Let's Talk Sense...
Sunday, August 6, 2000 Volume XXV, No. 19
Roswell, New Mexico
In this issue:
Report From Philadelphia, part 1
Let's Talk "Bounce"
Why Such Success?
Enough with Inhibitions Already
A Pilgrim's Progress
Who is Karl Rove Aiming At?
REPORT FROM PHILADELPHIA
Personally, I had a great time. Philadelphia is a great city and its people were great hosts. But beyond that, the GOP had a great convention. Let's review a few things.
Let's Talk "Bounce"
I see where media types are citing "NBC" polls or other somesuch and downplaying the "bounce" Bush is getting out of the convention, "only 5 points," says Newsweek's Eleanor Clift. But, just look at the Battleground Poll, a Bipartisan effort run jointly by Republican Ed Goeas and Democrat Celinda Lake:
Bush Gore Nader Buchanan Don't Know
46 38 3 1 11
Bush Gore Nader Buchanan Don't Know
49 31 6 2 12
(1,000 likely voters, +/- 3points)
From an 8-point lead to an 18-point lead, that's a ten point bounce from the convention anyway you slice it. In the head to-head sample, Bush is enjoying an 11-point surge, going from a 47-41 lead to a 52-35 advantage in that same Battleground Poll---without minor party candidates included.
Why such Success?
No one in political science can begin to tell you with absolute certainty. As Yogi Berra would say ("half of baseball is 90% mental"), half of electoral politics is 90% art! In reality, as I frequently remind candidates, political science will never be a hard science because no more than about one-fourth of what we try to do in a campaign can be accomplished by the purely scientific----the rest truly is art.
And if that is true, and I believe it is---then I have to hand it to Karl Rove (Bush's top strategist), the RNC and all the great team in Philadelphia. The Republican National Convention was a triumph of political artistry and all that that entails.
Scripted? Sure. What else is new? In the age of the first-ballot, already-decided nomination, everybody's convention had better be scripted, and the participants had better follow it. Failing to do so is failure to show the nation your best side in prime time.
Scripting, which the pundits hypocritically pretend to lament, is never the problem (at either convention) it is what the convention managers put into the production, in other words it is what is in the script that matters. And no one can really fault anything in this convention. It was a veritable triumph of production, symbolism, celebrity, packaging, entertainment and message.
Marshall McLuhan's oft-cited, and less understood phrase "the medium is the message," came to mind. Criticize it if you want--- but with only a couple of exceptions (more on those later), the Republican, and dare I say the conservative, message was not watered down or compromised in any way. It was there, heard by all---maybe packaged a little better, maybe delivered by different messengers, but it was there.
Through it all---often overtly and obviously, sometimes subtly, was the constant "message" (or was it the "medium") of outreach, diversity. There will be some who pooh-pooh it, calling it pabulum for the masses. (I ought to know, I am one of them who did so.) But get this, and understand it, the Republican Party has failed to win because of its failure to do this over the last two presidential campaigns.
Enough with the Inhibitions Already
Call me names. Call me liberal. Call me anti-intellectual. I have called myself more. The fact is that David Horowitz is right, and his booklet is correct. We have to fight the liberals and the Democrat Party using the tactics they have perfected---without, and this is key--- without becoming like them, without losing the sense of shame without which we are not fit to govern (as they are not fit). In other words, we have to swallow our pride and package, market and produce our message for mass consumption. The only difference being----and it is a huge one----we must not (as the Democrats did in the mid-80s, never to return) lose our soul, our sense of shame, by resorting to lies.
The Philadelphia convention accomplished all of every kind of outreach and message we could possibly hope for. And we did it without lies, trickery, deceit, and its accompanying political apostasy.
A Pilgrim's Progress
It has been a long journey for me personally. Over 500 readers of Let's Talk Sense to the American People from the early '80s through the mid '90's came to understand my faith in the ultimate triumph of
carefully-reasoned, historically-documented, philosophically- and ideologically-grounded argumentation.
It took the end of the Cold War, Clinton, Clintonism and most of the decade of the 1990's for me to realize that such hopefulness about the American character (and the American voter) was merely a foolish dream.
To this day, I believe John Adams would approve of my approach, and perhaps Edmund Burke, and I would hope to get a C+ from even the great 20th Century liberal Walter Lippmann.
But Bill Clinton, and this past decade, and in no small measure the American citizen, the American voter, the people themselves have helped me apprehend the obvious: John Adams is dead. So are Burke and Lippmann.
What is alive is the "average American voter" 75 years into an educational establishment created, nurtured and matured under the tutelage of John Dewey, and the fruit of his womb (figuratively speaking). Without going into all that, let's just say this: the American electorate, despite the explosion of printing, film, cyberspace and the over-abundance of reading material is LESS educated, less intellectual, less
philosophically-grounded, less historically literate and less capable of engaging in intellectually-based (as opposed to emotion-based) deliberation than ever before.
I may be a slow learner, but I am converted. Karl Rove, and others like him, probably grasped these realities earlier than I. (I say "probably" because it is clear the managers of our 1992 and 1996 campaigns were no farther advanced than I---if anything they were MORE bewildered.)
