Broken Hearts, Broken Politics.

April 8, 2007

Broken Hearts, Broken Politics.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Every Sunday CUIP’s political director Jacqueline Salit and strategist and philosopher Fred Newman watch the political talk shows and discuss them. Here are excerpts from their dialogue on Sunday, April 8, 2007 after watching “The Chris Matthews Show,” and “Meet the Press” with Tim Russert.

Salit: Chris Matthews looks at the financial reports from the presidential candidates. He looks at Hillary’s number, Obama’s number, the whole field’s numbers and, of course, observes that Obama nearly matched Hillary in dollars raised and doubled her in terms of numbers of contributors – 100,000 for him, 50,000 for her. Matthews then asked the following question: ‘Does this mean that the Democrats are not ready to commit to Hillary Clinton?’ He thinks it shows they’re not. So, let me ask you the same question.

Newman: I think he’s right.

Salit: Let’s break this down a little bit. It was supposed to be Hillary’s turn.

Newman: So Bill and Hillary have said.

Salit: Okay. But it turns out that they haven’t made the sale. They haven’t made the sale to the Democratic Party base.

Newman: And, as long as the magic number stays below 50% – that is the percentage of voters who say they are willing to support Hillary – that will be their position. She doesn’t have an outright winning position. She’s got a good position, a strong position, but not a winning position.

Salit: To state the obvious here, what is ramming her position is a guy named Barack Obama.

Newman: I don’t agree with that. What is ramming her position is a lack of totally strong support in the Democratic base. And what comes after that, not before that, is Barack Obama.

Salit: That’s well put. What comes after that is Obama and his team of people…

Newman: …And Edwards. There’s still an opening there.

Salit: What is the opening? How would you characterize the politic of the opening?

Newman: That is determined by Obama and Edwards. Edwards thinks that the opening – which is measurable, after all, by what goes through it – is for a kind of old fashioned Democratic Party populism. He thinks he can sell that. He thinks that what the Democrats need is not so much a new vision, a new face, but a return to a traditional liberal values face, with vigor and strength and electability. Obama has a different message. I’m biased, of course, but I’ll put it this way anyway. The message is there has to be a hook-up with this new independent movement, without going so far as to leave the Democrats. So he’s more of a follower of Dean, whereas Edwards is more of a follower of Roosevelt. Edwards thinks there’s still a victory left in that, that Kerry ran a bad campaign and didn’t pick up on that sufficiently. Nor did Gore, although I’m sure he would add Gore won the popular vote. So there are two different views of the opening. Then there’s Hillary who’s saying there is no opening. And she’s saying it from a very powerful position. So, that’s the look of the Democratic primary, it seems to me. The other candidates are not relevant.

Salit: Matthews, who’s struck by the advance of both the Obama and Edwards campaigns, but particularly the Obama insurgency says, ‘However, we’ve got to caution ourselves because the Democratic Party has a history of “broken hearts,” insurgencies that lost their momentum.’ He named Gene McCarthy, Gary Hart, Paul Tsongas, Howard Dean. They came on early, they came on strong, they had a vision, they had a message, they went up against the old-line establishment, but they couldn’t put it over the finish line.

Newman: None of them were black and gifted.

Salit: And what’s the implication of that? What are you pointing to?

Newman: There’s a synthesis in Barack Obama of the old Democratic alliance, in which black America is central, and the new outsider insurgency. That creates a genuinely new vision that has a real base and real strength. The black/independent alliance – as we call it – has strength beyond its numbers. And God knows what its numbers are. We’re only just now finding that out.

Salit: Also very well put. I was struck when Matthews went through his list of “broken hearts” that Jesse Jackson wasn’t on the list. I suppose he would say that no one ever believed that Jackson was going to go all the way to the nomination…that it wasn’t that kind of campaign, though I don’t know that everybody who supported Jackson felt that way.

Newman: I don’t know that everybody who supported Paul Tsongas felt that he was going all the way.

Salit: That’s certainly true. Matthews asked another question that you and I had already discussed prior to the show: Can Obama remain an outsider all the way through? The pundits talk about being an “outsider” in terms of who you take money from. He’s not taking money from lobbyists and, as Mike Duffy from Time pointed out, Obama left $2-3 million on the table from Washington, DC alone because he wouldn’t take money from those kinds of donors. But my point is that they frame being an outsider simply in terms of where your money comes from.

Newman: Obama has something going for him that suggests that he can remain an outsider because he’s part of a group, namely black America, which has always been an outsider. You can’t easily portray Obama as an insider, Charlie Rangel’s encouragement notwithstanding. In a way, he’s an eternal outsider in the political culture of this country.

Salit: Do you think part of his message is: it’s time for the outsiders to govern?

Newman: No, I think his message is that this country can no longer proceed in a progressive manner if there are going to be insiders and outsiders.

Salit: That’s a powerful message.

Newman: Yes. And, uttered by a black man, that’s a very, very powerful message. Not to mention that he’s a gifted, bright, Harvard graduate who’s raised $25 million. That’s a very powerful message by a black man.

