Posts Tagged ‘Al Gore’


By Gil Troy, HNN, 1-12-12

A crisis is looming for political reporters desperate for a drawn out, dramatic presidential campaign.  Republican voters may be less crazy and more predictable than the conventional wisdom suggests.  If Mitt Romney continues his winning streak because Republicans realize he is the most electable candidate, we might have a much abbreviated presidential nominating season thanks to voters making a rational, non-doctrinaire decision.

Anxious to keep things going, programmed for conflict, reporters have tried to place a big asterisk on Romney’s New Hampshire victory, warning that the emergence of Republicans criticizing his time at Bain Capital proves that in the week he won Romney also witnessed that which will guarantee his loss to President Barack Obama in November.  History suggests otherwise.  Hashing the issue out now just might inoculate Romney against succumbing to the attack in the general election.

The historical analogy most worrying to the Romney camp comes from the 1988 campaign, when George H.W. Bush decided to “go negative” after discovering he trailed behind Michael Dukakis by 17 points in the polls and was saddled with a “negative rating” of 40 percent, twice that of his opponent. In a move that would become legendary in the annals of political consultants, Bush’s campaign director Lee Atwater gave his director of research James Pinkerton a three-by-five card and said:  “You get the stuff to beat this little bastard and put it on this three-by-five card.”  One of the negatives Pinkerton discovered was an issue Al Gore had raised during the Democratic primary campaign—the prison furlough program that enabled a convicted murderer to rape a woman and terrorize her fiancée—and the devastating Willie Horton attack ad followed.

But there’s a flip side to this tale.  In both 1992 and 2008, primary attacks against Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, as unpleasant as they were during the time, ended up being defused by the general election.  In 1992 the Gennifer Flowers adultery allegations and the Vietnam draft dodging charge had largely lost their sting by the Democratic Convention.  In 2008 Barack Obama brilliantly dispatched the Jeremiah Wright problem in March, so that it was not much of a factor in the fall.

In fact, John Kerry might have become president in 2004 had his primary opponents done a better job of attacking him more viciously.  When Kerry ran for the Democratic nomination in 2004, he ran as a war hero and was treated as such.  The Republicans “Swift Boated” him effectively during the general campaign, turning his war record into a liability.  Had Democrats tried that tack during the primary, Kerry might have been able to pull the patriot card on them and deflected the attack—just as Romney has to continue pulling the capitalist card on Republican critics, to squelch the criticism and try to unite his party behind free market values.

The Swift Boat campaign could inspire a great attack and a great defense on the Bain Consulting issue.  The Swift Boat campaign was so effective because the attackers mobilized dozen of fellow veterans, who stood there condemning Kerry.  If I were running against Romney, I would look to get as many individual, heartbreaking stories of job loss on tape, and then try to get as many of his victims as I could together in a room for a day of melodramatic, tear-jerking filming.  If I were running Romney’s, I would look to get as many individual, heartwarming stories of job creation on tape, and then try to get as many of his beneficiaries as I could together in a room for a day of melodramatic tear-jerking, filming.

Romney has to look at these attacks as opportunities—to preempt attacks that might appear again from Democrats and to strut his stuff, as they say. Attack ads are sometimes just what a candidate needs to come to life.  Romney has to demonstrate that he is winning these primaries because of his skills and vision, and not simply backing into the nomination, if indeed, he is “the one.”


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By Gil Troy, New York Times, 11-6-11

There we go again. After nonstop headlines a year before Election Day and nine debates between the Republican candidates (number 10 is scheduled to take place on Wednesday in Michigan), Americans are already grumbling that the 2012 presidential campaign is ugly and interminable. But these quadrennial complaints about campaigning miss the point.  Presidential campaigns are nasty, long and expensive because they should be. Many aspects of campaigns that Americans hate reflect democratic ideals we love.

The presidential campaign’s length and fury are proportional to the electorate’s size and the presidency’s importance.  A new president should undergo a rigorous, countrywide, marathon job interview. Citizens need time to scrutinize the candidates. As David Axelrod, Barack Obama’s senior strategist, puts it: “Campaigns are like an MRI for the soul, whoever you are eventually people find out.” Already this year, “easy favorites” like Tim Pawlenty fizzled, while Rick Perry learned that years governing Texas do not provide as much political seasoning as weeks of presidential campaigning. Mitt Romney, his aides admit, worked out his campaigning “kinks” in 2008.  That year, Sarah Palin’s popularity waned while Barack Obama’s soared, the more each campaigned.

