Instant Analysis With The Post's Robert G. Kaiser|
Thursday, Aug. 3, 2000; 11 p.m. EDT
Thursday night's acceptance speech by Texas Gov. George W. Bush closes
the Republican National Convention and starts his fall campaign for the
White House. Was the convention a successful start to Bush's general
election campaign? What did you think of the GOP's message? How will
Democrats respond at their convention this month in Los Angeles?
Discuss your reactions to the Republican convention on Thursday, Aug. 3 in a live online discussion with Washington Post senior
correspondent and former managing editor Robert G. Kaiser. The transcript follows.
Robert G. Kaiser
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.
Robert G. Kaiser:
Good evening and welcome to washingtonpost.com's post-convention discussion and analysis, tonight of the acceptance speech of George W. Bush. I hope we can hear the opinions of a great many readers on this speech, and I'll try to answer any questions.
Robert G. Kaiser:
The first dozen questions are all good ones. I'll get to them right away.
Where's the beef? Platitudes from on empty hat.
Robert G. Kaiser: We have quite a range of opinions, from this one...
I thought that was an excellent speech...what was your take?
Robert G. Kaiser: To this one. And more, coming up.
Virginia Beach, Va.:
On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rate this speech?
Robert G. Kaiser: But I'll start with this one. I'd give it an 8.9 -- at least. Lot of good lines there (the Internet one seemed awfully clever to this wordsworth), and a very solid George W. Bush. The smirk we used to see wasn't there tonight. He looked firm and resolute. And I thought he did an excellent job putting Gore, and Clinton, on the defensive. Picking on them for not using this period of prosperity to deal definitively with the financing of Social Security and Medicare seems shrewd to me. But I should add that I don't remember seeing a bad acceptance speech. These things are almost doomed to succeed. The candidate is pumped, the audience is giving him all kinds of support, he's been working on it for months -- it stands to reason that it should go well.
Not really a question, but a point. Bush mentioned that her was proud to be in the city where Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington came...(can't recall the rest). I hope that he was not referring to the Constitutional Convention, because Jefferson was in France at the time. This would constitute a real screw up for a guy who is criticized for not being the bright.
Robert G. Kaiser: I guess he could have been talking about the Declaration of Independence.
Will the overall negative tone of Bush's speech backfire? Is breaking every political rule (don't attack your predicessor, or your opponent at the convention) in the book a good idea? How can he complain of negative campaigning now?
Robert G. Kaiser: I'm not sure which rule book you are referring to. Attacking the opponent at a convention isn't new to me. But your overall question is a good one: How will Bush's challenges to Clinton/Gore be received by independent and swing voters -- as negative, or as appropriate? I'm not going to guess tonight, but we'll know soon enough.
Simple, what's the platform? What will he change for the better and how will he pay for it while cutting taxes and increasing spending?
One big question; how long till deficit spending returns? You know it and so do I. What a waste.
Robert G. Kaiser: The economics were a little vague, no question about it. We're going to deploy missile defense (many billions), spend more on defense generally, "support" all sorts of domestic initiatives, cut taxes substantially and end the inheritance tax. Does it add up? The Washington Post's experts say it does not.
Chapel Hill, N.C.:
I thought Bush's mentioning that he would sign a partial birth abortion bill into law was unnecessary. Surely, he has already consolidated his conservative base so why did he feel the need to inject the abortion issue into his speech? Doesn't he risk alienating the women voters that the entire GOP has worked so hard this week to lure?
Robert G. Kaiser: Presidential politics is tricky. Bush went out of his way tonight to reassure the conservative base of the GOP that he is their guy -- not only on abortion, but on taxes, faith-based programs for troubled Americans, and several other points. He needs his base, even as he needs independents and some Democrats. But he offered them a lot too, including some rhetoric on the poor and minorities that we have never heard coming from the mouth of a modern Republican.
As someone who wanted McCain v. Bradley, I think Bush has done a passable job, while basically making a Democrat-esque speech. But like the rest of the convention, he has struck the tone of a comfortable front-runner. I am curious what kind of bounce he will get out of this play-it-safe approach. Bush has not hurt himself, but he seems to have missed an opportunity to connect with the broader electorate or to show the gravity normally expected of a presidential candidate
Robert G. Kaiser: This is a thoughtful comment, and it could certainly be right. I just don't know yet what the public's reaction will be. He did act like a front-runner, and a very confident one. That is an odd pose to strike when you're running against an incumbent administration that has presided over a literally unprecedented boom.
