The Washington Times
The Democrats are putting on a wonderful party. It is not a party likely to win in November, but it is great fun in August. At The Mondrian – one of the trendy West Hollywood hotels where the best after-hours Democratic parties are being held in the hotel’s Skybar – the management optimistically passes out intimacy kits consisting of: two Durex lubricated, spermicide (Nonoxynol-9) prophylactics, two obstetrical towelettes – and one package lubricating jelly. In my hotel in Philadelphia I got a sewing kit and a shower cap.
While the Democrats are not technically responsible for the kit’s distribution, there is something symmetrical about discovering this fact after watching Bill Clinton give his long-awaited farewell speech to his party faithful.
The first thing that has to be said about Mr. Clinton’s speech is that inside the Staples Center, here in Los Angeles, this is Bill Clinton’s party. These are the people who actually agree with Al Gore’s much-ridiculed claim the day that Mr. Clinton was impeached that he is one of the greatest presidents in history. I assume the rest of the watching world was giggling as Mr. Clinton marched portentously down unending corridors (like a deranged version of David Letterman entering his studio). But inside the hall, Mr. Clinton’s Charlie Chaplinesque Great Dictator-style lonely march only built the dramatic tension, until, when he finally entered the room, the crowd erupted with uncontrollable cheering and yelping.
Mr. Clinton succeeded in matching the longest exit in American politics with the longest entrance. It was definitely an Il Duce moment. The speech itself was a masterpiece of self-adoration. Mr. Clinton, ever the narcissist, described a pre-world that was dark and in chaos until his arrival. He said he knew well what had to be done to bring order out of the chaos. While conceding that the public had a role in the prosperity, he explained that it didn’t just happen. Only with the shrewd hands of the great helmsman on the tiller was our economic world made right. To arrive at this conceit, Mr. Clinton had to edit and paste our recent history. He had to forget that he didn’t inherit a slumping economy. Even the Clinton Office of Management and Budget concedes that in the last quarter of the Bush administration the economy was growing at over 5 percent. And, he had to completely fabricate the claim that he was immediately possessed of the goal to balance the budget. But in fact, it wasn’t until the winter of 1995 that Mr. Clinton, under pressure from a Gingrich-led Republican Congress, begrudgingly submitted a budget that would be in balance by 2002. Until then, he had consistently submitted budgets that projected $200 billion or larger deficits forever.
His primary economic action was to raise taxes over $300 billion in 1993, which did not succeed in reducing the deficit below $200 billion, but did slow the economy to 2 percent growth.
One could quibble about his misrecounting of the decline of interest rates, or his credit-taking for declining crime rates that were merely part of a larger trend – or his greedy grab at Newt’s welfare reform (which he vetoed twice before signing under electoral duress.) Perhaps Mr. Clinton’s oddest claim was that he lowered the rate of teen pregnancy (whether this was the result of government policy or presidential self-restraint was never made clear).
I will leave to experts in the healing arts whether Mr. Clinton actually believed this fairy tale version of recent history. But he demonstrated the most sincere-seeming emotional depth to its description. He is the master at weaving together faux facts with false emotions to genuinely win over his audience’s compliant and malleable minds and hearts.
But, if my conversations with several delegates and party activists Monday night are any indication, Mr. Clinton did not succeed at passing the magic and passion on to Gore/Lieberman. The general sentiment was that they didn’t envy poor Al Gore having to follow Mr. Clinton’s act – both at the convention and in the remainder of the campaign. The view of Mr. Lieberman was less charitable. One major party donor with whom I bummed a limo ride from the convention to the pre-parties was particularly blunt. In his experienced view, the Lieberman selection assures Mr. Gore’s loss of states in a southern arc from Virginia to New Mexico, and in a northern arc from Illinois to Wisconsin. He attributed this to hidden and unmeasurable anti-Semitism combined with a lack of appeal to the unions. According to this view, Mr. Gore not only foolishly risked his own candidacy, but also reduced the Democrats’ chance of taking back Congress.
Two other inside players I talked with over a few tumblers of whisky were openly scornful of the argument apparently being put forward by those who recommended Mr. Lieberman that his selection assures a dramatic increase in big dollar fund-raising.
Party activists – both Republican and Democratic – are a curious breed. They are their party’s most ardent supporters, but they can also be its sternest critics. They admire political skill, but are repulsed by political incompetence. Mr. Gore had better rally this convention in its remaining days, or his activists’ building scorn will drag down his candidacy.