Party Convention Speakers

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Howard Fineman is on MSNBC right now saying that the Democratic Convention is aiming at undecided Democrats and Republicans. If so, they're being extremely stupid about choosing their speakers. Let's compare their lineup compared with the Republicans'.

Bill Clinton avoided the left of his party to draw in moderate voters. He had conservative Democrat Zell Miller and other speakers from what we now call red states. He stayed away from people who seem more liberal, e.g. Ted Kennedy, especially like those seen as weak on national security, e.g. Jimmy Carter. Al Gore even left Clinton behind because he has exactly the same features as George W. Bush. About half the country absolutely hates the guy. Well, look at the differences this time around.

Well, here's some of this year's lineup: Ted Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and the two most liberal speakers of the bunch, Ron Reagan and Dennis Kucinich, both of whom are viewed as complete nuts by many moderate Democrats. Then there's Al Gore. Kerry is directing speakers to be positive and focus on the future. Well, as Chris Matthews just said, "You can't control Al Gore in his current state. He's almost a Jeremiah." That's an understatement. Gore's such a loose cannon nowadays that anyone trying to hide the counterproductive Bush-bashing to look more like the undecideds of mainstream middle America is best off distancing themselves from him as much as possible. Yet he's on the list along with both Clintons.

Nancy Pelosi is also speaking, and she's not exactly a moderate either. There are a few more mainstream Democrats (Bill Richardson, Max Cleland), but these are mainstream Democrats, not moderates. Since Harold Ford was Kerry's campaign director for a while, I'm surprised not to see his name on there. He's black, somewhat progressive, and young and exciting. I like him myself. If he's speaking, no one's giving it any attention. They're clearly focusing toward the more liberal side for the higher-hyped speakers, and that's a big mistake.

Now compare the Republican list. Besides the candidates and their wives (one of whom is fairly moderate on social issues, the other just coming across as very nice and normal), we have Rudy Giuliani, Michael Bloomberg, and George Pataki as New York representatives. What's especially noteworthy about these three is that they're standard northeast Republicans. Only moderate Republicans have much chance of gettting elected governor or mayor in a large city in these states, but moderate Republicans tend to do better than any Democrats. John McCain is similar in many ways, though he has the additional feature of being John Kerry's first choice as a running mate. Then there's Zell Miller, the very Democratic senator who gave the keynote speech at Clinton's first convention. He's still a Democrat, but he's speaking at Bush's second convention. Even more mainstream is Arnold Schwarzeneggar, whome many will want to hear simply because of who he is. Almost none of these could be considered die-hard conservatives (though maybe Miller qualifies as that on some measures).

The most interesting to me of all of these, though, is Rod Paige. Bush has four African-Americans in his current cabinet. One was just selected to replace Mel Martinez as HUD secretary, since he's running for the Senate to replace Bob Graham. No one, including me, knows a thing about the guy, even his name. I certainly don't remember if offhand. Colin Powell and Condi Rice are frequently (and I believe racistly) accused of not being black enough. Rod Paige has faced this criticism far less frequently, partly because he isn't as well known, partly because his public speaking has almost entirely been in the area of education, where he's somewhat of a moderately conservative compassionate conservative (i.e. encouragement of good behavior through government programs intended to help people get back on their feet rather than form eternal dependencies). But there's also the way he speaks. He sounds black. Condi Rice sounds like the average white Californian with a few black mannerisms. Colin Powell's inner city accent has also been softened after years of military service. As much as I do think these two are far from unrepresentative of black America but are fine examples of what black Americans are achieving, Rod Paige has the benefit of a speaking style that simply feels much more at home to many black Americans. He seems more like them. That can only help in the Republican attempt to convince black Americans that Democrats have been keeping them down for many years through programs that cause dependencies and then fooling them into voting for them because free handouts always seem good.

So all in all it seems as if the Democratic powers-that-be are making some pretty awful decisions politically speaking, while the Republican leaders are thinking quite shrewdly. We'll have to wait to see how much effect this has on the overall election, but it's extremely interesting to watch.

Thanks to Polipundit for some of this information.


I agree that the Republican Party is shrewd, but as far as the Dems go, their party is boxed in, I believe they are out of choices at this point. Among the original Dems running for 04, Joe Liberman was the only voice of reason, and the only Dem I would have considered voting for...but look how far he got? The hard left IS the Democratic party today, these are the only cards left in the deck.

Joe Lieberman was one person I would have insisted on speaking at the convention if I were a Democrat with a voice in the running of it and I wanted my candidate to win. Harold Ford is another. There's also John Breaux, another conservative retiring senator. If Kerry had reached out to him, he might have been able to avoid the potential rejection of the party that he might follow Miller into (not that they'll ever change their party affiliation, but they have all but done so ideologically). Breaux is the one of the two who is more likely to support liberal politicians. They also could have tried to combat the Miller coup of the Republicans by getting a Republican speaker at the Dem convention. They gave up after courting McCain for the VP spot. I doubt they'd get a senator (though the already-defected Jeffords would be an easy catch), but there are sure to be people in the House or in local Massachussetts positions who prefer Kerry to Bush. Massachussetts Republicans aren't all that conservative. I'm not sure any of these would be easy to get, but they're not entirely out of reach, and it doesn't look as if they're even trying.

It certainly would have been interesting if they were somehow able to pull McCain into their ranks. There were many people who had said that THAT would have been the "dream ticket" that is hard to ignore. McCain himself did not help matters in contributing to the ambiguity for a while. The problem is that, given today's Democrats, McCain would have been a tough sell. He is much more of a Republican than even a moderate Democrat. So even if Kerry somehow lassoed McCain into the VP spot, he would have a tough time convincing people in his own party that that is a good thing.

By the way, I am NOT a fan of Nancy Pelosi either. During a congressional hearing in 2002 (I believe in September or October) about failures in the intelligence community to prevent 9/11, she very rudely told (I believe) the director of the NSA that they were there not to hear about problems but solutions. She made her remark even though he had barely gotten into his presentation - I recall it was somewhere just after "thank you for this opportunity for me to make this presentation". Whether he was stunned by what she said, it did not show in the transcript. But he deftly manuevered into his presentation without delay. As for Pelosi, she had nothing to contribute to the proceedings but her big mouth, and I had no respect for her ever since.

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