How do you think George W. compares as a speaker to his father? Do you think he comes across as sincere?
Robert G. Kaiser: I guess the answer to this one is in the eye of the beholder. I thought the son did a good job; I don't remember his father doing that well except once: at HIS acceptance speech in New Orleans in 1988 -- probably the best speech of his career. More support for my point that you don't see bad acceptance speeches.
Do you think he said so little in the way of economics because he currently has the lead and didn't want to risk sticking his foot in his mouth?
Robert G. Kaiser: Maybe.
Why do both parties make a big deal over education when the federal government does almost nothing for education except mandate money be spent on special education and handicap access?
Robert G. Kaiser: This question cries out for a cynical answer, to wit: Polls show that the one, perhaps the only issue that seems to have real national sweep and impact this year is education. Every candidate for every office is going to be talking about education this year. You might say this is going to be the education election.
In my personal opinion it was a great speech. I think its best quality was its breadth. It outlined his policy proposals, had some person anecdotes and statements, enunciated "compassionate conservatism," and called for a new beginning and end to the Clinton/Gore era. But what was with the cowbells by the Texas delegation?
Robert G. Kaiser: And what about those Texas hats?
Besides the veiled (and not so veiled)attacks on Clinton/Gore, one of the most loudly applauded statements was about protecting the lives of the unborn. How pro-life is George W. Bush? In Texas he did institute under 18 parental notifications, but he has long ago said that abortion won't be a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees....
Robert G. Kaiser: I guess we have to take him at his word. He's strongly pro-life. He even promised to sign a ban on "partial-birth" abortions, though the Supreme Court recently ruled against state attempts to ban them, and did so in terms that, legal experts say, would make it hard to get any such ban past the justices in the future.
It seemed as though Bush made a concerted effort to look more "presidential," especially filling the week-long gap of at least giving outlines of his proposed policy initiatives. Was this effective and how much of a problem is his remarked "inexperience" and "fitness to be president?"
Robert G. Kaiser: Seemed to me that he did a good job looking presidential, but again, this is the sort of judgment each voter will have to make for herself.
Can the nation run on platitudes?
Robert G. Kaiser: And why did the chicken cross the road?
What's the rationale for tax-cuts when the fed. is devoting all its energy to cooling off the economy?
Robert G. Kaiser: Excellent question. Big tax cuts now would certainly be very stimulative; Mr. Greenspan doesn't want any more stimulation. I think you've put your finger on an argument we may hear from Gore.
Robert G. Kaiser:
I've just read through another 20 or so questions and, at the risk of sounding like Wayne Newton at one of his Las Vegas performances, I want to say that you washingtonpost.com readers are awfully smart and thoughtful! Thank you for all the good comments. Now back to the questions...
Robert G. Kaiser: Can this Web site live on platitudes alone?
Do you think it will come back to haunt Bush that he accused Gore of "running in borrowed clothes" when the majority of his symbols were borrowed from the Democrats and his best lines were borrowed from Reagan, FDR, and King?
This and the very negative tone seem doomed to backfire. It's the same mistake the Republicans made during impeachment -- wishing that the nation hated Clinton the way the Republicans do.
Robert G. Kaiser: Here's one of those smart comments I was just referring to. A very interesting point. You might say that Bush tonight used Bill Clinton tactics: trying to co-opt opposition arguments and heros for his own purposes. And I thought he did it well. But of course he does leave himself open to the points made by this reader.
Ellicott City, Md.:
Some specific issues were finally touched upon at this convention in Governor Bush's speech. Do you think that some openings were created for the Democrats to react to and establish differences and get back to the issues that have been overshadowed by the overflowing goodwill and appearence of unity that has permeated this convention?
Robert G. Kaiser: Absolutely. I suspect Democrats saw lots of opportunities in this speech.
He said not to be judgmental. What do you think he does on Clinton?
Robert G. Kaiser: Er, ah, judgmental -- but in a POLITICAL sense, of course. You're right, politicians get themselves into the funniest corners sometimes.
Does Bush realize that Bill Clinton is not running again? Does Bush realize that his remarks about wasting the surplus sound rather ridiculous considering the fact that there was no surplus when Poppy left office.
Bad speech. Boring speech. Sad.
