Political Buzz December 6, 2011: President Barack Obama’s Populist Speech on the Middle Class & the Economy at Osawatomie High School, Kansas Channels President Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism

POLITICAL BUZZ

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University. Ms. Goodman has also contributed the overviews, and chronologies in History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-2008, 4th edition, edited by Gil Troy, Fred L. Israel, and Arthur Meier Schlesinger to be published by Facts on File, Inc. in late 2011.

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

Barack Obama and Teddy Roosevelt are pictured. | AP Photos

President Obama is conjuring the legacy of a president who took on Wall Street. | AP Photos

IN FOCUS: PRESIDENT OBAMA’S POPULIST SPEECH ON THE MIDDLE CLASS & ECONOMY AT OSAWATOMIE HIGH SCHOOL, KANSAS CHANNELS THEODORE ROOSEVELT’S NEW NATIONALISM

“It’s not a view that we should somehow turn back technology or put up walls around America. It’s not a view that says we should punish profit or success or pretend that government knows how to fix all society’s problems. It’s a view that says in America, we are greater together — when everyone engages in fair play, everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share.” — President Barack Obama

“I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, and when everyone plays by the same rules. Those aren’t Democratic or Republican values; 1 percent values or 99 percent values. They’re American values, and we have to reclaim them.” — President Barack Obama

Obama sees ‘make or break’ time for middle class: President Barack Obama delivered a sweeping indictment of economic inequality in the US on Tuesday as he summoned the memory of President Theodore Roosevelt and pledged to fight for fairness at a “make or break moment for the middle class…. – WaPo, 12-6-11

 

  • Obama pledges to fight for middle class: President Barack Obama took aim at Republicans and delivered a sweeping indictment of economic inequality in the US on Tuesday as he pledged to fight for fairness for the middle class. Only a month before Republican voters … – AP, 12-6-11
  • Obama compares current economy to Great Depression: President Barack Obama said Tuesday that economic inequality in America is at “a level we haven’t seen since the Great Depression” and “hurts us all.” “When middle-class families can no longer afford to buy the goods and services that … – CNN, 12-6-11
  • Obama hits Republicans in starkly populist speech: President Barack Obama turned up the heat on his Republican foes on Tuesday as he portrayed himself as a champion of the middle class and laid out in the starkest terms yet the populist themes of his 2012 … – Reuters, 12-6-11
  • Barack Obama channels Teddy Roosevelt: Barack Obama spent the first three years of his presidency invoking Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.
    Just over a hundred years after the Bull Moose delivered his “New Nationalism” speech in Osawatomie, Kan., Obama touted his own square deal there on Tuesday. The president described a “make or break moment for the middle class,” calling for broader consumer protections and for the Senate to confirm his nominee to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau…. – Politico, 12-6-11
  • Obama channels Roosevelt’s ‘New Nationalism':
    • President Obama calls for shared national investment in growth and opportunity
    • Obama goes to the same place where Roosevelt made a famous 1910 speech
    • The major theme is making the good of the country the top priority
    • Democrats and Republicans are divided over how to pay for the payroll tax measure

    More than a century after Teddy Roosevelt’s famous “New Nationalism” speech, President Barack Obama sounded similar themes Tuesday in the same town in the Republican heartland of Kansas, delivering a populist speech that called for extending the payroll tax cut set to expire at the end of the year.
    Obama described stark differences between a Republican ideology he described as leaving people to fend for themselves and his vision of government helping provide equal opportunity for all Americans regardless of where they begin in life…. – CNN, 12-6-11

  • In Kansas, Obama says middle class faces ‘make or break moment': With a nod to Theodore Roosevelt, President Obama positioned himself as the champion of the middle class while blasting the “you’re-on-your-own economics” of the modern Republican Party, a message likely to form … – LAT, 12-6-11
  • Obama: This is ‘make or break moment’ for middle class: Calling it “the defining issue of our time,” President Obama said today that the United States faces “a make or break moment for the middle class,” and for all Americans who are fighting to get there. … – USA Today, 12-6-11
  • Obama tells banks, businesses to help middle class: President Barack Obama on Tuesday laid out his economic philosophy, saying that banks, businesses and government must help the middle class get back on its feet. “This is the defining issue of our … MarketWatch, 12-6-11
  • Obama’s day: Channeling Teddy Roosevelt in Kansas: Good morning from The Oval. This day in 1923 saw the first radio broadcast of a presidential speech as Calvin Coolidge addressed a joint session of Congress. Today, President Obama seeks to emulate predecessor Theodore Roosevelt…. – USA Today, 12-6-11
  • Obama channels Teddy Roosevelt in populist re-election speech: US President Barack Obama speaks about the economy and a payroll tax cut compromise during a visit to Osawatomie High School in Kansas December 6, 2011. More than a 100 years ago, President Teddy Roosevelt delivered a speech in Osawatomie in which he … – National Post, 12-6-11
  • President Obama channels Teddy Roosevelt in calling for a ‘fair chance’ for Americans: President Obama carried his GOP-bashing populist message to the heartland Tuesday, embracing Theodore Roosevelt as a Republican who rose above partisan orthodoxy to create a “fair chance” for all Americans, … – NY Daily News, 12-6-11
  • President Obama makes economic speech at the site of famous Theodore Roosevelt Address: President Obama is scheduled to deliver a speech at 1:55 pm ET Tuesday in Osawatomie, Kan. where his advisers say he will attempt to frame a conversation about the “economic future in this country.” Osawatomie is the town where … – WaPo, 12-6-11
  • Gov. Brownback will not attend Obama speech in Osawatomie: Instead, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and his family will attend the event, which is expected to draw as many as 20000 visitors to the Kansas town of 4447 residents. “It is always an honor to have the president in Kansas,” Brownback said in a statement. … – Kansas City Business Journal, 12-6-11

Highlights of Election Night 2004 (Featuring Historians’ Commentary)

HISTORY ARTICLES

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HNN, 11-05-04

Highlights of Election Night (Featuring Historians’ Commentary)

By Bonnie Goodman

Ms. Goodman is a graduate student at Concordia University and an HNN intern

The Electoral College

• George W. Bush: 286, Number of States: 31
• John F. Kerry: 252, Number of States: 20

The Popular Vote

• George W. Bush: 59,459,765 (51% total) with 3.5 million more votes than his opponent.
• John F. Kerry: 55,949,407 (48% total)

The Congressional Results

The Senate:

