An open letter to John Kerry, with some advice on how to turn the election around

Dear Senator Kerry:

It's come to my attention, as well as the attention of anyone who hasn't spent the last few weeks in a cave, that you are at risk of blowing it. This wouldn't make much difference if the nation were bumbling along as usual, but the fact is, we are approaching critical mass just before meltdown. If you fail to win the election, the consequences are likely to lead to irreversible disaster.

It is pointless to go over all your numerous mistakes to date, but if you would kindly accept these suggestions in the desperate spirit they are offered, perhaps you can wrest victory from the Dark Side's cohort of villains now running (and ruining) the nation. There is still time; please use it wisely.

The first thing you need to remember is that even though many voters think Bush is not doing the best job possible, they will reluctantly cast their vote for him, because he is so adept at presenting a persona that puts many Americans at ease. I'm sure you are aware electing a president is not a cerebral process, especially not in this country, where far more people watch reality shows than public television. And that is at the center of your problem with winning over the electorate: You are a public television kind of guy, and you have failed to keep it under wraps.

To put it differently: While Bush is NASCAR, you are the America Cup; where Scrub is hot dogs and beans, you are pecan-encrusted salmon; where he is jeans and a plaid shirt, you are L.L. Bean gabardine pants and a button-down shirt. In short, you are everything most Americans view with suspicion. And even though you both come from privileged backgrounds, there is not a shred of it apparent in Bush's demeanor. You, on the other hand, appear to be the kind of guy who spends evenings in an ascot and smoking jacket, reading a tome with footnotes.

Remember back to elementary school when the smartest kid, regardless of how pleasant or humble, was always the one other children avoided or made the object of ridicule and disdain? Well, you are the adult analog of that kid, and you are going to have to get over it if you hope to win this election.

Your first order of business is to cultivate some affect. Bush brims with affect, and the voters eat it up. It's obvious that what he says and does is of no consequence: It's all about his delivery. Mr. Senator, you have to quickly learn how to engage your heart and soul in your speeches and then get that passion across to your listeners. Perhaps you should consider hiring an acting coach, or spend every available moment watching movies starring Al Pacino or Robert DeNiro. Your goal is to emote. You are going to have to reach the voters' guts; forget their brains. Too many have been on autopilot for years.

It is voters' fears that will contribute more than anything to Bush's re-election, and not just a fear of terrorists. You, Senator Kerry, are largely an unknown, and most people are not willing to gamble on an unknown at the same time they find their lives are becoming increasingly precarious and unpredictable.

It's your job to plunge headlong into their fear by tearing it out, shaking it up and putting it where it belongs: at the feet of the current administration. You must devise a strategy to convince the electorate they have good reason to be wary of another four years of Bush and company. Tell them, with all the conviction and persuasive passion you can muster, that the failures and misadventures of George W. Bush and his coterie of incompetents have put the country at greater risk than it has ever been in its history. And show them how it's happened.

Once you've persuaded the voters to accept that the current leadership is responsible for contributing to their fear, and not to be trusted with the task of allaying it, you will have to assure them that you are the man for the job. You will have to convince the electorate you have the ability to change the perilous course of this nation. And you will need to formulate and articulate a specific plan.

The cornerstone of that plan should be a timetable for American disengagement with Saudi Arabia. You must draw the connection between our dependence on oil and the threat of terrorism. Americans will once again rightly have cause for pride when they can wean themselves from the Saudi teat, and you will appeal to that latent pride.

Mr. Senator, you must devise a bold strategy for energy independence. And when vested interests such as the oil industry wave the flag of economic chaos, you will need the cojones to convincingly challenge them and remind Americans of a future resting on sustainable growth, freedom from foreign entanglements with corrupt regimes, and a truly independent country where our grandchildren can thrive in the absence of fear.