Robert G. Kaiser: I can't exactly answer your questions, but I think the point about the deficit might become an important one. The deficit Bill Clinton inherited was huge, and it was getting steadily bigger. Reagan and Bush Sr. ran up trillions of new national debt. Now we have a surplus. This is certainly Democratic fodder.
You have said a few times that you really enjoyed the speech, while I have to agree that it was good in terms of writing, strong lines, etc., it didn't really seem to have much substance. He attacked Clinton/Gore with his 'responsiblity' and 'no borrowed suit' lines, etc. Not only was it old rhetoric, but it is also hypocritical. Bush
hasn't shown much personal responsibility as a young adult or in any of his business/political careers, and he has used his father's name to get ahead in almost every aspect of his life. What is your take?
Robert G. Kaiser: You're trying to push a reporter into territory where only editorial writers should dwell.
Am I wrong in thinking that the convention signals that the Republicans have nowhere to go ideologically?
If voters are going to choose those least likely to mess up the "prosperity" and Bush selling something other than the "path of least resistance" we've apparently been following, why would voters choose this lightweight to lead them into more pain?
Robert G. Kaiser: Another precinct heard from...
San Francisco, Calif.:
Much of what "W" said sounded great -- too bad most of it was either a load of Texas bull or pie in the sky. I agree that the current administration, while presiding over the most prosperous time in our history, didn't accomplish as much as it could have. But I also think that nobody can really achieve much under our stale, old two-party system. Bush can talk all he wants about achieving, but would run up against the same brick wall Congress that all presidents do. What we need is a legitimate 3rd or even 4th party to break up the dichotomy of Congress, or an Independent president to effectively do the same.
Robert G. Kaiser: And another...
George Washington was not at the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Robert G. Kaiser: You are right about that -- I was thinking of Jefferson, whom the earlier questioner mentioned. But George was at the Continental Congress later, no?
From remarks Bush made tonight, it seems apparent that the GOP is counting on "Clinton fatigue" to propel Bush to victory. Your thoughts and how do you rate this 8.9? I've been watching acceptance speeches for 30 years and this was nowhere near that good.
Robert G. Kaiser: You've deflated my balloon. The precision of my 8.9 was meant to be humorous; as I've said on previous nights, I've learned, painfully, over many years, that my reactions to these speeches and similar events can be wildly at odds with public perceptions -- yours, for example. I do think Bush looked better tonight than he has in other set-piece situations this year, and I genuinely admired some of the good writing in the speech, but I have no idea really how to rate it, or how the crucial swing voters might react to it.
What was George W.'s response to the kid in the jail who asked the question: What do you think of me? Does anyone know?
Robert G. Kaiser: Anybody out there know this answer? I don't.
Detroit, Mich. :
But Gore wants to put all of the surplus into basically government spending (Medicare and prescription drugs) along with a tax cut of his own. Isn't that putting the same inflationary pressure as one big tax cut?
Robert G. Kaiser: Gore says he wants to use a lot of the surplus to continue paying down the debt. But he also has a laundry list of spending initiatives of his own. Yes, both candidates are vulnerable to this criticism, for sure.
Why is the press bending over backwards to praise George Bush but continues to be cynical about Al Gore? Is the election over?
Robert G. Kaiser: The election is not over. I agree with you that Bush has gotten a freer ride from the news media, broadly speaking, than Gore has. I think the media are often friendly to challengers. I also think Gore's refusal to hold press conferences, deal openly with reporters, or confront certain issues he prefers to avoid aggravates his media relations. But I suspect that coverage of Bush will be more aggressive between now and NOvember.
How much of a "bounce" can Bush expect from this convention? Or at least, what is typical? Finally, why did Bush get such a large "pre-convention bounce?" Does that mean anything?
Robert G. Kaiser: I always remember that Michael Dukakis left his 1988 convention in Atlanta with a 17 point lead over Bush Sr. in the Gallup Poll. That was a big lead. And you know what happened to it. I don't know the average convention bounce, but it is considerable. Bush's pre-convention bounce struck me as unusual, but I'm not sure I'm right about that.
His answer to the kid was, "Keep your nose clean and you won't get electrocuted." Just my guess.
Robert G. Kaiser: One hypothesis...
Maybe I started watching the convention late, but when did African-Americans and women take over the Republican Party and dare to lecture the assembled crowd of white guys in cowboy hats?
Robert G. Kaiser: I forget the date...
