DICK MORRIS’ ’08 PLAY-BY-PLAY
Volume 1, #34
September 2, 2008
THE UNCONVENTIONAL DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION
If the Democratic Convention represented the passing of the torch to a new generation, to outsiders, and to a new post-racial world, watching it was like standing under the flame as it changed hands. I will always remember the stage hands carting away the convention paraphernalia after it was over, taking away the chairs, folding up the tables, dismantling the screens, and taking down the displays. I sat in the now abandoned Fox News skybox and watched as a convention hall was returned to a basketball court. Alone, with the cameras gone cold and the strobe lights off, I watched as the old Democratic Party was packed up and stowed away. The Clinton era was over. The division of America based on race was packed up with the used banners and the discarded signs. The idea that only those who have paid their dues by spending decades in Washington can run or serve went away as the lights got turned off one by one.
Whether or not Obama wins – and my bet is that he will – his primary victory and his takeover of the Democratic Party already represents one of the most important transformations in American politics. It’s like it was in 1964 when ultra right wing conservative Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona wrestled the Republican Party away from its liberal eastern establishment wing by defeating New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller for the GOP nomination. Goldwater lost to Lyndon Johnson in the fall, but his successor and soul-mate Ronald Reagan didn’t lose and served two terms, transforming the Republican Party and America. Or it’s like 1972 when the first apostle of the anti-Vietnam War movement, George McGovern, defeated the old school liberal Hubert Humphrey for the Democratic nomination. Nixon beat McGovern, but the antiwar movement went on to elect a president twenty years later when one of McGovern’s campaign staffers, Bill Clinton, won.
Whether Obama wins or loses, the transformation of a political party, and perhaps of the nation, has begun.
And, with John McCain’s nomination of Alaska governor Sarah Palin – a young, articulate, attractive political reformer -as his vice presidential candidate, he hangs up a banner over the Republican convention: “Under New Management.” Now, America will either have a black president or a woman vice president. The times they are a changing.
Truman’s Secretary of State Dean Acheson wrote a book called “Present at the Creation” describing his role in staking out the American position at the start of the cold war. As I write this flying home from Denver, I feel that I have had the privilege of being present at the transformation.
Obama’s speech still rings in my ears. How can it not? It was a speech to rank with Lincoln’s second Inaugural or JFK’s only one. He summoned America to lead again in energy, environment, science, but most o fall, in decency. I had wondered if Obama could lay out the specifics of his program before 75,000 screaming, chanting, adoring fans. But he made them listen as he explained himself to the American people.
Obama still has much to answer for. He glibly passed over, in a scant one hundred words, how he was going to pay for his idealism. I hope the 95% of American “working families” that were promised a tax cut don’t rush out to spend it all in one place. The odds are very good that he will raise taxes on almost everyone if he gets the chance and that he would raise them most steeply on those to whom he would then turn to create new jobs and generate prosperity. McCain is right to fear a depression if our struggling economy gets hit with massive new taxes. And he has a point that Bill Clinton could spend two years learning how to be president and run foreign policy before he got good at it but that Obama will have no time for any such learning curve. Iranian nuclear weapons, a war in the Middle East, more Russian invasions, and perhaps a new terror strike will crowd the first months of his presidency. If he gets to have one.
The juxtaposition of the drives for women’s rights and for racial equality collided at this Convention. The fifteenth amendment, which gave blacks the vote, beat out the nineteenth, which awarded the franchise to women. Once again, the drive to end poverty and reverse discrimination against African Americans eclipsed women’s demands for recognition and power. Everyone -except white men – watched the 2008 Democratic primaries thinking that their time had come. But half were disappointed and were only bitter sweet support in supporting of Obama as they tried to conceal their grief and heartbreak.
The Clinton era of the Democratic Party is over. Bill, eloquent and articulate as ever, seemed like a batter at an Old Timers Day game and Hillary’s concession speech just reminded us of how badly she had been jilted at the political alter – first for president and then even for vice president. It was one thing to lose out to a talented, articulate young black man like Obama. But how did it feel to be passed over by the new leader of her party for a retread politician who last ran for president twenty years ago?
When Hillary spoke, so clearly and well, explaining what her candidacy had been all about. As she showed her obvious ability as a partisan orator and a policy advocate, a miasma hung over the convention hall. Everybody had one question on their lips: Why didn’t Obama choose – or even seriously consider -Hillary for vice president?
Now poor Barack Obama, who is not anti-woman but just pro-Obama – has to compound his sin of stopping the first woman president by stopping, also, the first woman vice president. There may be statues to Barack Obama in Washington before long, but there will be none at Seneca Falls.
Barack Obama and John McCain are two very, very good men. Both are sincere in their convictions, neither is so much of an opportunist that he would let ambition eclipse principle. Each represents a major transformation of our politics.