• Republican: 55, a gain of 4
• Democrat: 44, a loss of 4
• Independent: 1

The House of Representatives (218 needed for House majority, 435 at stake, 3 undecided)

• Republican: 231, a gain of 4
• Democrat: 200, a loss of 3
• Indepdendant: 1

Governors (11 at stake, 1 undecided)

• Republican: 28; 23 seats not up
• Democrat: 21; 16 seats not up

The Historians

Douglas Brinkley (Director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies, University of New Orleans, NBC)

• “I think it will be decided by midnight on Election Night. I think there’ll be a lot of court cases and a lot of rumbling about ballot boxes that didn’t work properly, and chads that were dangling, but I think by and large there will be a clear victor. I don’t think it will be like four years ago.”
• “There are three big swing states: Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Whoever gets two out of three will win. I think Kerry will win Pennsylvania, Bush will win Florida, and whoever wins Ohio gets to be president.”
• “It’s because he used to be a heavy drinker and he still gives the impression that he’s a pickup-truck-driving Texas rancher/ZZ Top-listening kind of dude, which plays very well in the red states of the South. And it’s amazing if you look at the electoral map right now, you can see that the Republicans control the entire South. Every state that had slavery is for George W. Bush.”

Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

• “There is more skepticism about votes counting than in past presidential elections, because I think it is a belated reaction to the last presidential election. I don’t think the question of vote counting was raised in a massive way until 2000.”

Allan Lichtman (Presidential historian at American University)

• “Any election is a referendum on the party in power, and indeed the majority of Americans judge the record of the party in power…. including this president’s success in keeping America safe from terrorism over the last three years.”
• “This is the deepest cultural divide in the history of the country, with the exception of the Civil War.”
• “They (Democrats) need to rethink liberalism for the 21st century. They haven’t yet made the transition from Franklin Roosevelt. They’ve run from liberalism into empty space.”

Richard Norton Smith (Director of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum on PBS)

• “It’s a long standing tradition, in the nineteenth century, Ohio was called the mother of presidents. They were mostly forgettable presidents but they were presidents never the less. More recently Ohio is a microcosm of America, it’s agricultural, it’s industrial, it’s old ethnic, it’s new ethnic, it’s a remarkable snapshot, and it’s right in the middle of the country. In 1976 Gerald Ford lost the presidency by a whisker, he lost it in Ohio by 11,000 votes to Jimmy Carter, who did well for a Democratic in conservative rural Ohio that is the pattern that the Kerry people hope to repeat tonight.”
• “We’ve heard it over and over again no Republican has ever won without Ohio.”
• “This is a latter-day Wilson presidency,” invoking Woodrow Wilson’s impassioned intervention in World War I to make the world “safe for democracy. It’s going to matter, it’s going to be pointed to – pro and con – for a long time.”

Roger Wilkins (Clarence J. Robinson Professor of History and American Culture, George Mason University, Virginia, on PBS)

• “You got Cleveland in the North, you got Columbus in the central part of the state, and then you got Cincinnati in the southern part of the state. Cincinnati is the home of the Tafts, the really royal dynasty of the state, President William Howard Taft, then the great Senator Robert Taft. The conservative part of the state is in the south where as the formally industrial parts of the state where you had a union stronghold, and Democrats did well, is much weaker now. Cleveland is not the industrial heart it was, but the state is big, its got lots of people, and the mix makes a very interesting kinda neutral test.”

Ellen Fitzpatrick (Professor of history at the University of New Hampshire, on PBS)

• “It is interesting because Ohio has always been a tough one for the Democrats in many ways. When you think about the fate of Ohioans during theGreat Depression where you had unemployment rates of 80 percent in some cities in Ohio, terrible suffering, and the industrial workers of Ohio were reliable for the Democratic Party, but those days are long behind us, and part of it really reflects changes in the economy in the United States over the last thirty years. The Democratic Party cannot sincerely relay anymore on those kinds of votes in a place like Ohio, and we’ll see tonight.”

Michael Beschloss (Presidential historian, on ABC)

• “Well, you know the most fascinating thing in the ABC News exit polls I thought, was the number of people who voted for President Bush because of moral issues. I think the other thing is that when you have a president who is fighting a war that often times trumps everything else.”

Gil Troy (Presidential historian, professor of history, McGill University, on CTV)

• “The big headline from the 2004 election is that the essential dynamic from 2000 re-emerged. Once again, we have a near-deadlock. Once again, the future of the presidency hangs on a closely divided state, in a closely divided nation. Once again, we have a red-blue electoral equilibrium – the chardonnay sipping, quiche eating, New York Times-reading ‘blue states’ – and as the numbers suggest ‘blue people’ — balanced out by nearly equal numbers of the country-western listening, gun-toting, Bible-thumping ‘red states’ and red people – the colors have no inherent significance they just happened to have been used by the TV network mapmakers to signify Democratic and Republican states.”
•”The 2004 exit polls – which did a terrible job predicting state-by-state totals but do a good job reflecting attitudes – confirm this impression for today. Kerry proved most popular with women, the unmarried, Northeasterners, African-American,18 to 29 year-olds, gays and lesbians, first-time voters, and citizens most concerned with education, health care, and the economy. Bush proved most popular with men, married couples, Southerners, whites, the over-60-set, military veterans, evangelicals, gun-owners, and citizens most concerned with strong leadership and the fight against terror. Remarkably, this polarized nation produced a nasty campaign but a peaceful election day – a testament to a political maturity and a civic grandeur for which Americans rarely get credit these days.”
• “God bless America’s beautiful slogan, it’s not a real honeymoon, and I think the danger is that yes, he has 51 percent of the vote, which is relatively strong. Bill Clinton never broke 50 percent, he has the house, the Congress, he has a concentration of power, but not necessarily a broad mandate. He still has that electoral map of blue America and red America.”
• “Second term presidencies always promise a clean slate, a new start. The problem with second term presidencies is they often have emerged what I call the ‘the second term curse.’ Ronald Reagan ran into Iran-contra, Bill Clinton ran into Monica Lewinsky problems, Richard Nixon had Watergate. So what Bush wants to do is to a certain extant stay afloat, he has to watch the problem of becoming a lame duck.”

Stephen Hess (Brookings Institutution, interview with the Associated Press)

• “He may face a somewhat less contentious international community. They’re practical people. They may not like him, but if he’s the president, they have to figure out how to deal with him.”

