'Fortune Son' video shows depths of DNC ineptitude

This week, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) website unveiled the most muddled message of the entire political season.

A video called “Fortunate Son” was kicked off with no small amount of fanfare. We are told it will be “played” in battleground states and backed by a grassroots operation involving veterans who will question President Bush on his National Guard service.

To play on Sen. Kerry’s “W” riff, this is a waste of money on the wrong message at the wrong time.

This video is poorly written and poorly produced. The heavy-handed “Fortunate Son” theme that plays throughout has all the finesse of the Swift boat ads without the tenuous veneer of credibility that group was able to eke out of the angry vets.

The closest to reality this piece comes is a hardly damning snippet from Dan Rather’s interview with former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes. With all the heat CBS is taking over that story, it seems a weak hook for the “fortunate son” line.

It is common knowledge that Bush is, indeed, a fortunate son. He was born to wealth and power. He nearly squandered all that until, at midlife, he learned how to leverage his personality with his inheritance. So, what’s the point? Americans know that about Bush and has, by and large, decided they can live with it.

It is one thing for Kerry to stand in front of an audience and proclaim that he will not allow his courage or his commitment to be questioned by a pack of draft dodgers.

There is credibility in the barely controlled anger and righteous indignation shown by one who risked his life for his country. People can relate to that. It is entirely something else to roll out a smugly sarcastic attack on his opponent. Even if you have the facts on your side, people will reject your message if it is ugly, crude and vulgar. This video has all of those characteristics.

To add insult to ineptitude, this piece was sent to me by a Republican media professional gloating at this latest example of DNC tone deafness. “Play it with the sound off and it looks like a Bush ad!” he chortled.

Now, I hardly think people will log on the DNC website to look at this piece in mute mode, but he has a point. Unless you carefully follow the too-clever-by-half narration, this could be three minutes devoted to the reelection of George Bush. A new voiceover and they could post this on the Republican National Committee site.

Surely someone over at DNC headquarters must know that television is mostly about visuals.

The inept use of music that doesn’t seem to relate to the visuals, the tortured script and the cheesy delivery of the lines completely undermine the message of this ill-conceived, badly executed video hatchet job. It might as well have a flashing billboard reading “Warning! Bad Political Attack Ad to Follow” to open the piece.

Anyone who has been through focus groups or media testing should instantly know that these three minutes are a bridge too far.

One could conclude this is the logical and ultimate devolution of political media.

Attack ads finally taken to the point no voter will watch or believe the message.

All right. I’ll stop with the media-critic rant. The bottom line is the DNC video is just not on message. This election is not about whether Bush ducked out of National Guard drills. It is about how secure Americans feel about their jobs, the economy, their healthcare and their personal security. That’s all that matters, and any time and money spent on any other message is wasted.

Kerry has been sniffing around the message he needs to deliver to American voters.
His latest advertising, just like his evolving stump speech, is much more on target.

He charges that the president has poured $200 billion into a war we seem to be losing while Americans lose jobs and healthcare coverage. That is a message with some focus and some resonance.

It could be sharper, in my opinion. He could point out that we’re poorer and less secure as a nation because of the president’s poorly conceived and badly executed occupation of Iraq. But, were I on the Kerry team, I’d be somewhat encouraged that my candidate was struggling toward a message that might yet move voters. I would not, however, be happy with the mess made in the editing suites over at the DNC.

Goddard is a founding partner of political consultants GC Strategic Advocacy. E-mail: bgoddard@thehill.com