But it doesn't matter when (even if it was last year) they figured this out. What is important is that Bush is surrounded by people of great talent and great skill. What is crucial is that for the first time in more than
a decade we have people in important positions in our national campaign who know as much as their counterparts do about the reality of communicating with the great middle muddle of the American electorate. Their craftsmanship was on display for the past week in Philadelphia. In reality it has been on display since mid-Spring.
We can take nothing for granted. This race will be bitter, I expect nothing less than outright evil from Bob Shrum and those surrounding Gore. But I feel (yes, "feeling" is an okay word in its proper context) good about our team, our candidates and the shape of our campaign.
Who is Karl Rove aiming At?
The cold hard facts are these:
The conservatives, whose vehicle for advancing their agenda is the fragile coalition (about as solid and reliable as a 1968 Ford Fairlane, if you want to carry the metaphor further) known as the Republican
Party, constitute only about 30% of the electorate. Only about 30% of the people can be moved by the kind of argumentation---and in fact by the kind of campaigns---I would have put forth, if left alone and unsupervised before I learned better. In a good year,with a strong tailwind, and the right conditions we might edge thatsolid base upwards toward about 35-37%.
The liberals are no better off. Let's just say for the sake of argument that roughly the same percentages apply to them. Their coalition is fragile too----and their vehicle is analogous to a 1963 Corvair.
That leaves the great middle. This is perhaps as many as 40% of the American electorate, depending on the year. But it is certainly never less than about 25% of the electorate. In 1992, Bush got 37% of the to Clinton's 43% and Perot's 19%. This means of the mushy middle, Clinton beat Bush about 8 to 2, with Perot getting 19 (virtually all his votes come from the politically homeless). In 1996, Clinton beat Dole about 14 to 6 in the muddled middle, with Perot getting 8. Looking at it this way helps us to see how badly we were beaten among those who make the difference. When the two major parties are compared (leaving out the Perot vote each time) Clinton took 70 to 80% of the major party votes---that is a testament to how much better their teams have been at appealing to the non-ideological.
These are the people for whom ideological appeals are useless. They are useless because they are meaningless. To be successful with an appeal to history, to reason, to the philosophical, one must have an audience which can relate to that which is being argued. This audience cannot.
Those are the people who saw Colin Powell---but did not really hear (I am not making this up) what exactly he had to say, nor can they tell you one line, one phrase, or one word of his speech.
What they can essentially tell you is this: A Black man, a retired general (famous from the Gulf War---they saw him on TV) is a Republican, and is very much for Bush. Similar comments apply to the panoply, the entire host of characters who paraded across the stage in Philadelphia. Condoleezza Who? Well, she was a black woman, she looked good, she sounded good, and she is a Republican. Isn't there some diversity or something somewhere in all this?
I mean this reflects the depth of analysis all this is going to get from these folks---and understand---most didn't see it at all, but the same holds true nonetheless. Most will get this through second-hand analysis or "received analysis." They will "sense" it from various sources, or have it filtered down to them, either by the media, their friends, discussions at the water cooler, wherever. This is not to criticize them...nor their audience, but to reflect reality.
I have nothing but the highest praise for Karl Rove and all of the RNC and Bush teams. I had never heard of "the Rock," nor half the music and rock stars who performed or appeared. But those appeals, combined with the clearly designed appeal to blacks, Hispanics (I would say especially to Hispanics) Asians, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, and all others was nothing short of extraordinary. This is to say nothing of the appeal to women, which was also a triumph of style, substance and timing.
Finally, it must be said, that the leading gay Republican spoke at the convention. He said nothing of special rights for homosexuals, In fact he made absolutely no reference to any "gay agenda." He just spoke. That is perfectly in keeping with the Republican message: we are tolerant, in the original understanding of the term. While we do not support special rights, we recognize gays as human beings
who should not be harassed or assaulted or otherwise mistreated.
For the great one-fourth of the voters who hold the outcome of this election in their hands (perhaps a staggering 27 million people) the Republican National Convention was a triumph of communication. Communicating with these voters is not about intellectual reasoning, but about making them feel good about our candidate, our party, our leadership, our sense of "fairness," "justice," "inclusion," "diversity," and on and on. We can say all we want to the 30 to 35% who are with us already, and they will nderstand. But to these others we must show. It was a great show.
One last sobering thought....
As the more intellectually grounded and more philosophically based of the two major parties, we are actually very fortunate. Remember, about 104,000,000 people voted in 1992. That figure went down to exactly 96,236,625 in 1996. This year, we can expect somewhere between 100-108 million Americans to cast a vote for President. But that leaves out 100 million people. That's right. The preliminary estimate from the Census Bureau shows a population of 205,000,000 adult Americans-- (18 and over) who will have been counted in the 2000 census by next February.
Theoretically, this 100 million-person entity could enter the electorate at any time. God save us.
All the evidence suggests that they are far less educated, far more distant from reason, far more difficult to communicate with than those already voting. Think about it.
Keeping the faith.
In the next issue:
Celebrity Interviews (Rod talks with):
Chris Matthews (his prediction of a Gore victory)
George Stephanopolous (on Dick Cheney)
The week in Philadelphia:
The Floor Management (Republicans for "Choice")
And much, much more.....