Larry Sabato (Presidential historian, head of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia on CBS)

• “Just in recent times, I would say the 1964 Johnson/Goldwater race was one of the most negative presidential battles in all of American history, we’ve had a lot of negative races. We’re able to recover and go along a lot better and faster than we think.”
• “For one thing, every president in American history who had lost the popular vote had not been elected to a second term. The only other presidential father-son ticket, the Adams, both had one term.”

Eric Foner (DeWitt Clinton Professor of History, Columbia University)

• “People who have power want to exercise it. He can do pretty much what he wants.”(On President Bush’s self-proclaimed mandate.)

Richard Reeves (Historian, on CBS)

• “Close to half the people in the country, maybe more, if you ask them what they are, they’re not gonna say either a truck driver, they’re gonna tell you ‘I’m a Christian. The Democratic Party has got to come to grips with that. It’s an important part of being an American, for at least half the country.”
• “I think that the country is divided, I think that the president is being given a chance to make good on his promise four years ago to be a uniter, not a divider. I think it’s a real tough job.”

President George W. Bush: Victory Address

• “We had a long night — and a great night. The voters turned out in record numbers and delivered an historic victory.”
• “Earlier today, Senator Kerry called with his congratulations. We had a really good phone call. He was very gracious. Senator Kerry waged a spirited campaign, and he and his supporters can be proud of their efforts. America has spoken, and I’m humbled by the trust and the confidence of my fellow citizens.”
• “With that trust comes a duty to serve all Americans, and I will do my best to fulfill that duty every day as your president. There’s an old saying, “Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers, pray for powers equal to your tasks.” In four historic years, America has been given great tasks and faced them with strength and courage. Our people have restored the vigor of this economy and shown resolve and patience in a new kind of war. Our military has brought justice to the enemy and honor to America. Our nation — our nation has defended itself and served the freedom of all mankind. I’m proud to lead such an amazing country, and I am proud to lead it forward.”
• “Reaching these goals will require the broad support of Americans, so today I want to speak to every person who voted for my opponent. To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can do to deserve your trust. A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation. We have one country, one Constitution, and one future that binds us. And when we come together and work together, there is no limit to the greatness of America.”
• “A campaign has ended, and the United States of America goes forward with confidence and faith. I see a great day coming for our country, and I am eager for the work ahead.”

Senator John F. Kerry: Concession

• “In America, it is vital that every vote count and that every vote be counted. But the outcome should be decided by voters and not by a protracted legal process. I would not give up this fight if there was a chance that we would prevail. But it is now clear that when all the provisional ballots are counted — which they will be — there won’t be enough outstanding votes for us to win Ohio. And therefore we cannot win this election. I want to especially say to the American people you have given me an honour and gift, I will never forget you and I will never stop fighting for you.”
• “I did my best to express my vision and my hopes for America. We worked hard and we fought hard, and I wish that things had turned out a little differently. But in an American election, there are no losers, because whether or not our candidates are successful, the next morning we all wake up as Americans. That is the greatest privilege and the most remarkable good fortune that can come to us on Earth. With that gift also comes obligation. We are required now to work together for the good of our country. In the days ahead, we must find common cause. We must join in common effort, without remorse or recrimination, without anger or rancor. America is in need of unity and longing for a larger measure of compassion. I hope President Bush will advance those values in the coming years.
I pledge to do my part to try to bridge the partisan divide.”

Comments (42)

Campaign 2004: The Third Bush/Kerry Debate: Highlights

HISTORY ARTICLES

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HNN, 10-14-04

The Third Bush/Kerry Debate: Highlights

By Bonnie Goodman

Ms. Goodman is a graduate student at Concordia University and an HNN intern

The Instant Polls

  • CNN-USA Today Gallup poll: John Kerry the winner 53 percent to George Bush’s 39 percent.
  • ABC News poll: 42 percent called Kerry the winner, 41 percent said Bush won; 14 per cent called it a tie.
  • Reuters/Zogby Poll: Bush has a one point lead 46-45 percent on Kerry in the campaign poll released Thursday, taken prior to the third debate.

Candidate Soundbites

John F. Kerry

  • “When the president had an opportunity to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, he took his focus off of him, outsourced the job to Afghan warlords and Osama bin Laden escaped. Six months after he said Osama bin Laden must be caught dead or alive this president was asked, where’s Osama bin Laden? And he said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t really think him about very much. I’m not that concerned.’ We need a president who stays deadly focused on the real war on terror.
  • “The president has turned his back on the wellness of America, and there is no system and it’s starting to fall apart.”
  • “He’s the only president in 72 years to have lost jobs — 1.6 million jobs lost.”
  • ” He’s the only president to have incomes of families go down. The only president to see exports go down; the only president to see the lowest level of business investment in our country as it is today. Now I’m going to reverse that. I’m going to change that. We’re going to restore the fiscal discipline we had in the 1990s.”
  • “We’re all God’s children, Bob, and I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney’s daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she’s being who she was.”
  • “I believe that choice, a woman’s choice is between a woman, God and her doctor.”
  • “If we raise the minimum wage, which I will do over several years, to $7 an hour, 9.2 million women who are trying to raise their families would earn another $3,800 a year. The president has denied 9.2 million women $3,800 a year. But he doesn’t hesitate to fight for $136,000 to a millionaire.”
  • “Being lectured to by the president on fiscal sanity is kind of like being lectured to by Tony Soprano on law and order.”
  • “I regret to say that the president who called himself a uniter, not a divider, is now presiding over the most divided America in the recent memory of our country. I’ve never seen such ideological squabbles in the Congress of the United States. I’ve never seen members of a party locked out of meetings the way they’re locked out today ·Well, I guess the president and you and I are three examples of lucky people who married up. And some would say maybe me more so than others. But I can take it.”

George W. Bush

  • “My opponent just this weekend talked about how terrorism could be reduced to a nuisance, comparing it to prostitution, illegal gambling, I think that attitude and that point of view is dangerous.”
  • “If every family in America signed up it would cost the federal government $5 trillion over 10 years. It’s an empty promise. It’s called bait-and-switch.”
  • “Well his rhetoric doesn’t match his record. He’s been a senator for 20 years, he voted to increase taxes 98 times. When they’d try to reduce taxes he voted against that 127 times. He talks about being a fiscal conservative or fiscally sound but he voted 277 times to waive the budget caps, which would have cost the taxpayers $4.2 trillion. He talks about pay-go. I’ll tell you what pay-go
    means: when you’re a senator from Massachusetts, when you’re a colleague of Ted Kennedy, pay-go means you pay and he goes ahead and spends.”
  • “There’s a mainstream in American politics and you sit right on the far left bank. Your record is such that Ted Kennedy, your colleague, is the conservative senator from Massachusetts.”
  • “What he’s asking me is will I have a litmus test for my judges. And the answer is no, I will not have a litmus test. I will pick judges who will interpret the Constitution. But I’ll have no litmus tests.”
  • “Well first of all it’s – it is just not true that I haven’t met with the Black Congressional Caucus. I’ve met with the Black Congressional Caucus at the White House.”
  • “To listen to them. To stand up straight and not scowl. I love the strong women around me. I can’t tell you how much I love my wife and our daughters.”

