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Republican Convention: Local Angle

Mark Plotkin
WTOP Political Commentator
Wednesday, September 1, 2004; 10:00 AM

The 2004 Republican National Convention continues on Wednesday with speeches from Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.)

WTOP political commentator Mark Plotkin took your questions live from the Republican National Convention on the events, the local delegation and politics in general.

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The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Mark Plotkin: I am here at the Republican Convention. It is my fourth. It is deffintely a different group and one might think by the speakers, with exception of tonight, that Nelson Rockefeller lives!


Kennesaw, Ga.: Thanks for doing this chat, Mr. Plotkin. Like most people outside the Mid-Atlantic area I was not familiar with Maryland Lt. Gov. Steele before his speech last night. It was a pretty good speech. What are this fellow's political prospects, and do you have a sense of whether his appearance last night helped them?

Mark Plotkin: Michael Steele is an attractive authentic public figure. He has paid his dues. He was born in the District of Columbia, graduated from Georgetown Law School, something you probably don't know, his sister who he referred to as a doctor, was once the wife of fighter Mike Tyson (they are now divorced). Steele started out as a county chairman and then became the state chairman, the only African American Republican state chairman, and then Bob Ehrlich picked him to run on his ticket two years ago. Steele was elected with Ehrlich. You don't vote separately for governor and lieutenant governor - just like president and vice president. But I don't mean to minimize his accomplishments. He definitely has a political future, but Maryland registration favors Democrats 2-1, so for him to get elected statewide by himself he will have to win over a lot of Democrats.


Atlanta, Ga.: How does the Republican party justify its opposition to democracy for Americans in the District of Columbia? Why does the GOP support a big federal government over local rule? How does the party platform address the issue of District representation in Congress?

Mark Plotkin: I am very pleased that you are aware of this subject in Georgia. The Republican Party has very little clout in the District. They're only 7 percent of registered voters but they had an opportunity to come out for democracy not only in Baghdad but in D.C. The president in the Washington Post in the fall of 2001 reiterated his total opposition to any form of representation for the residence of the nation's capital. Just last night I asked chief of staff Andrew Card about the issue and his response was the following: "I don't have time to get into that. I am late for an appointment." Newt Gingrich once said on my radio program the following: "Mark, you should be happy. You have more freedom than anyone in Cuba." That pretty much sizes up the Republican point of view. Why Democrats and John Kerry don't make this an issue I don't understand.


Washington, D.C.: Recently you have critized the local Democrats and praised the Republicans over DC voting rights. Yet, as we stand today, the Democrats support voting rights in their platform, and showed a video and speech at the convention.

Meanwhile the Republicans will talk all week about the values of democracy yet will not even support democracy for the citizens of DC.

Seems to me like you got played by the local Republicans who promissed and didn't deliver. Will you call on them to act?

Mark Plotkin: I think you are referring to the article that appeared in the Outlook section this past Sunday. I don't think I got played by the Republicans. I was trying to give them some credit for at least attempting to put some language in the platform which came out for some form of representation for the District. Unfortunately the local party is not aggressive enough nor imaginative enough to make this an important issue. Congresswoman Mellisa Hart of Pennsylvania said the issue has "not caught fire." When questioned further she told me that the constitution precludes representation. This line of thought is quite frankly garbage. Tom Davis of Virginia has a bill that provides representation in the House of Representatives and he is confident there will be some movement on the bill. Let me remind everybody that 16 Republican Senators in 1978 voted for full representation for D.C. in the House and Senate. Such leading liberals as Barry Goldwater, Bob Dole, Strom Thurmond. The only Republican Senator still in the Senate who voted for this is Richard Lugar on Indiana. There are two House members still in the House from '78 - Ralph Regula of Ohio and Jim Leach of Iowa. These three individuals are silent on the issue.


Annandale, Va.: What is your take on the Bush twins' "speech" last night? I know they were trying to soften and humanize the BC04 ticket, but I think it left a lot of people scratching their heads.

