Fights, Comebacks and Asterisks.

August 12, 2007

Fights, Comebacks and Asterisks.

Sunday, August 12, 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, August 12, 2007 after watching “The Chris Matthews Show” and “Meet the Press.”

Salit: “Meet the Press” featured a dialogue between Harold Ford, Jr. of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) and Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos, billed as a debate between the centrist wing of the Democratic Party and the liberal wing of the party. Ford, representing the DLC, took the position that Democrats can win this election, that more Americans are listening to what the Democrats have to say, that in order to win the party has to maintain political positions that are “in the mainstream,” and the divergent factions need to fuse – meaning the center and the left, the DLC and the Netroots inside the party. Moulitsas says that it’s not a matter of liberal/conservative positions, it’s that the party’s become re-energized from the bottom up by hundreds of thousands of grassroots activists who’ve come into politics to express being proud of being a Democrat and core Democratic principles. Moulitsas says the DLC strategy of trying to blur the distinctions between Democrats and Republicans is what has kept the Democratic Party from winning elections. Tell me your reaction to that debate.

Newman: How could anyone be proud of being a member of a political party in the United States of America? It’s all well and good to say what party you belong to. It’s all well and good to say what party you’re going to vote for. But to use the word “pride” with respect to American political parties in the face of the American people recognizing the utter corruption of political parties, in the face of their feeling that political parties have abandoned the people, is somewhat unbelievable. I always thought that we were supposed to “proud to be an American.” I’ve had a few problems with that over the years, but basically that’s okay. I can live with that. But “I’m proud to be a Democrat”? What’s that supposed to mean? The bloggers are important. But the energy driving the new media movement comes from nonpartisans and independents, not Democrats. They’re proud to be Americans. They’re proud to be participants. They’re proud to be voters and maybe even democrats with a small “d.” But nobody can be proud to be a Democrat or a Republican, with a big “D” or a big “R.” That’s how I react to that.

Salit: For Moulitsas it’s all about the party, the Democratic Party.

Newman: That’s what he turns it into, for his own political purposes. That’s why that debate was a scam. They worked out the whole thing before the show started. I don’t care if they never met before. Moulitsas winds up saying ‘We can work this out, because we’re all Democrats,’ which distorts and compromises what’s happening in America today. People are not saying ‘We’re all Democrats.’ They’re saying ‘We’re all Americans, and we all want to participate and we all want to be a part of a truly democratic, with a small “d,” process.’ But it’s not that we’re all Democrats. That’s not what’s being said at all.

Salit: How can you have that debate without having a true independent in it?

Newman: That might be a reasonable debate. The independent would say Forget your party, forget your party allegiances, let’s line up with the American people. That’s what’s really happening in this country. The parties are corrupt, but they’re also smart. They know how to take advantage of things and right now they’re trying to take advantage of the independent movement. They’re trying to shape the independent movement so that it’s a Democratic Party movement. Might they succeed? Well, they might indeed, for the obvious reason that there’ll probably be no alternative.

Salit: No alternative in terms of who to vote for.

Newman: Exactly. So, they will say: We did it. We won by a 4% majority and we’re now the party of the people. Hello?

Salit: The producers of the show might argue This isn’t a show about the American people or about even what’s going on in America, broadly speaking. The topic of the show is what’s going on in the Democratic Party.

Newman: In 1410, you could say the topic of the show is how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but that would exclude almost the entire population because nobody really cared. You can brand things however you like.

Salit: That’s true. Then, what about the debate – so called – on the issue of how far left should the Democratic Party go in this election? Is that an empty debate, because it’s not a matter of left or right, the people have gone where they’ve gone?

Newman: It isn’t a question of going left, no one’s going left, no one’s going right and no one’s going center. It’s that George Bush’s presidency and the general trend toward conservative Republicanism have been very disconnected to and dismissive of the things that a substantial majority of the American people care about. So anyone who figured out they should bring those concerns back onto the table – forget left, right or center – has a good chance of winning an election. If they’ve got the money. That’s the issue. The Bush regime has been so reactive, so incompetent, that if you simply bring back common sense issues, you’ve got a majority of the American people with you. The far Right succeeded in gaining office. Hurray for them. But what Bush, Cheney, and the neocons did with that office was to bring in a kind of extremism which is antithetical to what mainstream America is about. This is not a left/right campaign, in my opinion. What I think the Democrats are saying is that If we simply play it cool, and we hold onto that and we make the target of our campaign right wing extremism and incompetency as expressed and manifest in eight years of George Bush, we win by 3-5 points . By contemporary American standards, that’s a landslide. I think that’s what Ford is saying, and I think that is what the Democratic Party is saying. It’s probably, to some extent, accurate.

Salit: So, as is the case in all discussions about the Democratic Party and the presidential election, the issue of Hillary Clinton is front and center. And why wouldn’t it be?

Newman: She’s leading by 20 points.

Salit: David Gregory, who hosted “Meet the Press,” shows Moulitsas some statements he made which were harshly critical of Clinton . And, of course, the Netroots movement has been very vocal in opposition to the war and to those who voted for the war and haven’t apologized for it or acknowledged that the vote was a mistake. Obama and Edwards are significantly ahead of Mrs. Clinton among Daily Kos followers. So David Gregory says ‘How do you feel about Mrs. Clinton now?’ Moulitsas says ‘Well, she got 9% of the vote at our event and that means there’re 90,000 activists out there who want to work for her. That’s a very desirable thing and, generally speaking, people are feeling positive about her and the moves that she’s made.’ As one commentator observed, all she has to do is show up at these events in order to mute the edge against her within these circles. She’s done that well. NBC News analyst Chuck Todd says the particular skill of being Mrs. Clinton, at this moment in the campaign, is her capacity to project as a liberal without being one.