Historians’ Comments

Gil Troy (presidential historian, professor of history, McGill University)

  • “The real winner of the debates was… the American people. I know it’s cheesy and a tad cliche, but during these times, when nerves are frayed and the conventional wisdom once again deems the campaign the ‘nastiest ever,’ I was impressed by the debates’ civility and substance. The very absence of over-the-top clashes, the great-defining gaffe which didn’t occur, meant that the candidates had an opportunity to be themselves, and millions of Americans could assess the candidates up close. John F. Kerry was John F. Kennedyesque, appearing smooth, poised, substantive and intelligent — although until his final statement, the closing statement of debate #3, he failed to offer an upbeat, inspiring vision. George W. Bush was more erratic and defensive. Defying the conventional wisdom, he was on firmer ground and far less jittery when discussing domestic issues rather than spewing out his robotic oversimplifications regarding the war on terror and Iraq. Stylistic considerations aside, the two candidates offered contrasting visions — Kerry the multilateralist v. Bush the unilateralist, Kerry the social liberal v. Bush the social conservative, Kerry the nuanced legislator adeptly juggling complex perspectives v. Bush the no-nonsense chief executive with a more black-and-white view. Yes, there were the usual obfuscations, soundbites, and postures, but, on the whole, the debates offered great political theatre and important policy instruction.”

Howard Zinn (at Democracy Now)

  • “Well, the contest, unfortunately, is not giving us any kind of fundamental reappraisal of American policy foreign and domestic. By a fundamental reappraisal, I mean we are dealing with a serious issue of the war in Iraq and we’re dealing with the serious issues of health and education, and what to do with the wealth of the United States to help people, and neither candidate is addressing the fundamentals. By that I mean, I heard them on the clip that you showed and talked about Osama bin Laden, they exchanged accusations about it. Bush denying, of course, as he denies everything, about what he said, and Kerry saying, no, you said that. It’s not important, really, about Osama bin Laden. They’re always trying to focus our attention on something that’s not fundamental. What’s fundamental is not one particular man. What’s fundamental is not even al-Qaeda. What’s fundamental, really, is American policy in the world, because if there is a root of terrorism, and that’s the problem, getting at the root of terrorism, the root of terrorism is not any one man, not any group of people in this country or that country. There are too many countries of where there’s anger against the United States, and where the anger against the United States can turn into fanaticism and into terrorism.”

Michael Beschloss (on PBS)

  • “One thing that strikes me more than anything else is this, if you think about the last five presidents before George W. Bush three of them were defeated before reelection, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush, that is exactly within the period which we have had debates since 1976. And I think what has struck me more than anything else is the fact that this has changed our political system, it gives challengers a leg up against an incumbent president of a kind that we haven’t had in most of American History. If John Kerry is elected in three weeks I think many people will say he couldn’t have done it without the ability to debate George W. Bush.”
  • “I don’t think it has especially worked this year. I guess I disagree with Richard, I think the rules have been too confining, I think the two minutes answers end up being long soundbites, often times the candidates recycling languages that they have been using on the campaign trail that seem to work with audiences.”
  • “Actually, it has been different if you look at the texts of the debates before. I think this year you see language used over and over again from debate to debate. Sometimes within a debate you’ll hear the same thing said twice by the same candidates. You don’t really feel you are getting beyond the surface that was the point of these things to begin with, not just to give a big audience to a candidate to deliver his best lines.”
  • “It is a bitter atmosphere and I think it is another thing about these three debates between these Presidential candidates. These were icy debates, there was very little humor and there sure was very little humor between the two guys, and I think if you compare that to for instance to Reagan and Mondale, and even to moments of Carter and Reagan in 1980, it shows how much our political culture has changed to this take no prisoners attitudes on the two sides. In a way these debates are not a very good harbinger of this country getting a little more united as some of them talked about.”

Ellen Fitzpatrick (professor of history at the University of New Hampshire, on PBS)

  • “It’s pretty hard as an historian not to walk away from it without thinking its déjà vu all over again. If you take a really long view, and you take a look at 1960 when we had the beginning of these debates, the domestic issues for instance highlighted tonight are very much the same kinds of issues there were being debated by Kennedy and Nixon, healthcare, social provision, Kennedy and Nixon had a long discourse around the issue of providing health insurance for Americans, and Nixon portrayed Kennedy’s plan as extreme as an overreach of the Federal government. Kennedy defended it not as big government, but really as the nation taking responsibility for its citizens. What was the program that they were sparing about; Medicare. So it is really hard when you think of these debates all together, of course the foreign policy issues are different, there are different social, cultural, and value issues, the debate about abortion, gay rights those have changed I am not saying nothing’s changed, but so much of this is consistent minimum wage, jobs, education, for one thing it shows us how persistent these problems have been.”
  • “But it is still a question about what is the responsibility of the Federal government, and what is the responsibility of not only states and localities, but families and parents. I think you do have two very different visions here, even if Democrats since over the Reagan years have backed away enormously from the fundamental tenants of American liberalism and endorsing them in those terms. You notice how little we hear about the cities, about anti-poverty programs, it’s about the middle class now, and the way in which it is squeezed economically.”
  • “I think these debates continue on the John F. Kennedy comparison. One interesting thing I think, one thing Kerry did tonight which Kennedy did was Kennedy very explicitly in those debates spoke to the nation. He looked out at the camera and addressed his remarks to the American people, and Nixon was later criticized for being having a tendency to speak to his opponent more than to the nation. So Kerry capitalized on that tonight.”
  • “What I think is quite remarkable tonight is the emphasis on religion that is important. Both candidates took pains to tell their audience, to tell the American people they are deeply religious. Remember in 1960 when Kennedy was running as a Catholic, he took pains to say that his religion didn’t matter to the fact that he was running for president. These two candidates are taking pains to say it does matter, and so they are tapping into and I think shaping a very different cultural environment.”

