Tuesday, October 24, 2000

Where's Bill?

That's the main question anxious Democrats are asking; meanwhile, Lieberman will be here this week, and Al's coming later.

Posted By on Tue, Oct 24, 2000 at 4:00 AM

The envelope, please: Answers are No, Yes, and Who Knows? The questions are: Is Gore coming to Memphis this week? Is Lieberman coming to Memphis? Is Gore going to do what everybody in politics except himself and his immediate entourage thinks is necessary: i.e., invite Bill Clinton out on the campaign trail with him while there's still time?

Gore: The vice president will be everywhere but Memphis this week. He and wife Tipper will be in Little Rock Tuesday morning, then will fly to Shreveport, Louisiana, then to Nashville, where Lieberman and wife Hadassah will join up for a pair of shebangs (a Wild Horse Saloon affair and a DNC fundraiser) Tuesday night. Another couple of ops in the state capital on Wednesday, and then the Democratic ticket will go to Jackson for an afternoon event.

That's the closest Gore will come to Memphis until the weekend before the election, when (U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., one of his state co-chairs, promises) he will domicile overnight in Memphis.

After the event in Jackson, a Fairgrounds rally with Lieberman, the vice president will fly to Kansas City for another rally and an overnight.

Lieberman: The vice president and his wife will come to Memphis from Jackson later Wednesday night for a 5 p.m. event at the University of Memphis, followed by a $5,000-a-head fundraiser at the home of Bernice Cooper, widow of the late Irby Cooper, a well-loved philanthropist, hotelier, and Democratic loyalist who died earlier this year, just before the Fourth of July. (Son Pace Cooper, who maintains his father's political connections, was instrumental in arranging the visit.)

Clinton: Almost every Democrat who's willing to speak on the issue (and most are) believe that the best way - maybe the only way - for the vice president to win the election is to invite out on the campaign trail with him the man who is (a) widely regarded as the best campaigner of our time; and (b) as entitled to take credit for the current prosperity and (fragile) peace as anybody else.

Rep. Ford, who did a star turn at Temple Israel Monday night in a debate with Bush's Tennessee director David Kustoff, put it simply; "I would!" when asked whether Gore should extend an immediate invitation to the president.

But, as the New York Times noted in a well-read P1 article last Friday, there are strained feelings between Gore and Clinton (as between members of their families and respective entourages), and the vice president seems determined to keep the president at arm's length. A Gore surrogate, New Republic publisher Martin Peretz was putting the word out that if Gore lost the reason could be put in two words: 'Bill Clinton.'

Columnists began to pile on at Gore's expense - the Times's Maureen Dowd, Salon's Joan Walsh, and assorted others. Most of them suggested what increasing numbers of rank-and-file Democrats believe, that if two words account for Gore's currently faltering position (Republican opponent George W. Bush now leads in all polls), they are more likely to be 'Al Gore.' Indeed, Walsh , in a piece entitled "Let the Big Dog Out," went so far as to refer to "Al Gore's cowardly refusal to run of President Clinton's legacy." And Oran Quintrell, a Memphis Democrat who circulates a widely read email newsletter, hit a similar theme.

The closer I watch this election, the more it seems that Al Gore is making this a one-man show," Quintrell observed about Gore. "I do not see him campaigning extensively with other Democrats, especially those that speak directly to the base. I do not see him tying his message to the message of the other party-standard bearers. When I see him on TV, he is standing there alone more often than not. I am getting the impression that the Gore campaign sees this as an election about Al Gore.

"Well, it's not. This election is about me. And you. And you, too, over there. Clinton always understood this. At least, he gave the impression that he did, which is what counts."

Given the spate of Gore biographies in the last year, virtually all of which make a point about Al. Jr.'s domination by his father, the lordly and leonine Senator Albert Gore, it is tempting to get out one's Freudian primer, blow off the dust, and conclude that the current Gore is attempting to substitute Daddy Bill for the Father that must be repudiated for the son (so plainly uncertain at times about his own identity) to claim his rightful destiny.

Politically, that would seem to be as risky a strategy right now as it might seem psychically necessary. (You can write Jackson Baker at baker@memphisflyer.com)

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