Newman: My bet is there were a growing number of Clinton advisors saying to her at the end of last week, It was a big mistake to get involved with that fight with Barack. You don’t need fights right now. You don’t need fights with anybody. Just show up. That’s all you’ve got to do . I think some people saw it as a mistake to get into that fight.

Salit: You don’t need fights. You’re way ahead in the polls.

Newman: Right.

Salit: Let people take their swings at you, but you don’t gain by getting into a fight with anybody.

Newman : Right. Their thinking is the Democrats are going to win the general election. It’s as much in the bag as it can be at this point. All you’ve got to do is win the nomination. You have a 20 point lead. At the PGA golf tournament yesterday someone asked ‘Do you think that Woods should be playing it conservatively with 27 holes still to go and he’s only up by three or four strokes?’ And the other person said ‘Well, why not? Who’s going to beat him?’ Well, someone could beat him. But, is that the right play, in terms of game theoretic analysis? Yes it is.

Salit: The right play is play conservatively. When you’re 20 points up heading into the primaries, you got the money, you got the prestige, you’re in good shape, why get reckless?

Newman: The Democrats are going to win. Most people want the Democrats to win, even if they don’t like them. The word is that Hillary is the winning horse. Their best play is: Don’t try to shake up the country. Just win the goddamn election.

Salit: Okay.

Newman: That approach will win out in the long haul. The safe money bettors right now are putting all their money on Hillary as the next president of the United States, in my opinion. Could that change? Yeah. But are the bloggers going to get more radical as they move along? No, they’re going to get less radical as they move along.

Salit: Hillary doesn’t want a fight. She doesn’t need a fight. She’s kind of feisty and she’s pulled to want to have the fight because she’s exceedingly thin skinned, more so even than Bill, in my opinion. But she’s got to resist that. There has to be someone constantly in her earphone saying Don’t do it, Hillary. Let’s say the lesson of the last two weeks in the Clinton camp is “we’re not fighting.”

Newman: No fights.

Salit: Alright. How do the Obama people respond to that?

Newman: I don’t know. My hunch is they will occasionally try to provoke a fight, but not enough to really make a difference. He’s 40-something and has a long career ahead as a capital “D” Democrat. Big constraint. That’s my guess as to what he will do. Yeah, he’ll have a periodic fight. If she falls for it, it will get a little bigger, because he can’t do anything but gain from that. But she will not fall for it. I think this fight that they just had was useful to her advisors because they see there’s no reason for her to have them.

Salit: There are several expectations in the picture: The Democrats are going to win. And the likely scenario is that independents in the general election will support the Democrats.

Newman: There’s little question about that.

Salit: Opposition to Bush, opposition to the war, opposition to the right wing agenda. All of that adds up. What do independents do, how do independents work over the next few months to relate to those dynamics in a way which improves the independent position?

Newman: You press all the candidates to more directly address independents and what they believe in. You press all the candidates, from Kucinich to Obama to Paul to Gravel. All of them. You even press Hillary, but I don’t think Hillary is pressable on this. She’s made it very plain that she wants nothing to do with the independents. She thinks, in the final analysis, if the Democrats win, they’ll get the independent vote and all she’s got to do is be the Democratic nominee in order to cash in. So, we continue to do what we’ve been doing. I think we’ve made some breakthroughs. I think we’ve had some impact. Again, the story for the independents in this country is called patience. I think we’ve had a great year this year, so far. I think we’ve played a key role in creating what has been a Democratic Party debate season which has been the best that I’ve seen in a long time, since Perot was in there. And that’s good. That might be what we can accomplish this year. That might be the story. Not a bad story.

Salit: The Iowa Republican straw poll was yesterday. Romney won, spending a fortune. He brought 96 members of his family in to campaign. He paid for the buses. He paid for the tickets. He paid for the whole shebang.

Newman: He paid for the spare ribs.

Salit: Yes, he paid for the pulled pork. He got 31%. Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, came in second with 18%. Is there anything to say about the Republican picture at the moment?

Newman: The only real thing to consider about the Republican primary is whether John McCain can make a comeback. That’s the only interesting story. Huckabee will not be the Republican candidate for the presidency of the United States. Does McCain have a comeback in him? A lot of people would like him to because a lot of people think that, despite his age, which is a real factor, he has more of a chance of attracting popular support, including a return of independents, than any other candidate. Nobody on the Republican side is thrilled with Giuliani, but he’s the best they’ve got. McCain’s the interesting question.

Salit: What’s your opinion on whether he can come back?

Newman: Almost certainly not. He did too much damage to himself to have a comeback. But he’s got an appeal. This is speculative, but I think part of McCain’s thinking at this point in time might be what’s the point of making a comeback? Because it’s probably going to be a comeback just to get your butt whipped…

Salit: …by the Democrats.

Newman: …by the Democratic Party. I don’t know if he’s got it in him. But, I think that’s worth watching and nothing else seems to me to be terribly worth watching on the Republican side.

Salit: Surely not the Iowa straw poll. One last question: Would you put an asterisk next to Barry Bond’s name?

Newman: No.

Salit: Why not?

Newman: I don’t believe in asterisks. You play baseball in different conditions. Would I put an asterisk next to Babe Ruth’s name because he drank too much and was a womanizer? You don’t put asterisks. Baseball’s about records. All the asterisks they ever put there, for the most part, they take away two years later. That’s because baseball fans don’t follow asterisks. They follow records. Are they also going to support putting an “N” for Negro next to his name? Barry Bonds is the greatest home run hitter of all time. Period.