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Instant Analysis With The Post's Robert G. Kaiser

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Monday, Aug. 14, 2000; 11 p.m. EDT

The opening night of the Democratic convention in Los Angeles includes a valedictory address by President Clinton, as well as a major address by New York Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. How much will the opening night addresses by the first family help or hurt the Gore-Lieberman ticket?

Robert G. Kaiser (Post photo)

Discuss your reactions to the first day of the convention in a live online discussion Monday, Aug. 14 with senior correspondent Robert G. Kaiser, The Washington Post's former managing editor. 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.

Robert G. Kaiser: Good evening. Our discussion will begin right after President Clinton's speech. Please file your questions or comments at any time.

Robert G. Kaiser: Well, Democrats never were very good at schedules. Sorry this took so long. We'll now turn to your comments and questions.

Arlington, Va.: Compare this opening night to the first night of the Republican convention in Philly. Do you think one party did a better job than the other? Or at least put on a better TV show?

Robert G. Kaiser: The Democrats had an advantage here: They get two speeches that they know will get a lot of attention. The Republicans had one. Colin Powell did a pretty good job on night one, I thought, but Bill Clinton is such a pro at this, and was having such a good time up there, my hunch is the Democrats win on points for night one. Unless, of course, all American went to bed at 11 eastern time. But night one is far from the ballgame. This is Gore's convention, and he has got to hit the long ball on Thursday night.

Alexandria, Va.: Okay, it's the first night and it's already running long. Are we in for nothing but chaos for the next few days? I'm more apt to turn on "Friends" reruns if this thing runs too long. The staged TV just gets to me.

Robert G. Kaiser: Here's what the Dems. have to worry about. Chaos all week? I wouldn't bet against it.

Washington, D.C.: Do you think it's wise to let Clinton be the attack dog? Should he be so visible in what should be Gore and Lieberman's show?

Robert G. Kaiser: He didn't look like an attack dog to me. He looked like a salesman -- for himself and his record. Will Americans buy the product? They have in the past.

New York, N.Y.: Don't you think Clinton's speech and/or presence totally overshadows Gore and what he's trying to accomplish?

Robert G. Kaiser: This of course is Gore's big challenge. We all know Bill Clinton, and we are pretty sure Al Gore is no Bill Clinton. So how he actually does on Thursday is a very big challenge for him.

Chicago, Ill.: As a journalist, how is it to cover two of these stage shows back to back? Are people really interested after the first few days?

Robert G. Kaiser: Political journalists are, at this stage of the game, essentially oblivious to public opinion about the conventions. Reporters love conventions. We write about them almost endlessly. Tomorrow's Post will have page after page on the convention, as it did two weeks ago. Do people read it? I've never been sure. It's a ritual now, one we are devoted to.

Ohio: What's with Clinton ending his speech with a line from Fleetwood Mac? Come on now!

Robert G. Kaiser: "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" was a sort of Clinton-Gore theme song in '92, wasn't it? I think so. I believe we were seeing instant nostalgia there tonight.

Detroit, Mich.: Clinton's message seems to be, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Is that/will that be effective? Further, how much of the credit can Al Gore possibly take?

Robert G. Kaiser: I confidently predict that Al Gore can take a great deal of credit. The question is, how much will the voters actually give him in November? As I've said several times since this convention season began, history suggests that Americans usually agree with the idea of not fixing what isn't broken. There just aren't cases in recent history of throwing out the incumbent party in the midst of a great boom. Is 2000 going to be the exception? In a way, that's the central question of this campaign, I think.

Anchorage, Alaska: Clinton and Gore stand for everything that we people in Alaska oppose, and yet Gov. Bush also seems very far removed from us due to his uppity background. We get a lot of coverage on Buchanan up here; is it possible that he could win the presidency - or would he just take Republican votes and we'd end up with President Gore?

Robert G. Kaiser: Buchanan has 2-3 percent in polls today, and he has just chosen a John Birch Society member as his running mate. If you have friends who will offer you real money in a wager that Buchanan can win the presidency, I'd suggest you take the bet.

Cincinnati, Ohio: What's Bill Clinton like in person? Is he even more than the ultra-charasmatic person than in public?

Robert G. Kaiser: I've only had one personal conversation with President Clinton, for perhaps three minutes. On that inadequate basis, I would say that his speaking style is more charismatic than his personal manner. But he is famous for his charm, and many have been totally flumoxed by it. Newt Gingrich is a good example.