These nationwide courting rituals should be long enough to let great politicians flourish and bond with the nation. John F. Kennedy became a better president and person by encountering Appalachian poverty during the 1960 West Virginia Democratic primary. During his 18,009 mile, 600-speech campaign in 1896, the Populist Democrat William Jennings Bryan insisted that voters “have a right to know where I stand on public questions.” Franklin D. Roosevelt’s strategist advised his candidate in 1932 in strikingly modern terms: “You are you,” he said, and “have the faculty of making friends on a campaign tour.” Traditionally, candidates repeated stump speeches so frequently that, as Herbert Hoover noted, “paragraphs could be polished up, epigrams used again and again, and eloquence invented by repeated tryouts.”

A campaign is the defining democratic exercise for a country founded on the consent of the governed. Since the Jacksonian Democratic revolution against elitism in the 1820s, each revolution democratizing American life further popularized the campaign.  Democracy trumped dignity; mass politics required mass appeals that frequently became protracted, vulgar brawls.

Like automotive crash tests, nasty campaigns determine a potential president’s strength and durability.

Popular candidates stopped being passive kings-to-be, becoming active, articulate, prime-ministers-in-formation, introducing themselves to the people, who wanted to vet their leaders. Most Americans still yearned for George Washington’s dignified silence, even as they cheered candidates engaging in what Hubert Humphrey would later call “armpit politics,” intense and intimate.  In 1840, William Henry Harrison explained that “appearing among my fellow citizens” was the “only way to disprove” rivals’ libels that he was a “caged simpleton.” Similarly, in 1948, a century later, President Harry Truman traveled to California to give the locals a chance to examine him in person. “I had better come out and let you look at me to see whether I am the kind of fellow they say I am,” he said.

Like automotive crash tests, nasty campaigns determine a potential president’s strength and durability. George H.W. Bush deflected ridicule in 1988 as a “wimp,” a “weenie” and “every woman’s first husband,” by mudslinging. “Two things voters have to know about you,” his aide Roger Ailes advised. “You can take a punch and you can throw a punch.”

Alternatively, a well-placed blow can pulverize a vulnerable candidacy. Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, a ferociously partisan Democrat, twice devastated Republican contender Thomas Dewey. First, in 1940, Ickes said the 38-year-old New Yorker had “thrown his diaper into the ring.” Ickes was also popularly credited with suggesting four years later that the dapper, mustachioed Dewey looked “like the groom on the wedding cake.” Both barbs stuck, crystallizing concerns about Dewey.

Voters oversimplify, viewing presidential campaigns as presidential dress rehearsals. After Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory, the defeated Vice President Dan Quayle predicted:  “If he runs the country as well as he ran the campaign, we’ll be all right.” Actually, campaigns are auditions for certain aspects of the job. Although the contrast between Barack Obama as candidate and as president suggests that great campaigners do not always make great presidents, every great president must now be a great campaigner first.

Campaign budgets reflect the time candidates require to capture attention across America’s continental expanse. Candidates compete against the din of modern life, not just against each other. Considering that Procter & Gamble spent $8.7 billion in 2008 peddling detergents and razors, spending $4.3 billion for the 2008 campaign appears a reasonable price to pay for democracy.

The time and money invested pay off because campaigns matter. The stakes in elections are high, the outcomes often in doubt. Despite frequently feeling powerless in modern America, voters can make history. The George W. Bush-Al Gore deadlock in 2000 reminded Americans that in close elections, old-fashioned civics teachers were proved right: every vote counts. When Truman upset Dewey in 1948, the St. Louis Star-Times saluted unpredictability as an “essential part of freedom.”

Ronald Reagan used his four presidential runs in 1968, 1976, 1980 and 1984 to become a better candidate – and the Great Communicator. He relished voters’ sweaty handshakes, sloppy kisses, hearty backslaps and soaring hopes, explaining simply, “I happen to like people.”  Reagan instinctively understood the Progressive philosopher John Dewey’s teaching that “democracy begins in conversation.”  That conversation can turn ridiculous, raucous or tedious, but it serves as both safety valve and social salve. Presidential campaigns historically have had happy endings, with America’s leader legitimized by the open, rollicking process.

So, yes, campaigns are excessive, part old-fashioned carnival and part modern reality show. But in these extraordinary, extended democratic conversations, a country of more than 300 million citizens chooses a leader peacefully, popularly and surprisingly efficiently. As Reagan told Iowans during his costly, nasty, lengthy – but successful – 1984 campaign, “It’s a good idea – and it’s the American way.”

