Democrats in Convention
Jude Wanniski
August 26, 1996


Not too many weeks ago it was certain that the Republican convention in San Diego would break up in acrimonious debate over social policy. It was also certain that the Democratic convention in Chicago, beginning today, would be unusual for its sweet, harmonious unity. Then, in choosing Jack Kemp as his running mate, Bob Dole in one stroke upended conventional wisdom and unified the Republican Party in sweetness and harmony. Now, the Democrats find themselves pretending that nothing much has happened, but privately are scared to death that they may have been outflanked and that there is nothing much they can do about it. They had been secure in the strategy that Dick Morris had designed, which would pit the kind and gentle Clinton/Gore ticket against the mean and ugly Dole/Gingrich ticket. They couldn't lose.

We can tell the President's team is suddenly without a strategy as Democratic operatives line up to convince us how mean and ugly the Dole/Kemp/Gingrich ticket is. The best they can do is tell their troops that Kemp is no problem because he flip-flopped on affirmative action and that Dole flip-flopped on tax cutting. Pay no attention. This is a holding pattern, to keep the foot soldiers busy while the President, the Veep, Morris, and Harold Ickes (the White House liberal conscience) sort out the variables that now threaten them with an across-the-board defeat. It is their move on the chessboard, and the best thing Republicans can do for the moment is pull up a chair, watch the convention, and see what kind of plan emerges from the Clinton brain trust.

The Chicago convention had been scripted to showcase Vice President Gore, the true liberal on the Clinton/Gore team, to take the minds of the delegates off the price the liberals had paid in order to follow the Morris strategy. In signing the welfare bill last week, the President flat out betrayed the liberal ideology of the party's heroes. He also gave the Republicans an enormous legislative victory, which all but guaranteed the GOP would be able to retain one or both houses of Congress in a second Clinton Administration. Now, there may not be a second Clinton Administration, which suggests the President and Morris gave away the crown jewels of the welfare state for nothing. Dickie Morris had better do some fast thinking. Complicating that thought process was the one-two punch of Dole and Kemp last Friday at the Nashville convention of black journalists. It was certainly the single best speech Dole has made in the last two years and certainly one of the most important he has ever made in his life. It was not lyrical or poetic. That's not what I mean. It was historic, without a doubt the most shamelessly pro-black speech by a Republican presidential contender since the death of Abraham Lincoln. ("I deeply believe that the Republican Party will never be whole until it earns the broad support of African Americans and others by speaking to their hopes. And we 're going to continue that message day after day after day after day... ")

In it, Dole openly acknowledged that since the 1950s the Party of Lincoln has conceded the black vote to the Democrats. The turning point, which came in 1960, really explains Richard Nixon's loss to John Kennedy that year, when Kennedy telephoned the jailed Martin Luther King, and Nixon held back. This was the first conscious step of the GOP's "Southern Strategy" aimed at tearing the Solid South from the Democrats who had held it since the Civil War. Dole, by the way, was first elected to Congress in 1960, and ever since has been a team player on the Southern strategy. A break, though, can only come with a presidential contender, which tells us Dole and Kemp are really hand in glove in charting a new course here for the GOP. The Democrats still don't know if this was a one-time gesture in Nashville, or something more. I'm only guessing, but I think the Dole high command is going to set a target of 50% of the black vote and will consider its efforts failed this year if they get less than 25%. If they do set a 50% target, committing time, energy and financial resources to the effort on blind faith (their pollsters will tell them it is a waste of money), the dynamic they will establish will guarantee they will get the 25%. This is because the leadership of the black community for the first time in their adult lives sees the potential of genuine competition among white power brokers of both parties for the black vote. They know they cannot allow the Dole/Kemp effort to fail!! For if they do, there may not be another competition for another generation, with no hope of breaking out of the liberal plantation.

If Dole and Kemp can get 25% of the black vote instead of the 11% the Democrats seem willing to concede, they will also get half the Hispanic vote and pick up a significant fraction of moderate, independent white voters who will be impressed that the GOP is serious about solving the racial problem in America. Dick Morris knows this, we can be sure, which is why he will do everything he can to persuade the Dole campaign that their efforts in this direction will be fruitless. Did you notice that the Rev. Jesse Jackson has suddenly, spontaneously, erupted in joyous support of the Clinton/Gore ticket?? This was a chess piece Dick Morris hoped he could play later in the game. He had to use Jesse now. Would it hurt if the Dole strategists publicly announced every move they would make in advance on this chessboard? Quite the opposite. It would demoralize the Democrats, who know their only option is to spend a fortune trying to persuade their black constituency that Dole and Kemp are bad guys. The only bargaining room Dick Morris has is with the issue of economic growth, pushing Clinton in supply-side directions that have been anathema to the Democratic Party.

Watch and see. If I were Clinton, I would buy Morris's idea of cutting the capital gains tax, to cut into the Dole/Kemp growth constituency. Republicans are waiting in the wings to see what is proposed. House Speaker Newt Gingrich is poised to offer Clinton a capgains tax cut on the hoof in September, when Congress returns. Clinton should pre-empt Gingrich by announcing the kind of tax cut he would sign if Gingrich sent him one. There is some chance of this happening, not large, but enough to make things interesting. It's the one thing that could send the stock market higher and cause problems for Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan between now and November 5. There is already a bias in the Federal Open Market Committee toward shutting off the economy. Imagine if the stock market's power as a leading indicator signals even faster growth ahead.

To clean things up; Did Dole flip-flop in San Diego on budget balancing and taxes? Not at all Here is the precise formulation the two teams agreed upon in San Diego, as expressed by Kemp in his acceptance speech: The objective is to balance the budget, via a strategy that combines economy in government with tax cuts that liberate the productive genius of the American people. The formulation is one that I can't disagree with in the slightest. We'd all love to see the government's profit-and-loss statement overflowing with black ink, as the result of a supply-side economic expansion.

As you sit back and watch the Chicago convention, try to begin rooting for the Clinton team to come up with a chess move that makes the campaign interesting. As it is, the really great political chess players, looking at the board several moves out, see an easy win for Dole/Kemp. If Clinton makes the wrong move in Chicago, he will have an impossible task ahead of him going into November. Personally, I am so sure that the best team will win that I will be happy whatever the outcome.