Knoxville, Tenn.: How much can the Democrats and Clinton/Gore take for the economy's progress since by most measures the economy is cyclical and up to pretty much economic advisors and things like the Federal Reserve? Isn't it more or less to Clinton's "credit" that he just didn't screw things up?

Robert G. Kaiser: It seems to be an enduring fact of American politics that sitting presidents get credit for the state of the economy, good or bad. And it seems to me to be an enduring fact of economics that the president usually has very little to do with the ups and downs of the economy -- that's what the economists say, anyhow. Clinton arguably deserves some credit for the '93 tax bill that put the economy on the road toward a budget surplus, but he never would have gotten to that destination without pressure from the Republican Congress to cut spending too.

Detroit, Mich.: Are the American people really going to buy that electing a guy named Bush will instantly change the economy?

Robert G. Kaiser: Beats me.

Washington, D.C.: Statement: I am happy with the results of two Clinton terms. I would like to see at least one term to see what Gore will do.

I would like to see some explanation and substance behind some of the Republican attacks. The Republicans had the booming economy of the 80's but let it go to blazes. I have yet to see any indication that the same will happen under Gore.

Under the Republicans, and their tax cut for Bill Gates, I see recession, deficits, and high interest rates.

Robert G. Kaiser: Another point of view...

Diamond Bar, Calif.: Is Al Gore privately fuming right now about Clinton's tepid, and late, mentions of Al's participation?? Seems to me the pres. was running for reelection.

Robert G. Kaiser: I won't try to read Al Gore's mind, but I thought Clinton did him a favor tonight by so sharply drawing a portrait of his administrations' accomplishments (whether or not the portrait would stand up to rigorous analysis).

Washington, D.C.: What'd you think of Terry McAuliffe taking the podium. Is the image of Mr. Soft Money Fund-Raiser addressing the party faithful really the image they want to convey?

Robert G. Kaiser: I don't think McAuliffe got much airtime on the channels most people watch. I guess that was his thank you for the hundreds of millions he has raised.

Washington, D.C.: So all hell is breaking loose at the Reform Party convention. Factions are warring. There are arguments over the nominees. There's dissent. There are struggles. The outcome isn't guaranteed. Isn't that the kind of convention that everyone keeps saying they wished were happening now? Isn't that better than the pre-programmed shows? Then why isn't it getting more coverage?

Robert G. Kaiser: Interesting question. Obviously if this was 8 years ago, when the Reform candidate had 20 percent support in the national polls, that convention would have gotten a lot more attention than it did. But Buchanan has shown no capacity this year for attracting meaningful support. Personally I think we're watching the sputtering out of the Reform Party fire. Where, after all, is Ross Perot? Not a peep out of him through all this.

Chula Vista, Calif.: I was surprised that there was no talk about what the Democrats will do for my demographic: namely, exceedingly fit 20-somethings. Do you think we'll hear more about this in the next few days?

Robert G. Kaiser: Well, maybe by posting your comment here we will alert Gore and Lieberman to the need to say something substantive about Granola, or Stair Masters, or something along those lines.

Los Angeles, Calif.: What did you think of Hillary Clinton's speech?

Robert G. Kaiser: Not bad, I thought when it ended, but my guess is that most people's memory of it was overwhelmed by her husband's much more forceful performance. But that's a guess.

Ohio: Is Ralph Nader really going to be a factor in this election?

Robert G. Kaiser: If he can hold on to 5-10 percent of the vote -- the neighborhood he's in today in the polls -- he'll be a big factor, I think. But can he do that? Gore's situation reminds me a little of Hubert Humphrey's in 1968. Then, like Nader supporters today, Eugene McCarthy supporters vowed they would never support Humphrey. In the end most of them did, but it's possible that just enough didn't to cost HHH the election (which was much closer than most people remember).

Detroit, Mich.: It seems as though every article I read about Bush's Social Security plan is negative as in it will return less in actual money and deplete the reserves that are already in the system. It seems like Gore and the Democrats can really slam him on this one, where did Bush get this plan from?

Robert G. Kaiser: I suspect we'll hear a lot more about Social Security this week. Bush's plan was drawn up by his economic advisors, including some smart professors and former government officials. It does make some hopeful assumptions that leave it open to the kind of criticism you've been hearing. You'll hear more.

