Vox Populi
A Letter to the Editor

Weighing in before the Democrat Convention...
Monday, August 14, 2000


Who would have ever thought the liberal wing of the Democrat party would be so fractured going into their convention? Anyone who witnessed the 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984, and 1988 Presidential Primaries and Conventions, that's who. Clinton was a unifier of the Democrats as he held out his hand to the Left, keeping his base firmly in line, while calling himself a New Democrat and legislating towards the Right. Kind of what Nixon did on the Republican side in both 1968 & 1972. He has had his scandals and his successes.

But why am I going on about Clinton when he's not running? The reason is simple. That's what the media is doing. So all of you right-wingers who claim the media is biased against Republicans, shut up if you want Bush to win. I believe "What's-His-Name" is so overshadowed by the combination of President Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Lieberman (believe it or not) that his campaign is gasping for air. I am convinced that Gore's fondest hope is to get a full gust of air out of this Convention- and I think he will be re-energized and find that new air from the Convention. But the fresh air will run stale in 4 weeks if he can't perform a major miracle with the base of the Democrat Party.

We will see party unity during the week of August 14th, but if we look closely at the eyes of the delegates we will see exhaustion and betrayal, not unlike the Rainbow Coalition supporters in 1988 when Jesse Jackson sold them out to Dukakis. This time, the liberal wing has been sold out to Lieberman. Joe, I know liberals and you're no liberal! So Mr. Gore has lots of mending to do in a short span of time. Mending that should never have been needed as the primaries' political purpose is to strengthen that base.

Now to the shadows of the Clintons. While those of us in "fly-over land" know that New York's only similarity to Mecca is the odor, the media portrays the State as the City. The national media further broadcasts as though New York's business is, or at least should be, the Nation's business. This works against... sorry I keep forgetting his name... oh yeah, Al Gore as a woman named Clinton is in the race for that State's Senate seat. There's a story a week- at least!- about her. Now the VP has as his boss a man named Clinton and any time the President of the United States does anything it's news. Chalk up two stories a week for the Prez. Put the two together and you have big name association, which any politician at every level will tell you is the thing that really gets or costs votes.

Now a lot of folks like Clinton and wish it were him running again, no denying that. So I don't subscribe to the concept of "Clinton Fatigue". No, I sense it's scandal fatigue. The last 30 years have been ripe with Presidential scandal and innuendo and my guess is that most Americans have had enough. So like Clinton or not, the name Gore will be associated with scandal to that oh so important middle voting block. But scandal association aside, Gore can't buy a national headline and the fund raisers are for Hillary and the Clinton Presidential Library. My goodness, this is supposed to be Al Gore's Convention- HIS show! He didn't get the headline when he announced Lieberman as his running mate. Lieberman got the headline and that's okay as long as Lieberman backs off but it looks like Joe likes the spotlight.

Has Al Gore gotten so used to being behind the scenes that he doesn't know how to dance in the spotlight? The answer to me is a big yes. He will surely debate Governor Bush, and he is likely to win the debate(s). But he will come out like Nixon in 1960 did against Kennedy. No one can deny that the Governor has polished himself and looked presidential going into the Republican Convention. He got his headlines, while Cheney backed off of center stage. Timing absolutely had been a factor in that: it was well thought out and well executed. The timing with the Lieberman announcement flopped. Poorly executed to the point that it didn't appear as though the two were on the same message. Funny how sometimes reality does show through on TV!

So Gore has a lot of work to do. Shore up the fractured liberal base and get good headlines all without letting one spinning plate slow down. The clock is running and time is so very short. I agree with Mr. Berg-Anderson, Gore is deep in his own territory with very little time and must score the touchdown. The problem for Gore is, the Bush team is still playing offense. It will be fun to watch.

Dan Stansbury
West Columbia, Texas

Mr. Berg-Andersson responds:

I disagree with Mr. Stansbury on a few main points:

First, as regards Joe Lieberman. I honestly don't believe Senator Lieberman is someone who craves the spotlight. Rather I think, as I think I have indicated in my Commentaries, that both Cheney and Lieberman were both good choices for the purposes of the presidential candidates, that they are both relatively quiescent men (politically speaking- that is, neither is a "hot-head", "shoot-from-the-hip" type) who will leave the spotlight to the heads of their respective tickets and that neither makes either of the presidential candidates inherently better solely by their presence on the ticket. Governor Bush has to do what he has to do and the Vice-President has to do what he has to do because- in the end- this election will be a battle between George W. Bush and Albert A. Gore and their competing visions of the legacy of the demographic bulge that is their generation of "Baby Boomer"s.

Secondly, I don't think that the First Lady's race for the Senate is a national story because the national media is here making New York's business to be the Nation's (though the media certainly may- at other times- do so). Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign is a national story because she IS the wife of the President of the United States and a controversial figure- a "lightning rod"- in her own right. I doubt too many people in "fly-over land" know the name Mark Green or Robert Abrams, the Democratic candidates who lost to one-time incumbent New York Senator Al D'Amato: likewise I doubt very much they know the names Florence Sullivan or Robert McMillan, two of Daniel Patrick Moynihan's three Republican opponents during his incumbency. They MIGHT know the name Bernadette Castro, Moynihan's last GOP opponent... if they've ever purchased a Castro Convertible sofa (and also know that Ms. Castro was the little girl pulling the sofa open in the earliest TV commercials for the product).