If Obama erred at his convention it was only in demeaning this other very good man – his opponent. Calling John McCain another George Bush is like would be like calling Cameron Diaz another Doris Day. John McCain is male, just like Bush and a Republican just like Bush, but the resemblance ends there. McCain is at once smarter, more principled, and stronger than Bush. Unlike Bush, he has been tested. It’s a lot harder to waive getting released from a Vietnamese POW camp so you can stay with your mates than to get released from serving in Vietnam by having your Daddy’s friends sign you up in the Texas national air guard.
McCain is both more liberal and more conservative than Bush. More liberal? He led the fight against torture of terror suspects. His proposals for corporate governance reform read like Karl Marx compared to the tepid legislation that passed. He totally changed the world of campaign finance by his reform legislation and ushered in the new Internet era of democratic funding of political campaigns. Alone among Republi8cans, he refused to take money from the tobacco companies and campaigned to pass Bill Clinton’s program for FDA regulation of tobacco as a drug and cigarettes as a drug delivery device, a paper syringe. With Joe Lieberman, he authored the landmark climate change legislation and the best alternative energy sources bill ever introduced. If Obama doesn’t realize all this, it’s because he was in diapers in the Illinois State Senate at the time.
And McCain is also more conservative the Bush; He voted against Bush’s tax cuts because he wanted a balanced budget and thought, correctly, that they would balloon the deficit. While Obama earmarks federal money for his pet projects, and gets campaign contributions from Joe Biden’s son, the lobbyist, in return, McCain refuses to earmark anything and demands the abolition of this pork barrel spending that invites corruption. It was McCain who attacked Bush for signing every spending bill he could get his hands on and who pushed Bush to take off the blinders and realize that he needed more troops in Iraq unless he wanted another five years of quagmire. And remember, McCain almost beat Bush in the primaries eight years ago.
Like him or not, whether you are left or right, John McCain is no more a George Bush than Obama is George Wallace!
Obama likely came out of his convention with a huge bounce! He entered the proceedings tied with McCain in the polls. Before he rose to speak, he had moved up to a three or four point lead. I think his Thursday night speech will rocket him to a 15 point advantage. But his Berlin speech did the same thing, moving him up 9 points. But one week later, his edge had dissipated. Will they love him next week from now as they love him now? As former House Speaker Tip O’Neil said “a week is a long time in politics.”
But for McCain to win, he has to scare the hell out of the country. Most voters realize that Obama will raise taxes. Polls show that a majority believe he will raise their taxes. When they heard Obama say that he will fund his new programs by going over the budget line by line, you could almost hear people laughing.
But voters don’t mind higher taxes as much as the Republicans hope they do. What McCain needs to do is to explain why a tax hike at this time with our economy on the verge of tanking will push us over the edge into a big and long depression. With American banks so desperately short of capital that they have to go hat in hand to the Arabs and the Chinese and sell their equity for some short term cash, you get the sense that we are short of capital. But Obama will double the tax on capital gains. (He hinted that he would do that in the primary and now denies it, but, count on it – he’s lying). And if he doubles the capital gains tax, even more capital will leave the US and go offshore. And no capital means no jobs and a big depression. Not a correction. Not a midcourse readjustment. Not a correction in the markets, not even a recession. A big bad depression.
And McCain also needs to make the case that Obama is too weak on terrorists and on Vladimir Putin to be president. With Russian tanks rolling into Georgia, Obama stopped body surfing only long enough to issue a statement saying that both sides needed to show restraint. The lion and the lamb both needed to back off! And when he proposed direct talks with Iran so he can persuade the Ayatollah how bad he’s being in going nuclear, it is not only naive, it is destructive. It breeches the global isolation that is Iran’s biggest problem and her people’s most terrifying nightmare. With Iran’s economy tanking — despite high oil prices — and inflation up near 30%, Iranians are getting the point that the world has turned its back on Teheran. Until Obama comes prancing in and relieves their anxiety.
And does Obama think that Israel will let Iran get the bomb so it can use it on Tel Aviv? One nuclear weapon lobbed into that compact country would kill six million more Jews – remember that figure from the past? Obviously Israel will bomb Iran first. Obviously Iran will get Hamas and Hezbollah and Lebanon and Syria to retaliate. And obviously that means a major Mideast war in early 2009, just as Obama takes office. Is he ready to handle it? Does his five minutes of foreign policy experience suffice to know what to do?
Is Obama another Kennedy? I think he is. He has the poise, eloquence and judgment that JFK possessed. But also the inexperience. Remember that had Kennedy not invaded Cuba in the Bay of Pigs in early 1961 and not seemed so weak in the Vienna at the summit meeting two months later, we would likely not have had the Cuban missile crisis in October of 1962. And it was then that the world came within a hair of being blown up and humanity destroyed.
Sometimes change has its virtues but inexperience has its risks. How will they offset each other in the election? Let’s all stay tuned.
***COPYRIGHT EILEEN MCGANN AND DICK MORRIS 2008. REPRINTS WITH PERMISSION ONLY***