Don't you think the Clinton/Bush election is a repeat of the 80's? I feel like I'm going in reverse instead of toward future.
Robert G. Kaiser: I share your frustration. America seems stuck just now -- we haven't found ways to talk about our problems, nor passion to confront them. My own theory is that we're still in a post-war emotional trough, recovering from the end of the Cold War -- a much more traumatic event than we have found ways to articulate. But that's just a theory. Wasn't Bush looking for a way to confront this general problem tonight? I thought he was.
In a recent "Business Week" poll in answering the question "Who would do a better job in preparing the education system for the information age," the results were a dead-heat. If education is G.W.'s number one issue, why isn't he doing as well as one would think?
Robert G. Kaiser: Partly, no doubt, because for years the Democrats have enjoyed a big advantage on questions like the one in Business Week. Bush has closed the gap.
I'm interested in your thoughts on this. If Clinton would have resigned (around the whole Monica-gate), allowing Gore to become president, how different might tonight's speech had been and how might the campaign be different? Does it seem likely that Gore would be better off today having performed as president and having Clinton's poor integrity out of the way?
Robert G. Kaiser: Of course everything would have been different. I remember a lot of intense discussion of just this point in Washington when the Monica Lewinsky story first broke. But Clinton didn't resign, as I recall. So your question becomes another 'What if...'
I have a procedural question. Does the party that does not occupy the presidency always have their convention first?
Robert G. Kaiser: yes
Is there actually a surplus, given the trillions in debt? How can we give back the money to the tax payers, cut taxes across the board and spend more on defense and health care and education without returning to absolute deficit spending?
Robert G. Kaiser: We are enjoying a budget surplus--that is to say, revenues have been exceeding expenditures for two fiscal years. Our national debt is more than $5 trillion, if memory serves (which it doesn't always).
Other than rating the speech an 8.9, your role here seems mostly as cheerleader for everyone else's remarks. Why don't you offer some insights?
Robert G. Kaiser: Hey, it's late.
As for the new inclusion of minorities as a focus of the Republican party isn't is a possibility that they are not entirely counting on minorities to switch parties or go to them, but that the real focus is on basically white, independent voters. The Repubs in essence are trying to change their image for the independent whites that vote, make themselves more palatable and more in tune with the nation's political landscape.
Robert G. Kaiser: I think you may be absolutely right. At the same time, a small pick up in minority votes could go a long way for Bush in a close election.
Do you think that Gore scared any conservatives into the arms of Buchanan? He seemed to be trying to run as Reagan and FDR at the same time.
Robert G. Kaiser: I think you mean did BUSH scare conservatives into Buchanan's arms? And if you do, I can't really answer. As I said earlier, I thought Bush went pretty far to reassure conservatives tonight. At the same time, some of them may still have been alarmed by his non-traditional rhetoric on social and racial issues.
I have another allegedly smart comment. Another thing that may come back to haunt Bush: Al Gore WAS there at the start of the Internet, and he, more than anyone, got it funding and legislative protection.
Robert G. Kaiser: We've reported Gore's extensive role supporting early development of the Internet in The Post. That is of course somewhat different than inventing the Internet, a remark he has since retracted--or at least amended--I believe.
Baton Rouge, La.:
Isn't the more intense right-wing part of the Republican Party going to tire of being swept under the rug and cause problems for Bush, either during the election or after (if he wins)?
Robert G. Kaiser: Intriguing question. I noted with interest that when Bush denounced partisan bickering in Washington, Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas rose to his feet to cheer. Something has gotten into those conservative Republicans this week. I have no idea if it will stick.
Ellicott City, Md.:
The Republicans managed this convention brilliantly. Perhaps I'm not showing the swing voters enough respect, but will they be able to look beyond the good will of this produced convention and make decisions based on the issues? Do you have any feeling for how deeply voters think in general when making their decisions?
Robert G. Kaiser: Voters are just people, to state the obvious. People do things in different ways, for different reasons. I don't think we can generalize. But I do know that the atmosphere of tonight will be, at best, a vague and distant memory in November. The impressions the Republicans left from their convention will be part of the baggage those swing voters carry with them into the voting booth, but I suspect not a crucial part. The debates will be important. The Los Angeles convention can alter the way we all think about this convention. And so on. Remember Yogi: It ain't over...
Robert G. Kaiser:
You've worn me out. Thanks for all the comments and questions. We'll do this again from Los Angeles. Good night.
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