Bob Kerrey was no stranger to the UNO campus during his campaign for Senate against Deb Fischer. Kerrey visited campus the day before the election to speak with students and faculty members about how changes in the media have affected campaigning.
Kerrey was joined by his wife, Sarah Paley, and 1971 alumnus Paul Critchlow.
Critchlow, a Republican, is a long-time friend of the Democrat and helped to arrange his visit with Jeremy Lipschultz, director of the School of Communication. Critchlow and Kerrey have known each other since the early 80s. Both are also Vietnam veterans.
“I endorse him wholeheartedly and without reservation,” Critchlow said. “He’s just a man of great character.”
Critchlow said he felt it was a good opportunity for journalism students to get real experience talking with a Senate candidate.
Kerrey said the biggest change this campaign has been working under the Citizens United decision. Citizens United upholds First Amendment rights of individuals acting through corporations and labor unions to participate in the political process.
Another game changer for Kerrey is social media. The use of social media and websites like YouTube makes it easier for individuals to get access to information about candidates, Kerrey said. It has especially made young people more informed, Kerrey said.
“There’s a different set of challenges, as well as opportunities when you try to organize a campaign,” Kerrey said. “You can identify where your voters are, what they’re thinking. You can communicate with them in lots of ways that are not a visible part of traditional media.”
Challenges aren’t much different than what they have been with traditional media. The main difference is with the availability of information, individuals can’t plead ignorance anymore, Kerrey said.
“I don’t think it’s information overload so much as it is acquiring new habits and different techniques,” Kerrey said. “In the good old days, when ignorance was bliss, you could cop a plea and say, ‘Well, I didn’t know.'”
The attention span of the audience is getting shorter, Kerrey said. It can be hard to get a point across in the short time an audience expects.
“Healthcare is shockingly complicated,” Kerrey said. “You can’t answer a question on healthcare in 26 seconds. Their attention span is shorter than it used to be. They don’t want a Lincoln-Douglas debate answer.”
Kerrey also discussed the politics of his campaign, especially the negative ads. Some ads of his opponent have called him a carpetbagger. Kerrey, born and raised in Nebraska, said based on the ads, many think he was born in New York. He kept a light-hearted attitude about the topic.
“If you cannot keep a sense of humor in politics, you’re doomed to be miserable,” Kerrey said. “And I choose not to be miserable.”
UNO student Peter Raun wanted to come see Kerrey in person.
“I’ve come to know his story a bit and know that he’s a great public servant,” Raun said.
Raun agreed with Kerrey’s point about the changing media.
“It’s learning a new habit. It’s not overload,” Raun said. “Media is ever-changing and evolving and we have to deal with it.”