Mark Plotkin: I guess I could be diplomatic and say that this was an attempt to reach out to the hip generation but my gut reaction is this was almost a valley-girl imitation or valley-girl presentation. I don't think it helped their public image and whoever wrote this stuff for them definitely doesn't know his audience. The material reminded me of Nelson Rockefeller's remark when asked why he didn't win the 1964 nomination, or for that matter ever won the nomination of the Republican Party, it was: "have you ever been to a Republican convention?" Meaning it's a collection of pretty conservative people who don't break from the mold. Maybe I am being too harsh, but I don't think the twins pulled it off and they were in some ways sabotaged by the stuff that they got.


Washington, D.C.: Well Mark, while the cat's away, the mouse was playing. The DCDSC just held an unprecidented "endorsement" forum, picking and choosing who the local Democratic Party was going to favor in the Democratic Primary. Bolden stated he would use party funds on the _primary_ campaigns of said favored candidates. In the process stomping on all of those lowly rank and file party members who stupidly thought their votes would count at the ward meetings.

His justification? He wants the "best and brightest"...which apparently includes Harold Brazil (need I mention that the Chaiman's allies all won the closed vote?).

It's this kind of Bananna Republic stuff that allows the rest of the country to rationalize not giving us a real vote, and gives people justification in believing their vote is meaningless anyway.

Mark Plotkin: The chairman of the D.C. Democratic Party has every right to change policy and start endorsing candidates. I don't know if this was done with the approval of the Party. It should have been. But the chairman is a very limited individual. There is great dissatisfaction with him and I know there are council members who are planning his removal. Brazil obviously is in trouble That is why they had to do this. WTOP is having a debate on the Friday preceding - Friday, Sept. 10 at 10 a.m. - on the politics program. All three have been invited: Brazil, Brooks, and Brown. So I hope you will tune in.


The Bush Twins: Though I did not see it on TV, I read the transcript of their speech, and what's the big deal? I mean, yeah, it's a little giggly, but it was funny in places, showed some self-deprecation, and genuine affection for their parents. As anyone in DC knows, these two are better known for breaking out fake IDs than for their political savvy. So what were people expecting? I'd rather hear a couple of 22 year olds talk about things they know--like their parents--than be fed a speech about foreign policy.

Mark Plotkin: I think it went beyond that. The Kerry daughter deal was a bit hokey but it had a certain charm to it. This really bordered on vacuous, cutesy, nonsensical political pandering. I don't think they are going to be out front in the near future.


Swing stater: So, I thought Arnold gave a pretty good speach last night, but something raised a question for me. Tom Broakw mentioned that he cited some swing states by name and that this was a reach to those state blah blah blah.. I guess my question has to to with the speach writer and voters in general. Do people really vote for a president because their state was mentioned passingly on National television? Do writers beleive this? Are voters that easliy "bought"?

Mark Plotkin: Arnold speech was really the hit of the convention. It was a masterful presentation. It had red meat, humor, and he delivered it very well. You can't but help like the guy. He comes off as an authentic figure but I agree with you, no swing voters are going to be voting for George Bush because they let Arnold speak. The real story of this convention is who is not allowed to speak. Where is Tom DeLay? He is never mentioned and he is kept so far away from the podium that I believe he must be in Antarctica. The Republican Party does not want a repeat of the Pat Buchanan fiasco and his "cultural war" speech in 1992. That some have felt, and I agree, scared the hell out of Republican moderates. I can't but help repeating the infamous Molly Ivins line that she liked the Buchanan speech when it was "in the original German."


Baltimore, Md.: FYI, Michael Steele was born on Andrews Air Force Base, which is in Prince George's County, Maryland, not the District.

Mark Plotkin: Thanks for the correction. What I meant to say was that he grew up in the District of Columbia in the Petworth section. That I know is correct. Thanks again.


Wheaton, Md.: Giuliani's speech, when he linked the '72 Munich attack and Yasser Arafat to Al Qaeda, showing how the international pattern of appeasement of terrorism led to the 9/11 attacks was brilliant. Does this indicate the war on terrorism and support for Israel will increase when Bush wins?

