campaigning in the spring–that would be President Dukakis and President Dole–seem intent on using every available minute to poke and jab. Luckily, modern technology has come to the rescue. This past week, Gore and Bush traded ploys and charges via electronic mail, a practice that, as it comes to replace more conventional campaigning, has several obvious advantages:

We don’t have to actually see the candidates:  Neither Gore nor Bush wear well on repeated viewing. Gore, even the improved version, is stilted and condescending and … well, there’s just something wrong. Bush seems defensive, small, and amazingly inarticulate. But an all-e-mail campaign allows voters to abstract from the candidates’ annoying personal qualities and focus on what they have to say.

Editing: Gore’s initial e-mail missive of Tuesday and Bush’s response were clear, pointed, substantive, and occasionally even funny. Gore made a powerful point about the way stopping the “ad war arms race” might change politics; Bush effectively raised the issue of whether Gore had violated existing campaign laws, and joked that “[t]his Internet of yours is a wonderful invention.” There is a reason these salvos were both more articulate and more entertaining than anything said on the stump by Gore and Bush. They didn’t write them. People who are articulate and entertaining wrote them. Or, if the candidates wrote them, their thoughts were then edited to remove Bushian infelicities of grammar and legalisms like “no controlling legal authority.”

It’s low profile: Who wants the campaign to take up all our media space? Not the networks, apparently, who seem to believe that politics equals low ratings. A nice little e-mail campaign, bubbling along on the Web and the inner pages of the papers, seems about what the public can bear–at least until the fall.

It’s cheap: A conventional traveling campaign costs a lot of money–planes, advance men, hotel rooms, etc. So does a TV ad. An e-mail, in contrast, costs a few cents. Candidates conserve money and therefore have to raise less of it from insidious special interests.

It’s easy on reporters: Why traipse to a staged photo op in some remote location when you can just download the day’s spiel from the Net? An all-e-mail campaign would free America’s greatest journalistic minds to do what they want to do and do best, which is go drinking in bars with campaign strategists.

Perhaps John McCain didn’t go far enough. Instead of talking about banning soft money and independent “issue” ads, he should have called for all campaigning before Labor Day to be conducted exclusively via e-mail and the Web. The Straight Chat Express! Of course, if McCain were still in the race, the prospect of a campaign where you didn’t have to actually see and hear the candidates wouldn’t be nearly as appealing.

Photographs of Al Gore and George Bush on the


Table of Contents by Tim Shaffer/Reuters and Jeff Mitchell/Reuters.