Friday, October 27, 2000

Yes, We Have Some Second Bananas!

Yes, We Have Some Second Bananas!

Posted By on Fri, Oct 27, 2000 at 4:00 AM

With Tennessee's 11 electoral votes known to be up for grabs and all the main players in state for comparison purposes this week, one consequence has been to reinforce the impression TV viewers formed some while back about the smoother styles of the vice-presidential candidates vis-a-vis their ticket heads.

Democrat Joe Lieberman and Republican Dick Cheney both came, saw, and conquered.

Lieberman, however, suffered from a disadvantage. His best go, like Cheney's only one, was in Memphis, where the Democrat's remarks were confined to a smallish, throughly screened big-spender audience in private, while Cheney's were let go in full view of a high school assembly and the gathered media.

First, Lieberman: some weeks ago various influential Memphis Democrats, including some activists in the city's Jewish community, hatched the idea of a fundraiser for the Democratic ticket that would galvanize assorted Memphians who had not yet invested much attention in this year's campaign.

Many of those were Jewish, and some of the early planners consequently characterized the event in embryo as a "big Jewish fundraiser." But they intended it to be only one component of an ensemble event that would include a public entertainment on the riverside Mud Island site and might involve Vice President Al Gore as well.

Both the Democratic National Committee and the Tennessee Democratic Victory 2000 committee were lobbied hard for a combination event on the date of October 24th.

A Closed Event

When push came to shove, however, and the direness of the vice president's home-state positon became obvious (he started trailing in several key polls,for example), a decision was made to go to Nashville instead Ñ leaving the Memphis area only the fundraiser.

That ended up not sitting well with Memphis Democrats who feel they've been short-shrifted by the ticket, despite the fact that, over and over again, they've proved their willingness to go to the ends of Tennessee and elsewhere to support Gore's cause.

In any event, Lieberman made his appearance Wednesday night at the East Memphis home of Bernice Cooper, widow of the late Irby Cooper, who died in July. Cooper owned a fleet of hotels (including the East Memphis Hilton and, at one time, Nashville's Hermitage), and was a well-known philaanthropic figure and a consistently supportive one in Democratic ranks.

His son Pace Cooper is picking up more or less where his father left off, and was able to turn out some blue-ribbon political figures (e.g., both Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Sr., his political rival) and donors for the occasion.

In one sense, the event was a clear success-- raising an estimated $600,000 in far less time than it took to raise a claimed $4.3 million in Nashville over two days this week-- but it took place in a vacuum.

Lieberman was, as usual with an audience, both genial and elegant, and he employed his essentially conservative mien to draw contrasts with the rebate-minded Republicans he and Gore are now having to compete with.

Democrats and Solvency

Boasting the current balanced budget and high prosperity, Lieberman told his 70-odd auditors, "It would have been hard for a Democrat to say 15 years ago, but after the last eight years we've earned the right to say we are the party of economic growth and fiscal responsibility."

And he promised: "We're going to continue the growth by balancing the budget, paying down the debt, by living within our means. And then by making choices that have consequences about how we're going to spend what's left of the surplus."

Lieberman minced no words about why he was in Tennessee. "It's been a remarkably close race, and it probably will be right down to the end. but I feel we have got momentum on our side as we head into the last two weeks." Pointedly, he added, "The kind of money you've raised here tonight will keep us on the air in one of the big states for a week. It will allow us to get out the vote in states where that could be a determinant factor."

Lieberman concluded his remarks with an evaluation of the Memphis event that was especially meaningful to the Jewish members of his audience, "This is the last Gore-Lieberman fundraiser of the campaign," he said, comparing it to a siyum (pronounced 'see-yum'), the ceremony that, for a Talmudic student, marks the completion of a stage of study.

There will be one more big fundraiser in the campaign, an official of the D.N.C. explained later, however. This one, in Washington , will involve gay and Lesbian donors and will feature President Bill Clinton.

Bush's Better Half?

The visit of Republican vice-presidential candidate Dick Cheney to Germantown High School in suburban Shelby County was an easy, good-natured outing for the former Defense Department official, who served George Bush the elder during his presidency and now could be a crucial element in the success of George Bush the younger.

The GHS visit followed a breakfast meeting with 30 local Republican cadres, and the sunny mood generated there followed him to the podium in the high school gymnasium.

Two daughters accompanied Cheney to Memphis-- Mary, whose gay lifestyle may have given her markedly tolerant father crossover appeal rather than a cross to bear, and Liz, who introduced Cheney after recalling his probably apochryphal advice to her: "Liz, don't screw this up!"

Speaking in front of a wall mount which sequenced the words "Bipartisanship," "Honor and Integrity," and "Results" over and over, Cheney began by noting that he had done next to no campaigning in his own home state of Wyoming. About the result there, he said, "I am confident." The very fact that the current week had seen Gore-- less than two weeks out from the election-- having to exert himself in his native Tennessee was meaningful, said Cheney. " We're going to carry Tennessee on November 7th."

By the Numbers

Much of Cheney's talk was devoted to numbers. Gore's spending proposals would exceed the expected surplus by some $900 billion, he said. The much-vaunted job reduction claimed by Gore from "reinventing" government had come almost exclusively-- some 85 percent-- from the nation's overly depleted military ranks. 25 people involved with the 1996 Clinton-Gore fundraising effort had been indicted . In his 1998 Texas relection effort, Governor George W. Bush had won 27 percent of the African-American vote and 50 percent of the Hispanic vote.

And so forth and so on. In a curious way, Cheney's numbers game created a bond with his audience. And in the Q and A that followed his brief remarks he disposed of the one or two unfriendly questioners deftly and without malice.

To a student who made unflattering statements about the Reagan administration, Cheney said, affably enough, "Well, I have a somewhat different view of President Reagan than you do. . .", and proceeded into a carefully stated apologia .

(Cheney managed his defense of the Great Communicator, perpetrator of Iran-Contra, while simultaneously chastising the Clinton-Gore administration for what he said was winking at the sale of Russian arms to Iran.)

For all his measured obedience to his team's talking points, however, Cheney avoided anything like the hard line. In his conclusion, he made the obligatory request for his auditors' votes but said, "If you decide to go the other way, that's all right." He noted that his own father had been a lifelong Democrat who reluctantly consented to vote Republican after his son became one of the GOP's stars but insisted on givng his political allegiance a formal review every two years.

So there you had it, two vice-presidential candidates, equally winning, each a vicar for his ticket, the one soaking up bucks in private for use in other states, the other building bridges in public for the sake of winning the state he was in.

Time would tell which was the superior strategy.


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