Monday, September 10, 2012

DISCUSSION: Chapters One Hundred Six to One Hundred Twenty


Dole and Bush with Nancy Kassebaum
It has come to this. Dole has seen another presidential race lost to disorganization and disarray. Still, Bob thought he could do it. He saw Bush as a bleacher-seater in the sport of politics -- too much of a tennis-talkin' friend-to-all to earn respect. On the other hand, Bush didn't think Bob could keep it together. He thought Dole lacked "family" and "values." And tasteless, too, with no sensibilities about how a man should act with another man. (Gonna need a lil' decency, a lil' respect.)

What Dole failed to realize -- perhaps deluded himself from realizing -- is that Bush didn't need to earn respect the same way he did: he had the money, the organization and the trappings of the vice presidency. While Elizabeth and Al Haig were nearly killed when a coil blew in their plane, Bush was still "flyin' around" on Air Force Two, with a crisp backup jet waiting on the runway . . . just in case. No one would be kicking open a cockpit full of smoke on his campaign team.

But the trappings of the vice presidency also became a trap. Bush had to get out of "the bubble" -- and give the people some of the see-me-feel-me-touch-me. So he ran around, tooling on forklifts, helping guys get their cars out of snowbanks . . .  and Bob Dole watched in despair. These were things he could not do. If only he had been "whole." The loss that kept him devastated and hidden in Bina and Dorian's living room for so much time.

Hunter, Beau, Ashley, Jill and Joe
This book is constantly going into what pursuing the White House takes from these men. In one special instance, it reveals what it gives. Joe Biden miraculously cheated death thanks to the decisive action of his brother Jimmy. Even with nothing to do, Joe Biden was hesitant about making a big deal over a headache and going to the hospital. And if he were on the campaign trail, there would have been no way to get him to go. Had he stayed in the race, Biden would have been in New Hampshire that week. He wouldn't have been close to a good hospital. He would have dropped dead on the trail, an Also-Ran who would have never gotten to run again.

And in a few short sentences, we see what Joe Biden learned from it all, as he says what he fears are his last goodbyes with his kids, his wife, his friends and family. He tells them something he had learned fifteen years earlier, when he lost so much more than a presidential race. He tells them: you'll go on.

Lee and Gary in New Hampshire
Gary Hart finds no way forward for his new ideas, for his "reform" candidacy to which there was no other alternative in the race. In Dukakis' march to the nomination, Hart saw "the same stupid inevitability" of Mondale '84. Dukakis never got more than 35, 40 percent anywhere -- "he had a ceiling, he couldn't win -- why didn't anybody write that?" Simply put, nobody liked Dukakis. As Jesse Jackson whispered to Hart in one of the debates, "I don't like that guy . . . he's mean."

Gephardt's killers warned their candidate that if he put even the daintiest hit on Michael's correctness, Dukakis would never forget or forgive. In Dick's flailing campaign, it would mean forgoing the vice presidency and heading back to the House to raise the money for the debt his campaign had amassed -- $100,000 on Dick and Jane's credit card alone. (What It Takes? American Express.) Gephardt openly laments that if they had told him he would have to raise $10 million to run for president, he wouldn't have done it.

Gary against The World
As for Gary, Hart could speak but he could not be heard. When he tried to rouse a room of South Carolina Democrats, there was a moment when it seemed the crowd had caught on. Yet they were only paying respects to former Governor Terry Sanford, who was there to champion the constantly reinvented Al Gore. When Sanford moved to the head table to raise Gore's right arm with his, Hart sought to join in the celebration, and raised Gore's left arm, but Gore pulled jerked his hand down and away. Gary was not wanted.

Gore was not the only one. The press was shoulder-to-shoulder against Gary Hart's return to politics and policy ideas, succinctly put by the Los Angeles Times: "Sit down, Gary. You have nothing to say. You have no place in public life in this country."

What may be the most telling paragraph in the book, Hart concedes:
I'm in a struggle to the death over who I am. And I feel my opponent is the press, who cannot allow me to define myself--they have a stake in this. They're all on record, and they can't bear to see me reemerge as a serious person in this country, because they went so far out and said such terrible things. They can't allow me to succeed.
He drops out of the race days later.

1988 Like It's 2012

Doesn't apologize
There are always similarities between presidential races. It is an event unto itself in American life. And there are more than most in Chapter One Hundred Sixteen.

George Bush's campaign was geared toward the people he had been working on since his earliest days in Texas. They were all Democrats in the 1940s, when the schools, hospitals and electric lines came. But years of wealth and development in the '50s, and then the social changes in the '60s had turned them Republicans. These were "the got mines" that Joe Biden talked about. As Cramer writes, they now wanted the government to do . . . well, not much . . . save to stand tall for America, God bless her." And that's where Bush's Super Tuesday rhetoric came in: "I'll never apologize for her." Ahem.

Meanwhile Bush was doing six-minute events with six months of advance. While he was starving the political press corps to death, his handlers would find time for local TV "interviews" -- very necessarily in quotes. "It was just the VP and a single blow-dry in matching armchairs -- very intimate -- they could really get to know one another . . . you know, for four minutes and thirty seconds." Ahem.

No comments:

Post a Comment