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Instant Analysis With The Post's Robert G. Kaiser

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Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2000; 11 p.m. EDT

Former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley, Al Gore's rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, takes the podium in Los Angeles on Tuesday night to endorse the vice president's bid for the White House in front of a national TV audience. Tuesday's convention proceedings also include major speeches by Rev. Jesse Jackson, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.), Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and her uncle, Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, as well as the keynote address by Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.).

Robert G. Kaiser (Post photo)

Post senior correspondent and former managing editor Robert G. Kaiser discussed your reactions to the Democratic gathering in Los Angeles on after the gavel on Tuesday, Aug. 15. 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 and welcome back to the washingtonpost.com post-convention instant analysis and discussion. We're eager to hear from anyone with an opinion on tonight's speech-making, the campaign, you name it. Well, almost.

Los Angeles, Calif.: So tonight is the big appeal-to-the-base, liberal it up night? Is this base shrinking so much that the Democrats can only afford to do it one night instead of more?

Robert G. Kaiser: Interesting question. I suspect both Lieberman tomorrow night and Gore on Thursday night will include a good deal of rhetoric aimed at the Democratic base, but both will also offer New Democratic positions too, hoping to appeal to moderate swing voters. I'm not sure about your premise. I noticed in our last poll that the number of Americans who call themselves liberal or moderate is substantially higher than the number classifying themselves as conservative or very conservative. Of course it's the moderate group where the action will be this fall. But the liberals remain very important to the Democratic Party.

Washington, D.C.: Jesse Jackson -- couldn't he give Al Gore lessons in how to give a speech?

Robert G. Kaiser: You could say he has been providing those lessons at least since 1984, when, I believe, Jackson addressed a Democratic convention for the first time, up in San Francisco. I was taken aback by the Rev.'s glasses and the fact that he was so tied to his text tonight, but that was only a distraction for a few minutes, I thought. He wound it up once again, and has some marvelous lines -- or so it seemed to this envious wordsmith. Even the ungrammatical ones could hit the mark -- "Keep America out the Bushes," for example.

Waukegan, Ill.: Sir,

Do you have an opinion as to the fairness of the network coverage so far? It seems like they are devoting more hours to the Democrats, or is that just my imagination?

Robert G. Kaiser: I don't have a stopwatch, but during Bill Bradley's speech I used my clicker to check around, and discovered that he wasn't on any network. No question the Democrats got more coverage for their first night than the Republicans did. As we discussed last night, this was because the Democrats this time have the incumbent president, and the networks are still afraid to cut him off. But that's about all they're afraid of. Once, long ago, network owners thought the fact that they made money by exploiting a public domain, the airwaves, meant they had a public service obligation. The government agreed, and required certain public service gestures by the nets. But that era is long gone, as are those regulations.

Pittsburg, Pa.: Under the Clinton/Gore presidency more people have become uninsured, the gap between the rich and the poor has increased, and the poverty problem persists as it did ever before. How are the new Democrats really Democrats when the causes they "fight" for, nothing really has changed in the past eight years...or even gotten worse?

Robert G. Kaiser: I think your factual assertions are all correct, though the list is obviously incomplete. People on welfare? Way down. Real wages for working-class Americans? Considerably up...and so on. But the number of people without health insurance is up nearly ten million. Now, is that the government's fault? Plenty of room for debate there, I think.

Detroit, Mich.: The Democratic tagline "the illusion of inclusion" falls flat with me since basically the RNC was about the future of the Republican Party, not so much its current state which has a lot of work to do. Further, why do the Democrats have and will basically continue to have a strangle-hold on the African-American vote?

Robert G. Kaiser: Anyone who has seen Bill Clinton speaking before a black audience in the last eight years can attest that the president has a special bond with African Americans. Many experts, and many black politicians and writers, have offered explanations for this fact; I don't have them all at my fingertips here. In my experience many black Americans have a powerful instinct for who their friends are. The modern Democrats, going back to the civil rights legislation of the '60s, obviously won the allegiance of the overwhelming majority of black voters. But never all of them -- stranglehold is certainly too strong. Ten to twenty percent of blacks vote Republican now, and in Texas, George W. Bush won more than a third of the black vote when he ran for reelection, if my memory is accurate (about a 50-50 possibility). He did do well among black voters, I am certain.

Ohio: Today Clinton "officially" passed the torch to Gore. How much of a factor will Clinton be in this election?

Robert G. Kaiser: This is a difficult question for me to try to answer. I was intently involved in The Post's coverage of the '88 campaign, and I remember thinking in late September or early October of that year how surprised I was that Ronald Reagan did not seem to be that big a factor in the campaign. But of course he was a huge factor in creating the context in which the campaign was conducted. The same will be true of Clinton this time, regardless of how prominent he seems to you and me by October 1, say.

Detroit, Mich.: I know this is going back to yesterday, also its a general question. Isn't there a hazard of using a large quantity of statistics to back your case when (hopefully) everyone knows statistics can be manipulated every which way. As an example, the president said that income increased by $5,000 -- what about inflation and what about increased taxes? Real wages.....

