Capital Letters: Stump Speeches


Capital Letters: All Losers' Night

In which our man in Washington desperately cruises for losers on Election Night and learns from experts how the new president should-must!-govern

Subj: Looking for losers in all the wrong places
Date: 11/08/00
From: mwlynch@reason.com

Pick your cliché to describe Election Night in D.C. "It's a nail biter," a weary fellow at the Democratic National Committee bash at the Mayflower Hotel told me. At the Republican's party, an Arlington lawyer put it more colorfully: "Tighter than a piece of coal in Shannon Doherty's ass."

I spent the night and much of the early morning hopping from party to party in search of bad news. There's always plenty of it, since with elections somebody has to win. My goal was to spend the night with the losers. Actually, I spent most of the night assuming I was a loser, since I had bet $200 that Gore would take the White House and $50 that the Dems would take back the House.

My first stop was the DNC bash at the Mayflower Hotel, where I picked up my press credential, purchased a $5 Bud Light, and soaked in the scene. It was early and too cheery for my taste. At 7 p.m., CNN said Georgia and Virginia were too close to call, and the room erupted in cheers. Vermont went to Gore. "Big surprise," said one cocky fellow when we learned that Bush had secured South Carolina.

Things were far more tense a short walk away at the Capital Hilton, where the RNC was throwing its bash. "We expected to lose Florida," explained Republicanoid radio host Armstrong Williams. "But we're going to win Pennsylvania." Early in the evening, things were gloriously grim at the RNC party. In line for a $4 beer, a woman, upon learning I was press and had once lived in California, confided how she too once lived there. "I left California because the Mexicans were taking over," offered the fiftysomething bottle blond, reminding me why I'm not a Republican.

RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson introduced the emcee for the night, a comedian who doesn't use four-letter words (even on Election Night). Not sur-prisingly, he was a comedian in name only. "He hasn't tickled my funny bone yet," said a young guy who nodded to the band and asked, "Why do Republicans always get white bands who play Motown all night?"

But it wasn't the comedian or the band that was bringing down the party. It was the fact that CNN and other networks had
at that point called Florida for Gore. Michigan went the V.P.'s way as well, and by 9 p.m. it looked like an early wrap for Gore.

It was time to catch a cab to Republican operative Grover Norquist's party, where a committed group of conservative activists would surely be bumming in their beer.

"It's closer than we'd like it to be," Grover admitted as he emptied a kitchen trash can at 9:30 p.m. "I don't see how you can call Florida with 600,000 absentee ballots out." I grabbed a beer and followed Grover upstairs, where former Speaker Newt Gingrich was watching the returns. The often talkative pol wasn't saying much as he watched with his third wife.

The nadir of the night for the GOP came at 9:50 p.m., when someone announced that New Mexico had gone to Gore. Five minutes later, CNN had put Florida back into play. "We're taking back Florida one geriatric at a time," exclaimed one merry, and very drunk, conservative.

Grover's was now too cheery, so I caught a cab back to the DNC party, where folks were sure to be grieving. "If it comes out that Nader caused Gore to lose, I will go to Nader meetings and throw tomatoes," D.C. lawyer Mike Castellano told me. Echoed Georgetown law student Rachel Entman, "I want to know how Nader feels if he single-handedly screws up the country." (My hunch: Pretty damn swell.)

It was a bad night in many respects for Democrats, especially locally. By 1 a.m., the announcement came that they wouldn't take the House. Though a dead Democrat would beat a live Republican in Missouri (they don't call it the Show Me State for nothing), Virginia Sen. Chuck Robb, the profligate son-in-law of LBJ, was a goner. The ballroom was emptying out so I headed back to the RNC to see how they were holding up in apparent victory.

"What's up with the bullshit in Florida?" asked Gen-X Republican operative Mario Lopez, who was glued to the TV at the RNC party. "They won't call it with 93 percent of the precincts reporting." Well, "they" did call it for Bush, at approximately 2:15 a.m. And then they took it back at 4:06 a.m. Gore was understandably not willing to concede the lifelong ambition of at least two generations of his family.

As the sun broke over the Potomac and the ghost of Rutherford B. Hayes laughed somewhere, CNN put the electoral count at 249 for Gore and 246 for Bush. The worst part of all this waiting, I thought, was that one of these guys was eventually going to win. I consoled myself with the idea that I might not have spent the night with a loser after all.