Salit: George Bush came under the microscope again.

Newman: Never has so insignificant a personage spent so much time under a microscope.

Salit: Exactly. In a new poll, 56% of Americans say that going to war was a mistake and it’s a hopeless cause. The numbers are roughly the same as they’ve been but the focus here is on the formulation – “a hopeless cause.” There was a lot of discussion about Bush having become totally isolated. He’s living in a bubble. He’s out of touch with what’s happening.

Newman: Where?

Salit: In the country, in the world.

Newman: You don’t think George Bush reads different news reports?

Salit: What do you make of this commentary about him?

Newman: That under the influence of certain elements, like the neo-cons (who we no longer hear about because they’re almost all gone now) and, the Far Right, Bush and his people were motivated to make a huge play, not only in Iraq, but on American foreign policy overall. They tried to transform the whole character of American foreign policy, from working within a coalitional, largely liberal-minded framework to being unilateralist and tough. He created the Tough America. But the Tough America hasn’t worked. Europe said, hey, we’re not going to go along with that. The Middle East comes together and says, we’re not going to roll over for a Tough America. Who’s going to support a Tough America?

Salit: So, is Bush in a bubble? Or is he just in trouble?

Newman: He made a policy change and it failed.

Salit: So, has he now changed his policy but not his rhetoric?

Newman: It doesn’t make a difference.

Salit: It doesn’t make a difference.

Newman: Americans know the basic truth here. This guy tried to make a takeover play and it failed.

Salit: Does Bush not know that?

Newman: Of course, he knows that. Karl Rove tells him that.

Salit: So, what’s he doing in the face of that?

Newman: Finishing out his term. What else is there to do?

Salit: So, the talk about him being “in a bubble,” isolated, etc., is that what you say on Easter Sunday about the President of the United States when his policies have failed?

Newman: What else are those pundits going to say? You can’t say what I think a lot of them would like to say – that he’s finished, completely finished, of no significance. Still, you’ve got to talk about him. He’s the President of the United States.

Salit: Tim Russert featured the interview that Matthew Dowd did with the New York Times last week. Dowd was a Bush confidante, part of the inner circle, one of the key people in the ’04 campaign. He gave an interview to the Times in which he expressed a great deal of disappointment, personal and political, about the direction of Bush’s second term. He’s one of the people who’s saying that Bush is disconnected from the world.

Newman: He’s an important person who’s saying that, yes.

Salit: The Republicans try to ease the blow here by saying, well, Dowd was a Democrat, he was never really a true blue, or a true red, Bush partisan. Kate O’Beirne said that ‘Dowd fell in love with Bush, as a candidate, and then he fell out of love.’ Referencing the divorce rate in America, she said, ‘that happens all the time.’ This is one of the few times I found myself agreeing with Kate O’Beirne.

Newman: I thought what she said was eloquent and exactly on the money. Exactly right.

Salit: Nancy Pelosi was also under the microscope this week. She went to Syria and met with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Obviously, the Republicans and the conservative media machine saw an opening here. They’re trying to bash her about it because she went to Syria when the White House asked her not to go. Meanwhile, members of Congress go to meet with the heads of unfriendly governments all the time. Obviously, Syria is a more hot button kind of visit, but, nonetheless. So, she’s getting bashed by the Republicans for doing this and she’s also being criticized by some on the Democratic side for this gaffe in which she supposedly misrepresented, or incompletely represented, Israel’s position on negotiations with Syria. Is this thing a non-event?

Newman: A non-event, no significance. Meetings with foreign leaders can often produce sideshows. This reminds me of the episode when Bush looked into Putin’s eyes and “took the measure of the man.” Then it comes back to bite him down the road because Putin turns out not to be a…

Salit: Liberal.

Newman: A liberal member of the Republican Party. No, Putin is Putin. He runs his country. He doesn’t work for Bush. It’s the same kind of classical American arrogance. It’s not even Bush’s personal arrogance. But, what’s interesting and important is the presidential election of ’08. That’s what’s coming up and that’s what they’re all feeding off of and all living off of. And when has the punditocracy ever had two years to do this before? It’s somewhat unprecedented in America, with very interesting candidates. It’s a great election.

Salit: With important, strategic issues for the country, for the Democratic Party.

Newman: And for the Republican Party.

Salit: With huge amounts of money involved.

Newman: And the American people seem a little more interested than usual.

Salit: Yes.

Newman: Obama’s people can say: well, we got 100,000 contributors. And the Clinton people can say: we didn’t need 100,000. We got it with 25% of our donor base. Obama had to stretch all the way out. Well, the Clintons succeeded in what they were trying to do. And Obama succeeded in what he was trying to do. That makes an interesting election.

Salit: And Edwards was not far behind.

Newman: Right, he’s still in there. And he’s still smiling.

Salit: And he’s ahead in the polls in Iowa.

Newman: Right, which might turn out to be more important than all the other stuff.

Salit: To be continued, Fred. Thanks.