||Syndicated columnist Robert Novak is co-host of CNN's "Evans Novak, Hunt & Shields," as well as "Crossfire." He is providing exclusive convention analysis for CNN.com.|
Robert Novak: Democratic National Convention Notebook
These conclusions from my notebook after four days of the 43rd Democratic
The delegates came to Los Angeles worried about George W. Bush's lead in
the polls over Al Gore. They left Friday desperately wanting to believe that
this convention had served to close the gap, but waiting anxiously for the
poll results this weekend. It's a fair rule that if the true-believers are
relying on the polls, the convention was not exactly a triumph.
Why wasn't this convention a roaring success that satisfied Democratic
partisans as the Philadelphia convention satisfied Republicans?
The Clinton Problem: President Bill Clinton kicked off the proceedings
Monday night with a brilliant political speech that awed
delegates-paradoxically, to Gore's distress. Clinton could have used his
political swan song to boost Gore as his successor, but he hardly mentioned
Instead, Clinton's classic self-indulgence prevailed, celebrating his own
eight years rather boosting Gore for four future years. At the same time,
Clinton's rhetorical prowess set a high bar for Gore that he found difficult
to clear. At Gore's urging, Clinton got out of town after his Monday night
speech, but he was on the telephone back to LA later in the week trying to
Liberal Night: The second session was a mindless waste. In an attempt to
solidify the party's liberal base, the convention managers scheduled Jesse
Jackson, Ted Kennedy and spokesmen for abortion rights, gay rights and
organized labor. It was hardly a presentation designed to appeal to moderate
The VP Selection: The high note for the convention as it assembled was the
selection of Sen. Joe Lieberman for vice president: a surprise choice and
daring in naming a moderate and the first Jew for a national ticket.
But that early glow soon faded. In order to quell left-wing complaints about
him (especially from African-Americans), Lieberman delivered a conventional
liberal speech Wednesday night that did not appeal to centrist swing voters
that he is supposed to attract. Indeed, to compensate for Lieberman's
moderate record, the convention had to tilt left.
Gore's Acceptance Speech: Things had not gone well going into the Thursday
night closing session, and delegates were praying that Vice President Gore
would hit a home run in his acceptance speech. It turned out to be a good
deal less than that.
Gore made a conscious decision not to be personal about Bush, not to use his
much-criticized hackneyed phrases ("risky schemes") and to project greater
dignity. He did all of this, but at some cost.
The Gore speech turned out to be a laundry list of liberal spending programs,
with a populist cast. I was standing amid the delegates who were roaring
their approval of each line but seemed singularly unmoved by the speech. It
was devoid of memorable lines. "I stand here tonight as my own man" is the
only one that can be recalled.
Gore found himself in a peculiar dilemma. While Gore and his surrogates
insisted that the presidential election should not be a popularity contest,
the candidate went to great pains to unveil his personal side both in his
video and his speech. It did not come over that well. The prolonged kiss on
the convention podium between Gore and his wife was memorable but
Future Outlook: The quickie overnight polls Friday morning show widely
divergent results, and should be disregarded. The polling results after three
days are more important. If Gore is still 5 or 6 percentage points behind (as
many think likely), it will be a disaster. Even a statistical dead heat is
barely good enough to keep Gore alive.
In sum, it was not the convention that the Democrats had hoped for, and Al
Gore faces a stiff task ahead.
Monday, August 14, 2000
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