Richard Norton Smith (director of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum, on PBS)

  • “I think these three debates have been very substantive, they have been informative, we’ve seen big issues discussed, broad themes struck. I think they have been very informative debates. Michael’s point is well taken, there is this burden on the incumbent, in effect he is the defender of the status quo, and people in America love new. They may not always like the consequences of the new, but as a concept new is pretty attractive. And I thought you saw John Kerry in fact playing the John F. Kennedy role.”
  • “Because I think what John F. Kennedy did in 1960 it wasn’t a specific moment in those debates we look at gaps, we look at misstatements now, we zero in on those specific moments, and we think those are what actually swayed voters. What actually John Kennedy did in 1960 and I would argue what John Kerry is clearly trying to do is a cumulative process. Over three debates he is introducing himself carefully, incrementally establishing his credibility, his alternative philosophy, his style of leadership. He is getting the voters comfortable with who he is as a man, and as a president. That isn’t something that you do in a soundbite or a single debate. We’ll know in three weeks if it worked.”
  • “I was also I struck by something that this President Bush tried to do tonight, and tried to do in the last couple of debates was reminiscent of something his father did very effectively in 1988. It goes to these issues. Remember Michael Dukakis famously said that this was an election about competence, and not ideology. Ideology is a euphemism particularly for cultural values, and the first President Bush managed really to kind of turn the corner by really trying to use these words against Michael Dukakis. You see that in a repeated attempt by this President Bush to in affect turn Kerry’s own record as he defines it, against it.”
  • “I think it was a thoughtful, substantive, and heated discussion, that’s what democracy is all about.”

Doris Kearns Goodwin (on MSNBC’s “Imus In The Morning”)

  • “It is a pretty horrific process to go through month after month. It’s not normal. I mean, who is talking all day long, who is saying their same mantra over and over again where they have to repeat it and they have to pretend that they believe it after a while. So maybe the process is just too long and thank God for the debates. At least these debates show these guys under pressure. I mean think of the pressure these two were under last night, I mean President Bush knowing his whole legacy might depend on how well he did in these debates and Kerry knowing that hail to the chief might be sung to him one day or he is back being a Senator from Massachusetts having lost this enormous stand to make history. So they do stand up under pressure.”

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The Second Bush/Kerry Debate: Highlights

HISTORY ARTICLES

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HNN, 10-11-04

The Second Bush/Kerry Debate: Highlights

By Bonnie Goodman

Ms. Goodman is a graduate student at Concordia University and an HNN intern

The Instant Polls

  • ABC News: Kerry was the winner 44 to 41 percent, with 13 percent declaring the debate a tie.
  • CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll: Kerry: 47 percent, Bush: 45 percent.
  • Reuters/Zogby poll: Kerry has a slim 46-45 percent lead on Bush in the campaign in the latest poll.

Candidate Soundbites

George W. Bush

  • At one point [George W. Bush] interrupted moderator Charles Gibson’s follow-up question after Kerry said he was “not going to go alone like this president did” in Iraq. “I’ve got to answer this,” Bush said, jumping off his stool.
  • “You tell Tony Blair we’re going alone,” he said, loudly. At other points, his voice was almost a yell. (CBS’s Dick Meyer’s account of an exchange during the debate)
  • Kerry has”been in the Senate 20 years. Show me one accomplishment he’s had on Medicare.” (Kerry: “Actually, Mr. President, in 1997 we fixed Medicare, and I was one of the people involved in it.”)
  • “I wasn’t happy when we found out there wasn’t weapons, but Saddam Hussein was a unique threat. And the world is better off without him in power. And my opponent’s plans lead me to conclude that Saddam Hussein would still be in power, and the world would be more dangerous [if Kerry had been president].”
  • “I can see why people think that he changes position quite often, because he does.”
  • “I don’t seen how you can lead this country in a time of war, in a time of uncertainty, if you change your mind because of politics.”
  • “Uh, let me see where to start here. First, the National Journal named Senator Kennedy the most liberal senator of all. And that’s saying something in that bunch. You might say that took a lot of hard work.” (Referring to Kerry as Kennedy.)
  • “Yeah, I mean he’s got a record. He’s been there for 20 years. You can run but you can’t hide. He voted 98 times to raise taxes. I mean these aren’t made-up figures. And so people are going to have to look at the record. Look at the record of the man running for the president.”

John F. Kerry

  • “The president didn’t find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, so he has really turned his campaign into a weapon of mass deception, and the result is that you’ve been bombarded with advertisements suggesting that I’ve changed a position on this or that or the other.”
  • “The world is more dangerous today because the president didn’t make the right judgments. So what does he do? He’s trying to attack me. He wants you to believe that I can’t be president.”
  • “The president is just trying to scare everybody here with throwing labels around. I mean, ‘compassionate conservative,’ what does that mean? Cutting 500,000 kids from after-school programs, cutting 365,000 kids from health care, running up the biggest deficits in American history. Mr. President, you’re batting 0 for 2.”
  • “Boy, to listen to that — the president, I don’t think is living in a world of reality with respect to the environment.”

Historians’ Comments

Bruce Shulman (professor of History, Boston University, BU forum on presidential politics)

  • “I think if the president wins re-election, I think that’s going to be a pretty strong sign that the move towards conservatism and the growing influence of the sun belt and of religious conservatism in American life that we’ve seen in the past 25 years, that that is continuing and even strengthening.”

Alan Schroeder (presidential debate historian at Northeastern University, on CBS)

  • “Kerry was very aggressive in this debate. In some of those two-shots it looked like Kerry was the prosecutor and Bush was the defendant, Bush was better than last time but he seemed rather shrill to me and not terribly articulate.”

David Thomson (film historian on CBS)

  • “The great opportunity that this format gives is movement. A lot of speakers, like to move when talking, preachers, and Bush likes this. Bush gave off a signal right away that this is a format he was more comfortable in. But I think Kerry handled it equally well….I suspect that this is not a debate in which there will be a substantial change one way or another.”
  • “I think by the end of this debate there was a feeling that we’ve heard these guys say the same things too many times. We now know. It’s up to us. If we can’t make up our minds on what we see, then the worse for us.”

