The Breakfast Table

A Place Called Apathy


So much for the attack-free convention. When the Republicans promised that no part of the four-day program would be devoted to slamming Al Gore, it sounded disingenuous, and it was. Naturally, after Dick Cheney’s “it’s time for them to go” shtick last night, one of W.’s spokesman insisted to a reporter, presumably with a barely straight face, that the keep-it-positive pledge hadn’t been violated, that the speech only drew “contrasts … but far more respectfully than typical politicians.” That’s what they all say. It’s negative advertising when the other guy does it. When you do it, it’s “comparative.” Ugh.

Cheney’s speech, which as these things go was OK–not great, not bad, didn’t hurt Bush, can’t believe it helped him too much except with the red-meat-eaters–raised an interesting issue: To what extent should Gore run as Clinton 2.0? Does the president’s personal baggage convey enough that the veep should cut his losses, cast himself as his own man, and forego whatever credit he’d get for good economic times? Or is the reservoir of Clinton nostalgia that people are submerged in–allegedly; do you know a single submergee?–fuel for the Gore campaign, all mentions of Lewinsky, etc., be damned? Put another way, would it be better for the Democrats for Bush to run against Clinton or Gore? The answer, I think, is that Gore alone, as himself, cannot excite the November electorate. Hell, he can’t even excite his own base. Way, way back, like a year ago, a former high-ranking statewide official here in Texas, a Democrat, confided to me that he was going to support Bill Bradley in the primary even though he’d been tight with Clinton and Gore in the administration’s first term. “Do you know a single Democrat who’s jazzed by the thought of voting for Al Gore?” he asked. “He can’t win.” At the time, within the party this was a sacrilegious view, and it still was when Pat Moynihan said essentially the same thing a few months later, but they were both absolutely right on the facts. I didn’t know anyone particularly psyched to vote for him, and I still don’t. There’s absolutely no enthusiasm for the guy. I thought Nick Lemann’s piece in The New Yorker last week made this point very effectively–was there one person quoted, one scene painted, in which you sensed even the slightest devotion to or genuine affection for Gore? (Sloganeers, start your engines: “I still believe in a place called Apathy.”)

More fodder for the GOP-hates-gays discussion. Andrew Sullivan’s column in the current New Republic notes that Lynne Cheney essentially denied the homosexuality of her openly lesbian daughter, Mary, on ABC’s This Week, while Jerry Falwell described Mary’s lifestyle as “errant.” The question is not whether these two are to be upbraided for their non-compassionate conservatism, but how much and how soon, and whether W. is going to address gay rights, or the shame of the Texas delegation’s reaction to Jim Kolbe’s speech, or Mary Cheney specifically, in his speech Thursday night. I predict not. Another opening for Gore? Hmm, this is getting interesting.