San Francisco: How does a government go about building "one America"? Doesn't that statement just stink of mass socialization?

Robert G. Kaiser: Well, your comment indicates that it won't please everyone! I just don't know how the swing voters who will decide this election might respond to Clinton's comments about ONE America tonight.

Washington, D.C.: I thought that Hillary Rodham Clinton's reference to coining of the motto "Leave no child behind" motto, widely used during the Republican National Convention, was brilliant. How do you think the public will react to this?

Robert G. Kaiser: Interesting comment. I can't answer your question, I just don't know.

San Diego, Calif.: I thought President Clinton's speech was great -- if HE was running for reelection. He could have spent at least 10% of the time talking about Al. He made an excellent case for continuing the policies of the last 8 years, but not necessarily the case that Al is the man to continue them. I think part of the problem is that Clinton is so high on himself that he is somewhat reluctant to share the spotlight.

Robert G. Kaiser: Another good comment...

Anchorage, Alaska: Hasn't Clinton got to be a little galled by the fact that Gore picked Lieberman as V.P.? And with all respect to Judaism, why not at least pick a Reform Jew so that no one has to fret over whether the V.P. work is important enough for breaking Sabbath requirements?

Robert G. Kaiser: I've wondered the same thing. As to reform vs. orthodox, the reaction so far suggests that the country may actually like a seriously religious person better than a not so serious type. Lieberman has made it clear that he would not ignore compelling duties to observe the Sabbath, and several rabbis have endorsed the view that he would be right to put duty first in such a high office.

Chicago, Ill.: Re: earlier comment,
Bush spoke as if Clinton and Gore were essentially the same person. I guess the Clinton thought that he should rebut on the same terms.

Robert G. Kaiser: perhaps so...

New York, N.Y.: Shame to you for being impartial towards Republicans and not giving the credit for Democrats for their achievements?. SHAME ON YOU !!!

Robert G. Kaiser: I'm not sure what I did wrong here, but I wanted to share you analysis with everyone.

Poolesville, Md.: What does it look like Gore will focus on Thursday night?

Robert G. Kaiser: It sounds from the spin we're getting like Gore will give us quite a laundry list of policy proposals on Thursday night. And he certainly understands that this is the most important chance he's had yet to define himself independently of Bill Clinton, so I expect we'll hear quite a lot of family history, perhaps starting with his father's dirt-poor farmer parents. Just a guess.

Arlington, Va.: It didn't seem that Mrs. Clinton's speech was more about Al Gore than about Hillary Clinton as it was billed. Your impression?

Robert G. Kaiser: A word count would confirm your analysis, I think.

Detroit, Mich.: How will Gore go about dealing with the very different views between him and Lieberman on some issues? Will one bend and change (Lieberman) or both stick to their guns or something different?

Robert G. Kaiser: My sense is that this is pretty easy for Gore and Lieberman to deal with. Gore stands tall and says I'm the boss, he'll follow me. And Lieberman agrees. And then where's the issue?

Washington, D.C.: Egads! A journalist trying to be impartial, provide information and analysis, and allowing readers to draw their own conclusions!? Yeah, shame on you indeed Bob.

Robert G. Kaiser: Warning: My mother lives in Washington, D.C...

Wheaton, Ill.: People "poo-poo" the notion of media bias but why is is that the Dems' convention merits coverage of all three major networks whereas the GOP convention merited only that of ABC? Is it simply because Clinton spoke? This hardly seems equitable and it is irresponsible journalism.

Robert G. Kaiser: This is the sort of criticism the networks invite by being so cheap with their prime time for these conventions. In fact NBC and CBS devoted some time (in the midst of their Monday night news magazine shows) to the GOP's first night, but of course you're right, Clinton got a lot more attention from them tonight. Sitting presidents have always enjoyed a certain deference, and this was an example of that. To my editor's eye, the news value of the president's speech was greater than the news value of anything that happened on the GOP's first night, but that's just my opinion. I'd argue that the networks should give up three hours a night in the dead of summer to cover both conventions thoroughly. I don't own a network, however.

Robert G. Kaiser: We have let this go on long enough! Thanks to all for the lively discussion. We'll be back tomorrow at 11, or after the show ends. Good night.

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