Richard Norton Smith (director of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum on PBS)

  • “Well you saw that definitely in ’92 the first time this format was tried out. I thought this is the third now, well yeah ’96 of course with Clinton and Dole. I thought it was by far the best. A lot of people have doubts about the format, the town hall format; they think it is overly theatrical, in some ways, not that modern politics has become theatre.
  • “I thought there was two questions in particular we would have not heard, perhaps from a panel of reporters; one was on abortion, a very pointedly phrased question on abortion directed to Senator Kerry, and one equally pointed directed to President Bush about the Patriot Act by someone who felt their liberties were being infringed.”
  • “It certainly felt different than last Friday night, the President showed up, was intensely engaged I think he more than held his own. Its interesting: John Edwards maybe the trial lawyer, but John Kerry is the prosecuting attorney, and I thought that he returned to that role over and over again tonight. I thought he was very aggressive, I though he was crisp, in command of his facts. But I also think its interesting I think he said a couple of times “labels don’t mean anything,” that reminds me of Michael Dukakis saying “this an election about competence, not values.” George Bush seemed to be saying labels mean everything, and I think there in a nutshell is perhaps one of the choices, the stark choices that they offer.

Ellen Fitzpatrick (professor of history at the University of New Hampshire on PBS)

  • “I actually thought that there was a great deal more spontaneity because of the audience participation as your question suggests, but I also was also very struck at a difference in this town hall debate over previous town hall debates, and that was that the questions from the audience were pitched quite broadly In the past you had people standing up and saying I am a so and so, and I have an issue with X and Y.”
  • “It was really a kind of advancing, you had a collection of special interests especially coming from the citizenry, which is appropriate, people have their concerns and they look to politicians, and particularly the presidents to address those concerns. But this time I thought the questions, the quality of the questions were pitched, they were good quality questions were pitched broadly to national issues and concerns and I thought that was quite effective.”
  • “There’s a kind of solemnity that we are seeing in the debates all three of them now that reflect, in a way I feel it’s appropriate to the seriousness of the issues at hand. Every election year there are serious issues, but I do think that the post 9-11 environment that we are al now living in, the concerns that so many Americans have about security, the war on terror, the ongoing war in Iraq is lending a kind of solemnity to the proceedings that is very obvious, to me anyway.”

Michael Beschloss (on PBS)

  • “I didn’t think the format particularly worked, you know especially compared to earlier town meetings. I think there was a reason for this, because often times it does get into show business in a way that perhaps obscures the difference between the two candidates, but I thought the questioners look a little like props, and also there was none of the engagement you saw in previous debates. Part of that was the rules; there wasn’t much humor, these were not human beings who were really interacting with each other, and the result was that it was a rather an icy evening, a humorless evening for the most of it it recalled to some extent the relationship between George W. Bush and Al Gore four years ago.”
  • “You can have big differences but also have a little bit of humor and a more pleasant atmosphere. Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale, you can’t think of two candidates with probably more differences ideologically than those two, yet you look back at those two debates in 1984, there was humor when Reagan told a joke Mondale laughed. There was a sense that you know at the end of this evening these were not two men intensely antagonistic to each other. Mondale began his first debate by saying I like President Reagan, I respect the Presidency, I think he knows that. There wasn’t that element tonight, and I think I missed it.”
  • “I sure wish they had ten or eleven of these debates rather than three because when there are three there’s not enough time, because they can be affected by someone making a slip. We did not see that tonight, but often times there can be a moment that has inordinate impact. I would love to see a system where you have ten or eleven of these, not only because you get to discuss issues in greater length, depth, you get more of a sense of who these people are. I think one thing we saw this evening was that they both of these candidates knew there was such an enormous amount at stake, but they were a little bit sort of restrained and constrained that’s why we didn’t have that kind of engagement.”

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Campaign 2004: The First Bush/Kerry Debate: Highlights

HISTORY ARTICLES

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HNN, 10-01-04

The First Bush/Kerry Debate: Highlights

By Bonnie Goodman

Ms. Goodman is a graduate student at Concordia University and an HNN intern.

The Instant Polls

CBS: Kerry the winner by 44-26 percent.
ABC: Kerry the winner by 45-36 percent.
CNN/Gallup: Kerry the winner by 53-37 percent.

Candidate Soundbites

John F. Kerry

  • “This president has made, I regret to say, a colossal error of judgment. And judgment is what we look for in the president of the United States of America.”
  • “Well, you know, when I talked about the $87 billion, I made a mistake in how I talk about the war. But the president made a mistake in invading Iraq. Which is worse?”
  • “This president, I don’t know if he really sees what’s happening over there.”

George W. Bush

  • “He voted to authorize the use of force and now says it’s the wrong war at the wrong time. . . . I don’t think you can lead if you say wrong war, wrong time, wrong place. What message does that send to our troops?”
  • “The only thing consistent about my opponent’s position is he’s been inconsistent.”

Historians’ Comments

Arthur Schlesinger Jr

  • “Foreign policy has always been on the margin,” but this time “it haunts the conscience of the American people — 9/11 and the question whether the war in Iraq is worth the cost.”

Henry Graff (Columbia University presidential historian)

  • “[Kerry] is going to have to tell us why he voted yes and no.” On Kerry’s changed position concerning the war in Iraq.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson (director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania)

  • “I see a clash, a rhetorical clash between a person whose strength was rhetorically as a governor and a person whose strength is as a senator — a businessman versus a lawyer.”

Stephen Hess (presidential historian and a Senior Fellow Emeritus at the Brookings Institution, commenting on CBS)

  • “There may be some gain on the part of people who were not as familiar or aware particularly of Kerry who now get a sense of his seriousness and articulateness.”
  • “I think it was a reaffirming experience for listeners. People who went in intending to vote for Kerry will have thought that he did well, and the same will be true of those who were the Bush supporters. But if the status quo is maintained, that is actually good for the president, since he went into last night up in the polls.”
  • “The president had been so incredibly skillful up to this point in trying to make the campaign a referendum on the challenger, so to that degree Kerry righted the situation somewhat. So that was undoubtedly helpful. But still, I must say, I would be surprised if there were any major changes in the polls based on this.”
  • “My impression is that very few Americans are going to change their vote. They made their positions clear. They in a sense cancelled each other out.”

Richard Norton Smith (director of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum on PBS)

  • “This was a debate about large issues. You heard George Bush, the nationalist debating John Kerry, the globalist and I thought Kerry did, his initials are not JFK for nothing. He was [chair] with John F. Kennedy in 1960 ‘we can do better.'”
  • “I thought Bush took an almost Reaganesque approach when he was repeatedly coming back to his few basic defining differences between these two candidates.”
  • “Style does trump substance as history does teach that. I thought Kerry was the smartest kid in the class and I thought that the president was a slightly world weary teacher occasionally brushing him off.”
  • “No, and I’ll say that’s a good thing. We are always griping about the fact that soundbites have crowded out substance. I don’t think there are many sound bites from tonight, and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.”

