DOLE & SON, INC: Bob Shrum, who is one of the best political analysts in the Democratic camp, was on the "Fox Sunday Morning" show with Tony Snow yesterday. He observed that Bob Dole seemed to come alive next to Jack Kemp, as if he were in fact receiving a transfusion. In a speech to a state delegation in San Diego last Wednesday, Kemp actually made reference to Dole's shattered right arm and said that he would be Dole's right arm from now on. Before the convention began, Maureen Dowd of the NYTimes quoted me on the differences between the two men as being similar to "Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, father and son." In the Star Wars trilogy, you will remember that Darth Vader was not the head of the evil empire. He was a high-level functionary who had once been a good Jedi knight, but soured on life after suffering battle scars that disfigured his head to the point he had to cover it with a helmet. In the second film, The Empire Strikes Back, we discover that Skywalker is Vader's son, that they are the same flesh and blood, and in a duel, Vader slices off Skywalker's right arm. After his right arm is rebuilt cybernetically, Skywalker and Vader are reunited. Before Vader dies, he tells his long-lost son that he had been wrong to lose faith, and he is saved. Optimism triumphs over pessimism. The Force triumphs over its dark side — the spiritual powers of individual initiative overcomes the need to manage scarcity on behalf of the collective. In one of the many football metaphors of the week, while in Buffalo with Kemp on Sunday, Dole said that he would be the quarterback for the next 90 days, but then turn it over to Kemp. The audience of 10,000, which had been cheering wildly, took this remark in stunned silence, clearly thinking Dole had misspoke. Not so. In the Dole administration, I believe Dole would treat Kemp as he would his only son, the son he never had, preparing him to take over the family business.
PEROT: It now would not surprise me to see Ross Perot stay in the race long enough to be able to say he has been persuaded that his reason for offering a third choice on November 5 is no longer valid — that the two major political parties are finally addressing the concerns he first raised in early 1992. In his Valley Forge acceptance speech last night, practically the first words out of his mouth were these: "Have you listened to the messages of the other parties during the last few weeks? Do their promises for 1996 sound familiar? Who first brought these issues to the American people? You did!" Until Bob Dole chose Kemp as his running mate, Perot could easily have imagined himself coming in ahead of Dole in November. In April, he had all but offered the Reform Party nomination to Kemp. If the San Diego convention had ended with a funeral after opening as a wake two weeks ago, Perot might have persuaded Kemp to run with him. As it is, Perot seemed spent last night. Instead of asking his supporters to raise money for him, to add to the $30 million of taxpayer funds made available to him, he should declare victory in getting his idea of balancing the budget at the center of the national agenda. The GOP proposes to do it with ua strategy of economies in government and tax cuts to liberate the productive genius of our people," as Kemp put it in his acceptance speech. President Clinton and the Democrats propose to balance the budget by opposing the Dole/Kemp plan to cut taxes. If Perot stays in the race, as he most likely will, there will be two demand-side teams of pessimists and one supply-side team of optimists. Perot then would take more votes from Clinton than from Dole.
DOLE TAX PLAN: Remember, the Dole tax plan of cutting income tax rates by 15% across the board and halving the capital gains tax was not the plan pushed by Kemp, who proposed a rollback of the Bush/Clinton tax increases of 1990 and 1993. My critique of the Dole plan at the time ("Problems With the Dole Tax Plan," 8-5-96) was based on its supply-side impact on the economy itself. Now that it is firmly tied to a commitment to rewrite the tax code from scratch, with Kemp on board as overseer, the Dole plan makes much more sense. This is because the budget projections which cover a five-year period would be moot after two years. The aim perhaps will be to have the new tax system enacted by Thanksgiving, 1998, and have it phased in to take full effect on January 1, 2000. The $500 kiddie credit, aimed at lower income families, would also disappear as the new system kicks in. It makes more sense as a temporary cushion to families in the transition years, as the growth elements of the plan evolve. Kemp's team of technical experts have been finding minor glitches in the Dole plan as they comb through it, but they also may be finding areas that were overlooked that could make the plan much more attractive and less costly — even on a static basis. They also await news of what President Clinton might be springing on the Democratic convention by way of tax policy. A retooled, debugged Dole/Kemp plan would presumably be unveiled after Labor Day. Donald Rumsfeld, who has been chairing the Dole economic unit, seems thrilled to have the infusion of talent from Kemp. [I am scheduled to appear on CNBC's "Business Insiders" program to discuss all this tonight at 6 p.m. EST, at the request of my old friend Bill Wolman, economics editor of Business Week and a regular on the program.]
DOLE ACCEPTANCE SPEECH: I hadn't the slightest idea what Dole would say when I advised you last Thursday that I believed it would constitute an opening gun in targeting 50% of the black vote this year. So it was, with Dole especially aggressive in inviting all bigots out of the GOP. The black vote is so obviously the soft underbelly of the New Deal coalition that I couldn't imagine Dole would pick Kemp without planning a strategic assault on it. There's already talk of setting up GOP storefront campaign offices in every inner-city neighborhood where it would make sense. Rep. Charlie Rangel [D-NY], the most powerful elected black official in the nation, may be denouncing the GOP as an intolerant party, but he is simultaneously praising Dole and Kemp to the skies. Why? He knows the leverage blacks have in the Democratic Party, where they have been taken for granted, will soar with Kemp on the GOP ticket. Kweisi Mfume, who now heads the non-partisan NAACP, told me three years ago that he would love to see the black vote divide 50-50 between the two parties, as it would be the most palpable evidence of black political influence within both parties. Dole and Kemp will travel to Nashville Friday to address a convention of black journalists. They will have an opportunity to lay out their positions on affirmative action and immigration as directly as Colin Powell addressed his position on affirmative action and abortion in San Diego.
POLLS: Believe it or not, most Americans who will vote in November have scarcely heard who is running this year. The most informed still believe Clinton will win re-election, although there has been a slight improvement in Dole's chances since Kemp was chosen. Poll numbers will begin to mean something after Labor Day, when voters switch on their civic duties and begin to cast about among their friends, families and civic leaders for advice on how to vote. Given the current odds in Mr. Clinton's favor, I would absolutely be betting on Dole at this moment, with no real inside information. As long as I'm assured that John Sears will be in the Dole loop, helping Scott Reed design strategy, my money would be on Dole/Kemp merely as a betting prospect. Bob Novak told a group of friends last week in San Diego that Sears is the only political chess player better than Dick Morris, who is at Clinton's side. In the WSJournal "Washington Wire" on Friday, we were assured Sears has been welcomed into the Dole fold. The same item reported that I was barred from the campaign plane because of Dole's "dislike" of me. On hearing of the item, Dole sent assurances that this was not so. I didn't think it was.