Upturns, Downturns and Turnouts.

February 25, 2007

Upturns, Downturns and Turnouts.

Sunday, February 25, 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, February 25, 2007 after watching “The Chris Matthews Show,” and excerpts from “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” on PBS.

Salit: I guess we have to start with the story that everybody in the political pundits’ universe is talking about – the Clinton/Obama collision this week. I have a theory about it.

Newman: Please go ahead.

Salit: I think the Clinton camp is baiting Obama, trying to pull him into a direct attack on Hillary. They think that if they can get him into that zone, they can beat him. It’s interesting because at some point he’s going to have to take her on and face her down. He has to establish that his “vision” politic has some real honest-to-goodness toughness attached to it, that it has some guts. He’s got to be willing to have a fight with the old line political establishment. It needs to be principled – on his part. But it needs to be tough. The Clinton camp wants a fight. They think they can win it. I don’t know that Obama has decided whether he wants the fight or not.

Newman: You might well be right. I think the key is that the Clintons have started on a path and they’re going to stay on that path. And that path is, of course, that Hillary can win.

Salit: Hillary can win.

Newman: Yes. And, if you’re on that path, you’re going to play the campaign as I’m the winner and everybody else is trying to knock me over. I think that’s where it comes from, strategically. Not everybody accepts – and I’m one of those who doesn’t accept it – that Hillary is the winner and that the election is hers to lose. I don’t agree with that at all. I don’t know what the Obama people think. But I guess they think that she’s not the winner.

Salit: Otherwise, why are they running? So you’re saying that you don’t buy the idea that it’s hers to lose.

Newman: I don’t.

Salit: Which is another way of saying that she’s got serious vulnerabilities. “Hers to lose” means she only loses if she makes a very serious mistake.

Newman: But I don’t accept that theory either.

Salit: Okay.

Newman: I don’t think she’s the automatic winner. Nor do I think she has “some vulnerabilities.” She’s got bigger problems than “vulnerabilities.” Some people don’t like her, and will think long and hard before voting for her for President of the United States.

Salit: What do you think people don’t like about her?

Newman: It’s always difficult to define these things. I think people don’t fully trust her. Some of those doubts seem to me to be legitimate. Others seem less legitimate. Some people think that if you vote for Hillary, you’re really just electing Bill, that she’s not her “own man” no less her “own woman.” They thought she was too outspoken on certain issues, including her accusations about a right-wing conspiracy against her husband.

Salit: So, will she hold her current position of leading the pack in the Democratic Party? She’s got the big money.

Newman: That’ll hold her, at least for awhile. But it’s not clear it’ll hold her all the way to Election Day. That’s the trouble with money, in general. Money, of course, is a huge factor. It can hold you for a time. But it’s not clear that it always holds you to Election Day.

Salit: Obama is raising money. The fight with Hillary was precipitated by a $1.3 million fundraiser that David Geffen and the Hollywood A-list held for him. Obama just appeared in Austin, Texas where 18,000 people came out. To say he’s drawing big crowds is something of an understatement.

Newman: Kind of knocks the hell out of us, doesn’t it?

Salit: Yes, Fred, it does. Is there a next litmus test for Obama? Part of it is money and March 31 is the filing deadline for all the campaigns to report. Tom Vilsack just dropped out of the race because he couldn’t raise anywhere near the amount of money he needed to be competitive. Obama is racking up money. Edwards is racking up money. Clinton, obviously, has a huge amount of money. But what’s the next thing that Obama has to do, politically, what does he have to establish, do you think?

Newman: I think it’s a cumulative thing. But I think it’s getting people out of the race.

Salit: He’s got to start to force some people out?

Newman: Which, I think, he may be doing a little bit.

Salit: We watched Mark Shields and David Brooks from the PBS NewsHour. Shields and Brooks are, generally speaking, fairly civilized with each other. But they got into a little bit of a tiff on the question of whether the Democrats stand for anything on the war. David Brooks’ position is they don’t. They don’t have a policy, he said, all they’re doing is “starving the surge.” They don’t have an alternative strategy for what to do about Iraq. Shields objected to that very strenuously: He responded, ‘The party doesn’t speak with one voice. It doesn’t have to speak with one voice. What you’re getting now is a whole mix of different approaches to the issue. That doesn’t mean that the party doesn’t stand for anything.’ Brooks argued that the Democrats are completely poll driven.

Newman: And Shields sort of wiped him out in one line. He said: ‘Your party is completely Bush driven.’ Of course an out-of-power party is going to be driven by different points of view and different perspectives. After all, you’ve been asking the Democrats to put forth different perspectives for a long time. Now you have those perspectives, and they’re in the mix now because the Democrats won the congressional election. And that’s the real big deal. You can’t get away any longer with ‘You don’t have any points of view.’ You were trying very hard to win it, but you lost it.

Salit: And what of Bush?

Newman: He’s still the president. He’s commander-in-chief. He makes the decisions. How many positions could he have? If he had nine positions, everyone would be in an uproar. The Democrats are allowed to have nine positions.

Salit: Chris Matthews posed the question “Do the Democrats need an economic downturn in order to win?” Everybody on the Matthews Meter said ‘No. The issues that are driving the public conversation and that are going to drive the election are not fundamentally about the economy. They’re about something else.’

Newman: That was a strangely worded question because it’s a negative, but I would have voted with the Matthews Meter crowd.

Salit: Strangely worded how?

Newman: It’s less about the Democrats needing an economic downturn, than it is that the Republicans need a war upturn. If there’s any plausible accounting of the surge that says that the U.S. won in Baghdad, it could change the election rather dramatically. And, moreover, it does that by way of strengthening the right wing of the Republican Party. And they, in turn, will strengthen the whole party.

Salit: The stock market is doing extremely well and people who are in the stock market, including (as was pointed out) many millions of average Americans who have their 401(k)s, are benefiting from that. That’s one side of the picture. The other side of the picture: Working families can’t meet the cost of raising their kids, sending them to college. They don’t have health care. If there’s a catastrophic health event in the family, it can wipe out their entire savings, if they even have savings.

Newman: Well, the Republican spin on that is: The people in the stock market are doing well. And the people who aren’t are stupid.

Salit: Right.

Newman: That’s what Jim Kramer was essentially saying to Chris Matthews. And it’s probably accurate.

Salit: At the end of the discussion, Matthews says to Kramer: So, is trickle down working? And Kramer says: “Now it is.” The implication is that all the prior exhortations about trickle down notwithstanding, the wealth actually didn’t reach ordinary people, that it was a fantasy, a myth, a spin. But, Kramer says, that’s changed now because of the numbers of Americans that have a piece of the stock market.

Newman: The Republicans are arguing that Americans should take whatever they have and put it in the stock market, and they’ll do okay.

Salit: But then you have Democratic candidates out there, like John Edwards, who’s campaigning on what’s been called the populist message, that ordinary people are facing these economic difficulties and something has to be done about that. That’s what the Democrats bring to the picture.

Newman: Subliminally, the Democrats’ message is We’ve heard the Republicans encourage us to all invest in the stock market before and you saw what happened.

Salit: You saw what happened?

Newman: In 1929, for instance. So, count on the Democrats to take care of you in these economic situations, not the Republicans. They’ll mislead you. They have before. They’ll do it again. Don’t fall for it. Vote Democrat. That’s what they’re saying.

Salit: Does that connect to people, do you think?

Newman: It has a connect. It connects with people in the way that the Democratic Party history connects with people. The question is whether the Democratic Party present connects with people.

Salit: Well put, Fred. Thanks.