Subj: Bad news for Gore–and for the rest of us
Date: 11/09/00
From: mwlynch@reason.com

The theme of the day, according to Brookings Institution fellow and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, was "Honey, who blew up our electoral system?" If you want a digest form of the arguments for expanded government you'll be hearing over the next few years, this influential D.C. think tank is the place to go.

I went there yesterday to check out a standing-room-only panel on where we go from here. Even a few minutes spent not knowing America's ultimate leader is scary as hell for the good-government liberal folks at Brookings (and many others in this one-company town). So no one smiled or chuckled, much less applauded, when Dionne said the presidential election had produced "a serious crisis of legitimacy in our government."

Thomas Mann, another Brookings fellow, pointed out that we may end up with a president who lost the popular vote and won the electoral vote mostly because a bunch of geezers in Palm Beach can't read a ballot. "If nothing else changes, we will all know that Al Gore in effect won Florida," pronounced Mann. "But George Bush will be declared the winner of Florida and become the president of the United States."

Whether that constitutes a "crisis" is a judgment call. Here's the real thing: If the old ladies from Palm Beach who were screaming on MSNBC last night are in fact incapable of reading a ballot properly, they are definitely too infirm to be driving to the polls or anywhere else in the Sunshine State. They pose a more immediate danger to fellow citizens as drivers than as voters. Accidentally electing a guy who has his own driving problems just doesn't compare.

Mann discounted the split between the popular and electoral votes as no big deal. "We have a constitutional system and the rules of the game call for a majority of the electoral college." In fact, he seemed to call on Al Gore to pull a Richard Nixon, circa 1960, for the good of the country. Tricky Dick, said Mann, "did an honorable thing when he conceded the election even though there were questions raised about the legitimacy of the count in Illinois and Texas, two states that, had they gone Republican, would have made Richard Nixon president of the United States. It may well be that Al Gore is going to have to suck it up and concede the election to George W. Bush."

That was the bad news for Gore-everyone on the panel basically assumed a Bush presidency and then offered advice on putting together a governing coalition. The bad news for the country is this: Their idea of a governing coalition is one that delivers more government.

"If Democrats sense that the first unified government in 48 years is trying to go full-speed ahead with an agenda that seems not to have been embraced enthusiastically by the electorate, I can imagine them getting ugly and ornery," said Mann, obviously worried about seeing David Bonoir (D-Mich.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) on the yack shows at the same time he's angling for administration jobs for his liberal friends. "It may make sense, if Bush is ultimately certified as the president, to think creatively about his Cabinet appointments, appointing some Democrats there."

"The next Congressional Budget Office forecast may project a surplus that is even larger than what we had in the campaign," prophesied Robert Litan, Brookings' vice president and its director of government studies. He stumped for a compromise based on
the old "honor among thieves" code: "Money makes the world go round. And if in fact there's more money, there's room for a deal, where Republicans get some of theirs, Democrats get some of theirs, and you have a happy scenario worked out." Happy, I might add, for those in D.C. spending the money, not for those outside actually earning it and sending it to the feds.

"We can either have gridlock or bipartisanship," declared Isabel Sawhill, another Brookings fellow. She was charged with considering the election's implications for domestic policy, but her most interesting comments were a novel interpretation of the apparently total GOP victory. At the very moment the Republicans had managed to keep control of Congress and win the presidency, explained Sawhill, "the conservative revolution that many associate with Ronald Reagan, in both an ideological and intellectual sense, has lost a lot of earlier energy."

Her advice to Bush was to scrap his income tax cut-surprise!-and instead cut the payroll tax that funds Social Security (on condition that folks save the money). Such advice is Machiavellian to the max, since it would allow Sawhill, her colleagues at Brookings, and other liberals to attack Dubya for gutting the system, hence improving the electoral chances of Democrats in 2002.

Whatever. Maybe by then we'll at least know who the president is. In the meantime, I'm relaxing and enjoying these days without a federal budget or even a president-elect. Taxes aren't going up and there are no new programs in the offing. That may scare
the hell out of the bleary-eyed folks at Brookings, but it's fine by me.