Mark Plotkin: Rudy Giuliani has always been a strong supporter of the state of Israel. It makes political sense in New York City and I think he is sincere in his support. I also believe that the Republican Party wants to reach out to Jewish voters who only gave George Bush 19 percent last time. Their strategy is to get up to 30-35 percent and in swing states, such as Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, this could be very helpful. I did notice at the Democratic convention that John Edwards mentioned Israel but said it so quickly you hardly heard it. Kerry, I was amazed, did not mention at all his support of Israel in his acceptance speech. Yes, he went after the royal family of Saudi Arabia, but that is not the same as reiterating the historic ties between the U.S. and Israel. I think it was noticed and he needs to do some work on that.


Harrisburg, Pa.: Nelson Rockefeller may live, but don't you get the feel that Republicans are saying to people who liked Rockefeller, and who now like people such as Guiliani, McCain, etc., please give us our votes, and then leave? Is there really a future for moderates and (shudder) liberals in a Republican Party that has been captured by the religious right and corporate conservatives and seems bent on not sharing power with the likes of any Northeast Rockefeller-style Republican?

Mark Plotkin: Moderates in the Republican Party are an endangered species. There was an op-ed piece in Monday's New York Times by former Senator Ed Brooke that was very tough, asking his party to be more inclusive and progressive. In addition a full-page ad was taken out by a group of moderates, former governors Milliken and Cargo, and former Sen. Matthias, expressing the same view. The platform of the party is decidedly conservative and on the issue of stem cell research even the conservatives such as Orin Hatch have changed their position. No less a conservative than formerly disgraced Speaker of the House New Gingrich appeared on a panel saying that the Republican Party if it wants to succeed has to have a prominent moderate wing. Christie Todd Whitman is writing a book saying it is her party too. George Bush knows he has problems with this constituency and that is why you are seeing all these moderate faces on prime time. George Pataki, the governor of New York who definitely would like to be described as a moderate, is placing George Bush's name in nomination on Thursday. You don't see Tom DeLay doing that. He is in the political Guantanamo - invisible and put away somewhere.


Rosslyn, Va.: Teresa Heinz-Kerry got a LOT (way too much in my opinion) of media attention when she told a reporter to "shove it". Do you think the Bush Twins deplorable speech will get that same sort of media attention as Heinz-Kerry's remark?

Mark Plotkin: I definitely think, as journalists are apt to say, this story has legs. It is the first thing everybody is talking about this morning. Maybe it is because these two individuals have been kept off the political stage and there is a novelty to seeing them for the first time in a public venue, but I think their appearance and comments and demeanor will be remembered and the 2004 convention will always include snippets of their remarks. A speech or appearance stays with you because the audience and event is of such major significance. Eugene McCarthy gave a speech in Los Angeles in the 1960 Democratic Convention nominating Adlai Stevenson with these words "do not turn this prophet away…" I remember the speech to this day and people come up to him 44 years later and he told me expect him to regive the speech, so don't underestimate the impact. As Andy Warhol said, everybody gets their 15 minutes, and if you get your 15 minutes at an American political convention, it can last a lifetime.


Mark Plotkin: Vice President Dick Cheney is speaking tonight and I wonder whether or not he will talk about John Kerry's military service. I must disclose that I had something to do with the continuing interest in his military service during the Vietnam era. When he was nominated for Secretary of Defense in 1989 he was asked about his military service and his deferments. He did what I did and legally took every advantage of the system - got student deferments, and marriage deferments, and father deferments. There was nothing wrong with that but when asked about it by John Warner he made this unbelievable remark "I would have been happy to serve if called." I wrote a letter which was published in the Post which basically said I did the same thing, but I hope if asked I would never respond with a statement such as Cheney's. I called George Wilson who wrote the article about the confirmation and he said he would follow-up with Cheney and later wrote an article where Cheney made it even worse by saying "I had other priorities in the 60s." So the Vice President is on very thin ice when it comes to military service and his public statements which have had a very low visibility up to now will by all means resurface and be given much greater attention if he should take on Kerry in a very forceful way on this issue.

See you in two weeks and I know we will have plenty to talk about.


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