Robert G. Kaiser: I think this is an evergreen question. Absolutely, statistics can be manipulated every which way. But there are also truths that can be expressed in numerical terms. Americans are considerably better off, on average, than they were eight years ago, though we could spend all night arguing by how much, or how to measure the change. Inflation, as you know, has been low during these years, but not non-existent; it's probably averaged just under two percent over the eight Clinton years. That adds up, especially with compounding. The 22 million jobs the Dems like to brag about are real -- whether or not politicians created any of them. And, perhaps most important of all for our grandchildren, the change in the deficit situation is absolutely real. When Clinton came in the deficit was nearly $300 billion and still growing, after many years of the biggest deficits in peacetime history. Now there are no deficits. Of course, Republicans can claim some of the credit for the budgets that made that possible.

Tennessee: What did Bill Bradley have to gain by supporting the man who tore him to pieces during the primaries?

Robert G. Kaiser: I guess I can offer a cynical answer, and an optimistic one. The latter first: Bradley really believes the country would be better off with Gore than with Bush. The cynical option: Bradley would be an instant front-runner for 2004 if Gore loses this time. Winning the 2004 nomination (against Lieberman, maybe?) would be much easier if the party loyalists who lined up behind Gore this year remembered Bradley as a loyalist himself. Of course, both these answers might be accurate. And they might not, too!

Calverton, Md.: Any truth to the claim that the Gore family made part of its fortune growing tobacco?? If so, is he vulnerable here?

Robert G. Kaiser: The Gores grew tobacco. Whether that's a vulnerability or not I can't say. Is it for you?

Detroit, Mich.: Can the Democratic Party really unite behind Al Gore? I mean, he's not exactly a fire-breather; and this whole constant image changing thing makes him look like quite the phoney.

Robert G. Kaiser: You've put your finger on why Gore's speech Thursday night is so important. It's his last, best hope to unite the party for the full fall campaign -- which is going to be an odd one this year, because the unusually late Olympics are going to take two weeks out of it in the second half of September. My hunch is that the answer to your question is literally yes -- Gore CAN unite the party. But will he? No prediction from me on that. Let's talk Thursday night.

Detroit, Mich.: Random comment -- It seems to me that whoever is elected this November is going to be a one term president since the economy will come back to reality and get into a recession. Poor Bush.....again....

Robert G. Kaiser: This and the next one need no comment from me...

Bangor, Maine: Is there some irony in the fact that a major reason Gore chose Lieberman was to give him some character credibility while at the DNC the notorious Ted Kennedy spoke?

Robert G. Kaiser: As I said above...

Fullerton, Calif.: Issues aside, how important is simple "likeability"? Gore is sure a stiff and Bush seems so personable.

Robert G. Kaiser: Hey, every registered voter gets to answer this one his/her own way. I've always suspected that for many Americans, electing a president is sort of like electing a king. Who's the most appropriate royal figure? This might be a reason why the tallest candidate almost always wins. (Gore, as you probably know, is several inches taller than Bush.)

Tennessee: Seriously, does Gore have a chance? Bush leads and has led (and will continue to lead) in basically every statistical category. Even the gender gap is nonexistent and he is tapping into usual Democratic strongholds (namely, minorities). Also, Gore has about eight years of being portrayed as about the most boorish person on the face of the Earth and sure isn't doing anything to excite much of anyone.

Robert G. Kaiser: As I've been saying since the beginning of the Republican convention, my reading of history says Gore has an excellent chance, despite the shortcomings you note, and a lot more we could list too. Why? Because, history indicates, Americans almost never toss out the incumbent party in the midst of an economic boom, and we are currently in one of the strongest, perhaps the strongest expansion of the post-war era.

Cincinnati, Ohio: How can Lieberman justify running both as V.P and also in the Senate? Is he afraid that if they lose he will be out of a job?

Robert G. Kaiser: I'll be very interested to see if this becomes an issue. Did you see Sen. Daschle, the Democratic leader in the Senate, being interviewed tonight? I think it was on MSNBC. He's obviously not thrilled that Lieberman has taken a course of action that might result in losing a Democratic seat in the Senate. (This would happen if Gore-Lieberman win, because the Republican governor of Connecticut would then name Lieberman's successor, who could hold the seat for two years until a special election.) Under Connecticut law Lieberman could decide as late as October 27, I believe, to step aside in favor of another Democrat. Will pressure build on him to do that? I just don't know.

Knoxville, Tenn.: Speaking of Gore's speech....what version of Gore will we see? The "Earth in the Balance" tree hugger, the laid-back khaki/polo guy, the policy wonk, the stiff as a board VP, etc, etc?

Robert G. Kaiser: Or all of the above? the pressure is really mounting on Gore, it seems to me. And he is his own speechwriter, just as he was the actual author of "Earth in the Balance." SO it's really up to him. I hope a lot of you will take up the critic's role and give us your assessments of his performance Thursday night.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks to all for the provocative questions. I'll try to do this again tomorrow night at about 11. Good night.

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