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Acclaimed documentarian and advertising pro Errol Morris had a plan for reaching swing voters. Too bad John Kerry wasnít interested.
BY ADAM REILLY
About-faces

Republicans who voted for Bush in 2000 tell why they changed their minds

RICHARD DOVE, RETIRED COLONEL, USMC, AND VIETNAM VETERAN

I have a Dodge pickup truck, and itís big, red ó it looks like a fire engine, itís so big. Across the tailgate of this truck is a sign in huge letters. Itís one I created and paid for; it says SAVE THE EARTH. SEND BUSH TO MARS. I AM A REPUBLICAN. Iím getting about 80, 85 percent thumbs up. Now occasionally, Iíll get somebody to put a different finger in the air, but usually itís the thumbs up that I get.

KIM MECKLENBURG, FINANCIAL CONSULTANT AND FORMER SERGEANT, USMC

I donít know a single soldier that has served in combat that would recklessly create another war, especially a war that may not be necessary. If weíre being attacked here, bet your bottom dollar Iíd pull out my boots again. Iíd be right there. No war should ever be taken lightly. Iím a Republican, Iím a former US Marine, and Iím voting for John Kerry.

BEN TAYLOR, COMPUTER TECHNICIAN

Weíve spent over $100 million on Iraq. For what? So George Bush can strut around on an aircraft carrier and say the missionís accomplished. Our European allies have lost respect for us. Our money is weaker now than it has been at any time in the last 12 years. And yes, I am a Republican, but I donít respect the man who is the commander-in-chief at this time. Weíve had enough. Iíve had enough.

SARAH WEST, EVANGELICAL CHRISTIAN

He says heís a Christian, and heís representing Christ. If he believed in Christ like I have come to understand, then he would lead fairly and justly and honestly. I just donít see integrity. I donít see truthfulness. I donít see compassion. I donít see a desire to take responsibility. Iím a Christian. I am against abortion, but Iím voting for John Kerry.

DOUG WEST, EVANGELICAL CHRISTIAN

Bush touts compassionate conservatism. Itís not a very compassionate administration when it comes to the poor. Pre-emptive war is not something that I would consider compassionate. I am a Christian, and I really thought that Bush would bring needed morality and integrity, and I just see blatant arrogance. I did vote for Bush in 2000, and I donít plan to vote for him in this coming election.

EARLIER THIS YEAR, the Academy AwardĖwinning documentarian Errol Morris (Gates of Heaven, The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War) offered to make a campaign commercial for John Kerry. The Kerry campaign never accepted, and Morris subsequently created a series of ads ó based on conversations with Republicans who voted for George W. Bush in 2000, but are supporting Kerry this year ó for the liberal group MoveOn.org. These spots, which show voters looking directly at the camera and explaining their change of heart, were filmed using Morrisís "Interrotron," a two-way-mirror device that lets people talk directly to the camera while still making eye contact with the interviewer. They resemble the "switcher" commercials Morris shot for Apple Computer, and were compiled from 30-some hours of interviews conducted at a studio in Canton.

MoveOn.org ran a full-page ad featuring nine Republican switchers in the New York Times on August 30, the opening day of the Republican National Convention, and five of the video spots were broadcast nationally on Fox. But more than 60 other Republican-switcher ads Morris created have never been seen by the public ó and, unless some liberal 527 organization pays to run them before November 2, they never will be. (The central item on Morrisís Web site, www.errolmorris.com, is a plea for assistance from any 527 willing to fund another ad buy.) As a group, the Republican-switcher ads are elegant and compelling, a welcome departure from the swelling strings and sonorous intonations that mark most political advertising. If this yearís election is as close as 2000ís was ó and if Bush wins ó Kerryís failure to work with Morris may well go down in the annals of regrettable political decisions.

Last week, the Phoenix spoke with Morris in his East Cambridge studios about the switcher ads, the state of political advertising, and the branding of John Kerry. An edited transcript follows.

Q: What was the genesis of these ads?

A: The underlying idea is that the election is going to be decided by a very small group of voters. The electorate, as we all know, is polarized; thereís a group thatís going to vote for Kerry no matter what, and thereís a group thatís going to vote for Bush no matter what. What about these so-called undecideds, or people who will abandon their traditional voting patterns and switch? What about these people? How do you reach them? How do you talk to these people? Iím not particularly interested in just simply creating ads that make Democrats feel better. Iím interested in creating ads that will have some influence on that group.

Q: Do you think the Republicans are effectively targeting those undecideds? Are they doing better than the Democrats?

A: Yes. I think thatís the clear answer. And I think there are many reasons for that. Itís odd ó I have these two independent careers: Iím an advertising guy, and Iím a filmmaker. As an advertising guy, I constantly have to think about questions about the nature of the brand ó the story that weíre trying to create about the brand. Iím not saying that itís the same thing, although it might for all intents and purposes come down to the same thing. But what you have to do, in any kind of advertising campaign, is to tell a consistent story. And I would argue that there is no consistent story emerging from the Democratic side, and a far more consistent story emerging from the Republicans. By consistent, I donít say true or false; I just say consistent.

Q: How would you paraphrase the Republican story?

A: That George Bush stood by this country through 9/11, and ultimately that he was strong and forceful in his response to 9/11, and that is what is needed in order to make America safe. I think itís very, very, very simple. They have never tried to tell us that George Bush is a hero because of his service [during] Vietnam. In fact, theyíve told us quite clearly the opposite ó that George Bush was a neíer-do-well, an alcoholic, a fuck-up. And that he overcame this history. He found Christ, he found a purpose in life, he transformed himself. Itís one of the reasons why the Republicans can attack Kerry abut his Vietnam War record, because Kerry based his convention around his heroism in Vietnam. Attacking Bush because of his failure to fight, his avoidance of his military duties, actually does nothing. Because heís already conceded the point.

 

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Issue Date: October 8 - 14, 2004
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