Ellen Fitzpatrick (professor of history at the University of New Hampshire on PBS)

  • “I think it was a far more substantive debate that we have seen in American Political History in many, many, many a year, and I think it is extremely important to remember that the last time the United States was in a massive and extensive effort in nation building and the context of war with an ongoing insurgency was in Vietnam. The period of 1964 to 1972 when that war waged there were no presidential debates, that was a coincidence but we never had the opportunity to see this stark contrast drawn. The American people have been given that opportunity tonight.”
  • “It is extremely difficult in this instance when you have John Kerry saying this war was a mistake, but he is not saying, therefore he will withdraw. He is saying it is a mistake that now needs to be fixed. There he can’t draw as sharp a distinction with this president.”
  • “I thought that Kerry had close to a zinger when he said I may make a mistake in my words but you made a mistake in intervening in this war.”

Michael Beschloss (on PBS)

  • “I don’t think the debate was that decisive, I don’t think it was a debate that will change many minds, cause people to say gee I see all sorts of things in George Bush and John Kerry that I didn’t see before.”
  • “The one thing I really think it did was this, these debates really drew a contrast between temperaments that is at times what a debate does well, and I often time felt as if I was sort of watching Adlai Stevenson debate John Wayne.”
  • “And you also had two guys each trying to knock the other out. Kerry saying that any President that has made all these mistakes doesn’t deserve another term, and George Bush saying don’t you know John, you can’t be a president, you can’t be a commander in chief if you keep on changing your mind and changing your core convictions.”
  • “And it wasn’t very much show business, and I think it was wonderful because I think that tends to usually overwhelm everything that you hear. I think this was a debate that you can hear for 90 minutes and be proud to be an American.”

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Michael Beschloss & Richard Norton Smith: Their Commentary on the Republican Convention

HISTORY ARTICLES

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HNN, 9-06-04

Michael Beschloss & Richard Norton Smith: Their Commentary on the Republican Convention

By Bonnie Goodman

Ms. Goodman is a graduate student at Concordia University and an HNN intern.

As part of PBS’s coverage of the Republican National Convention in New York last week, historians Michael Beschloss and Richard Norton Smith provided historical perspective. The first day of the convention the discussion focused on war presidents, the second on party perspectives, the third on the effect of outside events on the course of the election, and the fourth on acceptance speeches. The following is a summary of their commentaries.

Day One: War Presidents

The discussion on the first day of the convention focused on war presidents, the advantages and disadvantages of being a war president. In their discussion on Abraham Lincoln’s re-election effort in 1864, Beschloss commented on Lincoln’s fear that he would lose the election because of the lack of decisive victories, but argued that “people were larger-minded enough to see he was doing it the right way.” Smith noted that the Republican Party this year is not attempting to broaden its appeal in the same dramatic ways the party undertook in 1864, when Lincoln insisted on running with a Southern Democrat.

Smith saw parallels between Richard Nixon’s 1972 re-election and George W. Bush’s. Smith pointed out the various strategies that Nixon employed to change the subject from Vietnam. He brought hundreds of thousands of troops home, “casting himself as a peacemaker.” He opened up U.S. Soviet relations and U.S.
China relations. He proposed “ending the draft, which of course had been at the heart of much of the intense opposition to the war.”

Beschloss noted that Nixon had additionally distracted the public from the war by having his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, claim that “we believe that peace is at hand.” Beschloss said that this was “cheap politics that presidents should not follow.”

Another parallel the historians discussed was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s re-election campaign in 1944. Beschloss argued that the parallels were suggestive. Despite tangible successes in the war, Roosevelt was being scrutinized as officials probed the reason the nation had been caught sleeping when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Thomas Dewey in a speech “suggested that Roosevelt was in some way responsible for Pearl Harbor,” which Beschloss pointed out put Roosevelt in a “very risky situation.”

In commenting on the Vietnam War and the 1968 campaign Beschloss claimed that “Nixon was pretending that he was likelier than [Hubert] Humphrey to pull troops out of Vietnam if he was elected. A lot of peaceniks voted for Nixon, bizarrely enough, and Humphrey who would have really done that, was scared into suggesting in public that he followed Johnson on the war because Johnson called him up and said, ‘Hubert, you oppose me on Vietnam, I’m going to dry up every Democratic dollar from Maine to Hawaii.’ Humphrey was already broke, he couldn’t do it.”

Day 2: Party Perspectives

On the second day of the convention California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Laura Bush spoke. Both historians observed that Governor Schwarzenegger’s views on social issues do not resemble the positions of that other famous Republican actor turned governor of California, Ronald Reagan.
Beschloss said Schwarzenegger’s liberal social views most clearly reminded him of California Governor Earl Warren. Schwarzenegger, according to Smith, is “post ideological” and “transcend[s] party labels in a lot of ways.” But the governor also resembles Reagan in the way he can get away with such comments as “girley men.”

Beschloss argued that that there may be a future for Schwarzenegger in presidential politics “if the Constitution is amended some day and if the Republican Party does feel it wants to move back to the center.” They thought he might be particularly helpful winning the immigrant vote. Schwarzenegger is sponsored by Pete Wilson, who supported propositions in the 1990s that were considered hostile to immigrants. Smith said Schwarzenegger, an immigrant himself, could change the perception that party is anti-immigrant.

Also discussed was the issue of first ladies as a political asset in a campaign. Smith mentioned that after Betty Ford’s explosive “60 Minutes” interview, conservatives were concerned that she might cost Ford the presidency. But she may indeed have helped improve Ford’s support among women; “by 1976 there were buttons all over the country that read Betty’s husband for president.” In regard to the present first lady Beschloss commented that “Laura Bush speaks rarely on politics, so when she speaks people listen.” Some of her views differ with the president’s and may be more liberal, helping Bush win over centrists. Smith agreed that “a lot of people find it reassuring to think that someone that close to the president, maybe shares some of the concerns.” Lady Bird Johnson according to Smith also “managed to straddle the divide between a traditionalist and activist.”

