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Porn’s Fucked Whoever Gets Elected?

CHICAGO – Forty-eight minutes into a rambling speech about education, health care, jobs and equal opportunity here the other morning, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts went off-script to sum up his White House quest in a simple sentence. “In the end it’s about values,” he told a conference of the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

Mr. Kerry, the expected Democratic presidential nominee, had used similar language to dispatch the first two queries at a news conference the day before. “I’m optimis- tic about how America could live up to our values,” he said when asked about a new Republican Internet advertisement.

A moment later, he said of the Supreme Court decision concerning detainees that he wished the Bush administration had done “what was in keeping with the values and spirit of our country.”

Last Saturday, Mr. Kerry used the V-word no fewer than eight times in a 36-minute speech to Hispanic leaders and next Wednesday he is scheduled to give a speech on his “plan to restore America’s values to the White House.”

It sounds the same whether he is discussing the minimum wage or immigration, foreign policy or his own biography: Senator Kerry is increasingly adopting a traditionally Republican refrain to give his campaign – and himself – grounding and context in broad moral terms.

This is a shift from Mr. Kerry’s pitch during the primaries – when several of his opponents, most particularly Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, spoke frequently of family, values and faith – but it follows President Bill Clinton’s 1996 playbook.

Mr. Kerry also occasionally invokes God, either when talking about his own recovery from prostate cancer or to say “God bless” soldiers, for example. But the focus on values may be less an appeal to the religious right, a constituency seen as a critical part of Mr. Bush’s coalition, than outreach to what Democratic strategists call “secular values voters” – people concerned about balancing work and family, opportunities for their children, and America’s leadership in the world.

Democratic strategists say they believe President Bush is vulnerable among these voters because he no longer emphasizes the “compassionate conservative” theme of his 2000 campaign, and because of how the Iraq war has been conducted.

With this year’s election expected to turn in large measure on external events – a boom in the economy, say, or an unraveling in Iraq – winning votes through an appeal to values seems more stable. Kerry aides also say the increased use of values-laden remarks signals a new phase in Mr. Kerry’s presentation, in which he explains his policies as extensions of his convictions.

“Americans speak in values terms, so when you use the values language, it’s much easier to connect with ordinary people,” said Al From, chief executive of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, which listed a belief in “the moral and cultural values that most Americans share” in its founding document in 1990, a position that Mr. Clinton used effectively in his campaign. “People look for grounding. They want to see what’s at the core of somebody who’s running for president.”

Mark Penn, who helped develop Mr. Clinton’s values strategy in 1996, said a recent survey of likely voters that he conducted for an independent group of Democrats found that one in five said values would be the most important issue to them this fall. That is fewer than those who named the economy or security, but still significant.

The polling also showed that Mr. Bush has a significant advantage with such voters, but that Mr. Kerry could make inroads, Mr. Penn said. He noted that even though Mr. Bush led Mr. Kerry among such voters, Mr. Kerry held a slight advantage when the voters were asked which candidate “shares your values.” Mr. Kerry performed better on tolerance, responsibility and compassion; Mr. Bush had the edge on leadership, strength and moral character.

Surveys of voters leaving the polls in 1996 and 2000 showed Mr. Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore performed about equally among the voters who agreed with Democratic positions on issues like abortion or gun control. But Mr. Clinton did better than Mr. Gore among those voters who disagreed. That makes Democrats think they can win over people in part by the way they frame the discussion.

Mr. Penn said the audience Democrats hoped a values theme would appeal to were not those affiliated with the religious right, but voters – mainly women – whose choices were guided by “compassion, responsibility, honoring your parents and protecting your kids.”

That is whom Mr. Kerry sought to reach on Friday in Cloquet, Minn., when he promised to “honor the values that built our country and strengthened our communities,” listing family, responsibility and service as “values that are rooted in the heartland.” And those are the people he was trying to address on Monday in Baltimore, when he characterized the election as “a values choice,” one between tax cuts for people earning more than $200,000 a year or financing for the Youth Build neighborhood program he was visiting. “My value is with these kids and with the future of this city,” Mr. Kerry said.

Those were also the ears he sought when he told the Hispanic leaders last Saturday that illegal immigrants dying in the desert or working in poor conditions did not “reflect our values as a country built by immigrants.” The same ones that he hoped heard him promise, last week in Denver, to pursue scientific advances “guided in our standards by our morals and our values.”

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said that what was new in Mr. Kerry’s campaigning was not the substance but the terminology – Democrats, she said, had more typically spoken of “rights” while Republicans invoke values.

For Mr. Kerry, Ms. Jamieson said, “values are rebutting the charge that he’s flip-flopping, because they suggest that he’s anchored in moral principle.” Stephanie Cutter, Mr. Kerry’s communications director, said that many of the values references recently were the candidate’s own ad-libbed flourishes.

A senior consultant to the campaign said he had urged Mr. Kerry to share more of himself, to explain how his accomplishments and positions were rooted in his background.

“We gave them the core structure of who this guy is, but now we’re filling in the texture of him,” said the consultant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to detract attention from Mr. Kerry. “O.K., you’re for health care – why are you for health care? ‘It’s the right thing to do. It’s a value I’ve learned.’ What out of your life story really answers why you are doing these things and what you’re about?”

That process is reminiscent of President Clinton’s 1996 re-election effort when aides revised his message after finding his speeches rife in programmatic detail. Thus, overhauling the welfare system became a discussion about the value of work. Balanced budgets were framed as the value of living within means.

“We went back and we stated all the programs in terms of the values they represented or were trying to achieve,” Mr. Penn recalled.

Mr. Clinton’s second-term struggle concerning his affair with Monica Lewinsky and subsequent impeachment hurt the Democrats’ credibility on value issues and let Mr. Bush step in promising to “restore honor and dignity to the White House.”

In turn, Mr. Kerry now vows to restore the nation’s esteem in the world, as he tries to frame 35 years in government as “a lifetime of service and strength” rather than a lengthy list of legislation.

“Both of my parents, like yours, taught me values, they taught me the value of service,” Senator Kerry told 3,000 members of the Service Employees International Union at their convention last week in San Francisco. “You better tell this administration that we’re fed up and their time is up, we’re changing the value system in this country that’s broken.”



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