All week long, I wanted to have a heart-to-heart with disgraced former California governor Gray Davis, if for nothing else than to give him a chance to hit back at me for all the nasty things I have written about him over the years. Alas, these things have a way of not going as planned, especially when you bump into him by accident, at the end of the Democratic convention, flanked by his very sweet-seeming wife Sharon.
My thesis four years ago was that Gray was as likely as anyone else to be vying for the 2004 Democratic nomination, if A) Gore lost, B) Nader didn?t reach 5% in the Golden State, C) Bush got spanked in California, and D) Davis didn't bungle his governorship beyond repair. After all, like some certain politicians we could name, he was a decorated Vietnam veteran with a hard-earned tough-on-crime record and a promising launching pad in a cash-rich blue state. I'd like to think that the D) was an unforeseeable catastrophe, but chances are I invested too heavily in despising a single public figure. At any rate, here's my brief exchange with Singapore Gray:
Reason: What did you think of the speech?
Davis: I thought he was at the top of his game. There were several goose-bump moments. I particularly liked—I can't do justice to the riff—but it was something about "I'm not gonna ask that God be on my side; I humbly pray I can be on his side." Great.
Reason: Is it kind of strange for you? I mean, four years ago I was in L.A., and you were kind of the king of city then, throwing big parties and everything like that.
Davis: Well I was the host governor, and I was governor. The host governor has a bazillion responsibilities, and it wasn't as much fun as it appeared to be. But I'm glad the convention went well, and I had a number of people during these four days complimenting me on how well it went.
Reason: Did you have ambitions of national politics at that point?
Davis: You know, I never did.
Reason: Really? I thought you did.
Davis: Everybody kept reading them into me, but I just wanted to finish my term as governor.
Reason: What are you up to now?
Davis: I'm doing a little consulting, I'm working on an arrangement with the UCLA School of Public Policy for next winter, and a couple of countries have invited us to come and speak—China, we spoke at their Asian-Pacific Conference, and spoke at Taiwan National University subsequent to that on a separate trip, so we?re getting to see parts of the world we never got to see and having a terrific time.
Reason: [?] Did you get more of an anti-Bush vibe here? I mean, I felt the big unity here, but there wasn't necessarily a lot of discussion about the issues that sort of divide the "Democrat wing of the Democratic Party" and the New Democrats, for example.
Davis: Because I think the whole goal of this convention was to unite under one banner, and express our solidarity for John Kerry, and our determination to make the change at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. So, the purpose of this convention was not to find ways that we differ, but to find ways that we can seek common ground.
Actually I thought his speech was more pointed than I thought it was going to be, I mean he crossed some pretty clear lines in the sand.
Reason: [?] Do you think that he reached out in any significant way to swing voters or independent voters, who are not sure who to vote for, not feeling very comfortable with Bush, but not necessarily Democrat.
Davis: Absolutely. It was a very high-minded speech, it appealed to our better instincts, and it reminded us that we're at our best when we remember what unites us rather than divides us. I mean, many speakers said this, but I mean we all want our kids to do well, we all believe in tomorrow being better than today, we all respect the sacrifice of our parents and grandparents, I mean there's so many things we have in common as Americans.
I think Kerry's goal (three second pause) is to offer people a way to be a red, white & blue American, not just a blue-state American, or a red-state American. And I really believe he thought that through, because clearly the campaign was less harsh and less divisive and less finger-pointing then there could have been. I mean I think they made a conscious decision that America?s already decided that they have reservations about George Bush, and now they're looking at John Kerry, and they want his focus to be on all of John Kerry's attributes, as opposed to them being on a recitation of why they shouldn't be voting for George Bush. So I mean that was calculated specifically by the Kerry campaign, and I think it worked.
Reason: And they managed to criticize Bush without every really mentioning him by name.
Davis: Yeah, it was indirect, and tactful, and you know, kind of respectful. They clearly drew lines in the sand where there's big differences, clear choices that voters can make, and I think people want to feel good about America, they want to feel hopeful, they want to feel optimistic, and I think John Kerry offered all of that and more.