They MIGHT also know the name of Senator Chuck Schumer, the man who finally unseated Al D'Amato two years ago- but this was a national story (admittedly not on the same scale as Mrs. Clinton's candidacy) because Mr. Schumer was in the odd (and historic- if only in a negative way) position of being the first person to cast a vote in the House while that body considered Articles of Impeachment and then subsequently cast a vote in the Senate while those Articles were being considered as grounds for removal of a President from office. And "fly-over land" MIGHT yet come to know the name of Rick Lazio, Mrs. Clinton's opponent in the New York Senate race, precisely because- win or lose- he IS Mrs. Clinton's opponent. I honestly don't see evidence that the arcana of New York statewide races is usually fodder for the national political media absent an unusual circumstance such as the candidacy of a First Lady for the first time in History.

I also disagree that, as regards New York, the media portray the City as the State. Democrats (despite the service of moderate Republican Rudy Giuliani as the City's Mayor over the last 6 1/2 years) dominate the City's politics still. Upstate (New York State outside the Metropolitan New York/Tri State Region) is heavily Republican... and conservative (NOT moderate conservative- and, at times, not always so compassionate! Republican Governor George Pataki does NOT come from Upstate as I have here defined it). Therefore, the battle in THIS New York statewide race is- as in all statewide races I myself can remember- for the Metro New York 'Burbs (the two Counties on Long Island and the four Counties in the Lower Hudson Valley nearest the City Limits)... it is no accident that Hillary chose to reside in Chappaqua, Westchester County instead of taking up in an apartment in Manhattan: likewise, it is no accident that when Rudy Giuliani was forced to abandon the Senate race, the State GOP turned from a man who could cut into the First Lady's City vote significantly to a Congressman from Long Island- one of the two constituent regions of those very 'Burbs. BOTH sides know where the real battle lay- and so, I would argue, does the media!

Finally, I also disagree that George W. Bush is still playing offense. He doesn't even have the ball this week! Al Gore has the ball- he is the one all eyes (all eyes that are interested, that is) are on now- and he has three of the four days of his Convention- the three after the Clintons depart the scene- to drive his team downfield. This may sound strange to Bush supporters, but this is still- in many ways- Al Gore's election to lose. I'm not saying that, should Governor Bush be the victor, he didn't really win it. I don't play that game! If you get more votes then the other guy(s), you've won the election... pure and simple. If Bush beats Gore, he beat him! But Gore can just as easily beat himself.

Nevertheless, just as it was Gore's nomination to lose (although it is true that- had Gore gotten into serious trouble versus Bill Bradley- those 800 [give or take] PLEO delegates would have bailed him out- as I wrote in my very first Commentary more than nine months ago), it is largely his election to lose as much as Bush's election to win. One of those elusive "rules of Politics" is this: if things are perceived as going bad, you DON'T want to be the incumbent Party; if things are generally perceived as going good, you DO! This last is a two-edged sword, however: for, if things are seen as going good, most voters aren't concentrating on their own misery exclusively and might take a closer look at a candidate's flaws, foibles and failings than they otherwise would and, should it be the incumbent party's candidate who is lacking, good times will be of cold comfort. That is why Gore has the ball and could still fumble it... at his own Convention!

Put another way: if things are going bad, voters WILL want a change... if things are going good, voters might not want a change, but there is, of course, always the chance that they MIGHT! The representative of the incumbent party in any contested election on any level (with the exception of elections so relatively local that one party predominates and where this "rule" is more honored in the breach) faces the political equivalent former Ohio State coach Woody Hayes' famous dictum that "when the quarterback puts the ball in the air, three things can happen and two of them are bad!" Things might go so good, the voters "stay the course"; things might be so bad, the voters "throw the bums out"- and then there's the third possibility Gore might yet risk: that things are so good, people have the wherewithal to check out much greener grass on the other side. When you have no money, you are more likely to want to change your situation; when you have plenty of money you are less likely to- but when you have plenty of money, you have a better opportunity to move elsewhere!

I think this Convention is, as Mr. Stansbury himself suggests, an opportunity for Gore to re-energize his campaign. I also agree that he has his work cut out for him. If this is the ONLY week the Clintons stay away from stepping into Gore's spotlight (which, I think, is much more likely than Lieberman stepping into it), then Gore may- in fact- ultimately be "toast". If Clinton starts meddling too much, he risks pulling a "Lyndon Johnson" and Al Gore will go down in the History books as this year's "Hubert Humphrey". As for the Democratic liberal base- yes, that is a potential problem for Gore (though, unlike Mr. Stansbury, I don't think it is yet) and the wheels can come off fairly quickly for the Democrats if the liberal base is too alienated down the stretch... but Governor Bush has a similar problem with the Hard Right of the GOP- one that is not apparent now because Bush still leads in the polls: if Bush somehow is found trailing, particularly as time begins to run out on this game this October, there WILL be those on the Right who will say that it was a mistake to have moved too much to the Center- those who WILL say that, had Bush accentuated more traditional Republican conservatism at HIS Convention in Philadelphia, he might actually be ahead rather than behind in this hypothetical, yet still quite possible, scenario. The "true believers" on both the Left and the Right are galleries yet to be clearly heard from this Summer: they both WILL be heard this coming Fall in some form or fashion!

Things look REAL good when you're ahead on the scoreboard in the third quarter: no doubt about it! But Al Gore has the ball, is driving downfield and the final gun is still a long way off. But I do agree with Mr. Stansbury on ONE important thing: it WILL all be fun to watch... all the way to November 7th, regardless of who wins or loses. This is a generation-defining election, much like 1960: and, like 1960, it COULD be- absent some bizarre events yet unforeseen- a real "barn-burner"!!

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