Monday, December 08, 2003

I Feel Good (Who Knew That I Would?)

Weekend Politics - Sunday Show Wrap-Up

Who knew the Reverend Al Sharpton, our favorite gadfly presidential candidate
and general thorn in the Democratic side, could sing? Sharpton’s turn before the
band on “Saturday Night Live” this weekend wins him the prize in the weekly
Sunday show sweepstakes. (Yes, the show starts on Saturday, but ends on
Sunday, so that’s how we’re working it in.)

In a very funny bit--with Tracy Morgan playing the younger Sharpton, arrayed in
the rev’s once trademark track suit and medallions (not to mention the James
Brown hairdo)--the candidate covered the Godfather of Soul’s theme song with
aplomb, including the footwork
. (Unfortunately, the rest of the show failed to live
up to the standard set in this opening piece.)

Most Dems I know roll their eyes when Sharpton’s name comes up, but I must
confess, I’m glad he’s in the race. A good friend--a civil rights activist who is
African American (I am not)--says, “Addie, Al Sharpton doesn’t stand for anything
but Al Sharpton.”

Well, even if that’s true, I’m still glad he’s in it, because he’s keeping the party’s
feet to the fire--and if there ever was an election year in which that’s needed, it’s
this one. For if the base stays home, as much of it did in the midterm
congressional elections, Bush gets to coast right back into Term 2.

In the 1990s, presidential elections turned on the suburban swing vote, hence the
success of the triangulation strategies employed by Bill Clinton. But in the dark
times since the millennial meltdown of our election system, it’s the disenfranchised
who will make the difference. After all, it’s a growing demographic.

So the formula for Democratic success will rest on turnout of the traditionally
disenfranchised (ethnic and racial minorities, women and the urban poor), plus the
Southern whites (“Nascar dads”) of whom Dean so famously spoke (pick-up
trucks and Conferderate flags), and all those suburban folks struggling to pay for
health care, day care and minivans. Listing to the right won’t help the Dems win
those folks.

Dean is right when he says that, in order to win, the Dems need to override the
agenda set by the Republicans--“God, gays and guns” as he told Chris Wallace
on “Fox News Sunday”. But the economic and foreign policy agenda intended to
supplant it must be famously liberal, in the FDR sense of things. The Republican
call to remove Roosevelt’s image from the dime (to be replaced, of course, with
that of Ronald Reagan), is a perfect jumping off point for a national discussion on
America’s economic values. Turn the conversation to this topic, and the Dems
clearly have the upper hand--so long as they’re not pulling punches with it.

New kid in town

Speaking of “Fox News Sunday”, Chris Wallace’s debut in the host’s chair made
for some arresting television. As Wallace’s first guest, I suspect that White
House Chief of Staff Andrew Card may have felt a bit sucker-punched.

Although Wallace’s challenges to Card--especially on the economy--were
questions that any journalist of any stripe should be asking, he pursued his subject
with such tenacity that I’m sure producers may have been thinking to replace the
coffee with decaf next time.

With Tony Snow in the host’s chair, for denizens of the White House the show
had always been a sort of cozy visit with a sweet maiden aunt. (In fairness, I
should say that Snow never went terribly hard on anybody.) With Snow gone, and
a real newsman at the helm, there’s nary a place of comfort left for the
administration on Sunday morning.

Wallace’s pacing was a bit more relaxed with is next guest, Democratic
presidential front-runner Howard Dean--though not exactly a walk in the park for
the candidate.

The topic du jour for Dean remains the 10-year seal on his gubernatorial papers
he managed to win, despite Vermont’s tradition of a six-year seal. Like the rest of
the media, Wallace gave the topic star treatment, and Dean remained
unconvincing when he stated his reason for the seal being the protection of those
who had revealed personal information when seeking his counsel and intervention
when he served as governor.

When the document question first arose a couple of weeks ago, Dean’s instinct
was right, but his facts were, alas, lacking. He asserted that he would release his
papers when George W. Bush released his papers from his days as the chief
executive of the great state of Texas. Unfortunately for Dean, it seems Bush had
already released those papers. Where Dean should have gone with his artful
deflection was the Reagan-era papers whose release has been delayed by
Bush’s executive order. Speculation there runs high that the papers would not
reflect well on Bush père.

Wallace also took Dean to task for an off-handed comment the good doctor had
made on NPR’s “Diane Rehm Show” the week before: that “the Saudis may have
tipped us off” about the 9-11 attacks before they happened. Dean didn’t exactly
espouse this view--he called it an “interesting theory”--but, nonetheless, it’s a bit
provocative, wouldn’t you say? (It was actually Dean’s way of illustrating why the
administration needs to be more forthcoming with its records from the days that
led up to the attacks.)

Speaking of the good doctor’s turn before Diane Rehm’s mike, a most fascinating
assertion has failed to receive pick-up in the broader media. You’ll recall that the
frontrunner took some guff from Republicans (and Leon Panetta) for calling for
“re-regulation” of some industries. When pressed by Rehm as to what industry
he’d begin with, the candidate unhestatingly said, “I’d start with the media.” He
then did a whole riff on media consolidation, and recent ruling by Michael
Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), regarding ownership of broadcast outlets. Does the lack of attention to
this little Molotov cocktail of a comment illustrate Dean’s point?

Just wondering.

Hill gets her day

While Al Sharpton clearly won the weekend for style, Senator Hillary Clinton was
the big winner on substance.

You’ll recall that the junior senator from New York visited Afghanistan and Iraq last
week, only to be pushed off the front pages by President Bush’s strategic strike in
Baghdad. But for Hill, it wasn’t over. A strategic response kept her trip alive in
the news, when she suggested that the current push to turn governance of Iraq
over to Iraqis was pegged to the U.S. election schedule.

That won her long interviews on both “Meet the Press” and “This Week with
Geoge Stephanopoulos”. It was especially fun to see her sit across from
Stephanopoulis, given the Sturm und Drang that has characterized the
Clinton-Stephanopoulos relationship over the last decade.

As is her wont, Sen. Clinton was tightly focused and on point in both interviews
when it came to Iraq--and, thank goodness, Afghanistan. (Remember that
place?) And, in both interviews, she laughed most appealingly at the suggestion
that she might run for president. (She gave the classic politician’s answer: I’m the
senator from blah-blah, and I’m happy doing the work for the people of blah-blah.
Theoretical scenarios that might draw her into the presidential race were met with:
“That’s not going to happen.”)

With Stephanopoulos, however, she was more relaxed. When the former Clinton
aide addressed her famous assertion of a “vast right-wing conspiracy”, she
refused to back away from it. Her only regret, she said, was that she called it a
“conspiracy”, since it’s all happening very much in the open.

You go, girl!

Ire of Newt

Our Sunday wrap-up would not be complete without noting the appearance of
Newt Gingrich on “Meet the Press”. Apparently, Hill and Newt had a meeting of
the minds in the green room, and like her, he came out swinging against the
administration’s Iraq timetable. He lauded the president’s speeches on freedom
and democracy in the middle east, but said that “within the bureaucracy” there
were forces at work that were getting in the way of the president’s vision. When
pressed by Tim Russert as to whom he might be talking about, the former
speaker demurred. His antipathy to Colin Powell is well-known, but I somehow
doubt that Powell is driving the hand-over agenda.

Could the man who drove a revolution in Congress be taking shots at Karl Rove,
the president’s Rasputin?

It’s going to be an interesting election season.

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