Day 3: The Importance of Outside Events on the Course of the Election

On the third night the discussion focused on events outside the candidates’ control that can affect the election, including the possibility of an October Surprise.
According to Smith, Johnson’s 1964 campaign worried about Walter Jenkins, “who was a very close aide to President Johnson, [who] was arrested in a YMCA in Washington under compromising circumstances.” When news leaked out about the arrest the Goldwater conservatives believed they could make a strong case that the country faced moral decay under LBJ. But foreign issues quickly wiped the Jenkins story off the front pages. China, noted Smith, “successfully tested their first nuclear device; and in Moscow the politburo overthrew Nikita Khrushchev.” Beschloss added that the World Series and a change in government in London also helped Johnson.

Beschloss argued that for events like these to influence an election the contest has to be close “in those last weeks in October; and it also has to be an event that’s really at the center of the campaign.” Such was the case in 1968 when on October 31 Johnson halted bombing in the Vietnam with peace a possibility, “so for a couple of days, Humphrey zoomed in the polls, and then the South Vietnamese government said they would not negotiate, and Humphrey plunged,” and he lost the election. Beschloss said it was not clear if a terrorist attack on the United States in October would help or hurt President Bush.

Smith pointed out that events helped Lincoln in 1864. By August Lincoln did not believe he could win. However, when the Democratic Convention met and “they adopted a peace platform, calling for a negotiated end to the war and repeal of the Emancipation Proclamation, that shocked millions of voters. And then, two days after that convention, General Sherman took Atlanta.” Winning the war was possible and Lincoln’s “victory became almost a forgone conclusion.”

Beschloss observed that in 1992 Lawrence Walsh indicted members of the Bush administration in connection with the Iran-contra scandal, and suggested George H.W. Bush was more involved than originally believed. “Bush the elder had been getting traction on the issue of honesty and integrity against Bill Clinton. At that moment his polls began to go down, and there was not much chance that he would win.” In 2000 Bush’s son’s integrity was also cast in doubt at the last moment when it was revealed that he had been arrested for drunk driving in the mid-1970s.

Another case of a revelation in the last week prior to an election that hurt the candidate’s chance for winning according to Smith came in 1976, during the Ford-Carter race. By the last weekend of the campaign Ford had managed to turn a thirty-three point deficit in the polls into a one-point lead. Ford claimed there was an economic recovery, but when unemployment statistics came out that suggested otherwise, this “caused second thoughts in enough voters so that at the very last minute they moved back and Jimmy Carter narrowly won.”

Beschloss discussed the origin of the term October Surprise. He traced it back to the 1980 campaign and the Iran hostage crisis. “The Reagan people were worried that Jimmy Carter would commit some kind of October surprise, meaning something that would suddenly cause the hostages to be released and Carter to win the election against Ronald Reagan.” There was also suspicion that vice presidential candidate George Bush “flew to Paris in an SR-1 spy plane to have a secret meeting with some French people and some Iranians to try to foil this.”

Day 4: Acceptance Speeches

In anticipation of the President’s acceptance speech the discussion focused on “what makes a great re-nominating acceptance speech, or one a president or his campaign may come to regret.” In the last century the acceptance speech that has perhaps made the most lasting impression was Roosevelt’s in 1936, though Smith added that “that year FDR could have read the phone book and he would have carried every state but Maine and Vermont.” According to Smith “the incumbent has one advantage–they always go second. And the other advantage is, they’re an incumbent. Truman was able to use this advantage as to not run against “Tom Dewey, his nominal opponent, he ran against the so-called do-nothing 80th Congress. He said he was going to call them into session on what they called Turnip Day back in Missouri. He put the ball in their court knowing Congress would not adopt the liberal platform and then driving a wedge right down the middle between Dewey and his allies.”

Beschloss noted that Clinton’s 1996 speech, which “was 66 minutes, [was] one of the most boring speeches I have ever heard.” It was “this laundry list of proposals like cleaning up toxic waste dumps, it wasn’t very interesting.” But the purpose of the speech was to get the voters who would watch the speech for a couple of minutes to tune in, and hear a few proposals that would prompt them to vote for Clinton, and “the speech worked in that sense.” On the other hand Smith pointed out that Bush the elder failed to do the job in 1992. He had given his speech at a negative kind of convention, where “the economy was in the doldrums” and because of his foreign policy strengths he appeared disengaged on domestic policy. Smith commented that “he got up there and he had a speech that frankly was a bit of a mishmash, not very thematically coherent.”

Beschloss said that in Nixon’s speech in 1972 “the language was not memorable, but what he was conveying was with the I’m the guy who made the opening to China, who was doing diplomacy with Russia, on the verge of ending the Vietnam War. If you all want to throw that away, fine with me but I don’t think you should.” Smith brought up FDR’s speech in 1944. “FDR gave a war speech. He didn’t speak at the convention hall. It was announced he was speaking from an undisclosed location. A military installation on the West Coast.” In Beschloss’s opinion, “the one thing is that if a wartime president makes himself seem indispensable he can get Americans to vote for him even if they may not like his domestic policies.”

Wrap-up

In his reaction to President Bush’s acceptance speech, Smith said it was “sort of a state of the union address, plus an inaugural address, it had a lot of policy but it was also very personal.” Bush’s speech focused on policy primarily, and was a “Reaganesque speech in the optimism, in looking to the future.” Smith “thought it was a very powerful speech. We won’t know for two months whether it worked or not, but it certainly worked tonight.”

Beschloss said it helped establish Bush’s position on issues: “there’s no chance that he’s going to be accused of having failed to present an agenda for the second term, a very long list of domestic proposals.” As for foreign policy, what Bush’s speech communicated was that “We’re staying on the offensive, striking terrorists abroad so we do not have to face them here at home.” The tone reminded Beschloss of offensive military policy harking back to the Cold War era Republican campaigns from 1972 to 1988, when the Republicans would stress that their party was tougher on communism and more trustworthy on defense than the Democrats. “We are in a war, a fight for our lives; I, George W. Bush, I’m the one who can keep you safe, John Kerry can’t for all sorts of reasons. And if people believe that they are likely to forgive a lot of things they don’t like about George Bush, even domestically. If people see it that way he’s going to win the election.”

Smith said that “much of that week you had a feeling that there was an attempt to blur” the differences with the Democrats by trotting out moderates. But Bush’s speech was “actually very ambitious, an attempt to recast the Republican Party and conservatism generally, almost along Thatcherite lines. You know, I think of Margaret Thatcher when you hear about the ‘ownership society.’ That’s more than a slogan, potentially. That’s a fairly radical redefinition of conservatism.”

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