Gil Troy, professor of history at McGill University, is the editor, with Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Fred Israel, of “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-2008,” fourth edition, just released by Facts on File of Infobase Publishing.

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On the Gores’ breakup, the Clintons’ survival, and the marital toll of a lost election

Presidential expert Gil Troy in conversation with Kate Fillion

by Kate Fillion, Macleans, Wednesday, June 16, 2010 10:00am

Yoray Liberman/Getty Images

A professor of history at McGill and a visiting scholar affiliated with the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, Gil Troy is the author of several books on the U.S. presidency, including an examination of Hillary Clinton’s tenure as first lady and Mr. and Mrs. President, a study of presidential marriages in the modern era.

Q: Why are people shocked that Al and Tipper Gore are separating?
A: People want to believe in marriage, and the Gore marriage was part of the national furniture. Starting in the mid-1980s, with Tipper’s involvement in the movement promoting warning labels for records [with explicit and violent lyrics], the Gores set themselves up as an iconic couple representing family values—significantly, from the left. They were saying, “Republicans do not have a mono­poly on faith, flag and family.” Especially during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the Gores emerged as the counter to the Clintons’ famously dysfunctional marriage, culminating in 2000 at the Democratic National Convention with the famous smooch.

Q: What do you make of that kiss?
Al Gore’s line was, “I wasn’t trying to send a message to the American people, I was trying to send a message to Tipper.” But it was very much a message to the American people. Everybody was joking about how wooden he was, and the issue on the table was: is he a full-blown personality or a Gore-bot? That prolonged kiss was the easiest, most dramatic way to respond. It got people talking, and telegraphed a disdain for Bill Clinton’s behaviour while reinforcing this narrative that the Gores were the Democrats who would not embarrass you.

Q: Well, Tipper looked pretty alarmed.
Here you are on national television, glaring lights, blaring music—it’s not necessarily the most romantic of settings.

Q: In this cynical age, why would people fall for such obvious political stagecraft?
Canadians do this less, but all of us in modern, celebrity-oriented democracies tend to project onto our leaders some dimensions of our lives and dilemmas. In general, Americans are torn between wanting to progress and still wanting something old-fashioned. That’s how Al and Tipper Gore became the soothing background music in this cacopho­nous age: see, there are some couples and families that still work. Marriage, whether you’re getting married in Vegas with an Elvis impersonator or in front of 400 people in the most traditional Catholic ceremony, is a leap of faith. To have totems is reassuring, and the Gores set themselves up as totems.

Q: Why did they continue doing that, with the publication of Joined at the Heart, even after Tipper ruled out her own Senate run in 2002?
It makes sense in modern American celebrity culture to cash in on your identity, and the central signifier of the Gores’ lives was their togetherness. It was very much a baby-boomer togetherness, not an Ozzie and Harriet we-never-fight togetherness. It was, “We’re different: he’s a bit of a stiff, and I’ve had some emotional ups and downs.” They’ve always competed with the Clintons in the popular imagination as contrasting symbols of their generation. The Gores were preaching “it’s hip to be square” while the Clintons seemed buffeted by the turbulence of the sexual revolution, which is one of the baby boomers’ signature cultural contributions. It’s the irony of ironies that the Clintons are still together while the Gores are splitting, because, of course, divorce is an iconic baby-boomer act.

Q: Why has the Clintons’ marriage endured?
I think it has to do with the bar of history. When you become president, in the same way that your family is suddenly the first family and you don’t just work in an office but in the Oval Office, you become extremely aware of the fact that there’s going to be a presidential library, there’s monumentalism about the whole experience, and I think it becomes that much harder to divorce. Especially with the Clintons, where people were constantly saying, “The marriage is a sham,” there’s hesitation to give their enemies any satisfaction. Plus, there’s a bond there.

Q: It’s not just a political alliance?
I was never part of that school of thought. Their commitment to Chelsea kept them together; they very rarely rolled her out as a political prop, they protected her to an extraordinary degree. And throughout all the ups and downs, Bill Clinton always made it clear Hillary was the smartest woman he’d ever met and had a kind of discipline he lacked, and she often talked about his tremendous people skills, which she lacked. They worked together, they fed off each other and built off each other. Those are parts of the recipe that make for a marriage.

Q: Why does campaigning put such a strain on a marriage?
It’s a combination of the hellishness of being apart and the hellishness when you’re together. The hellishness of being apart is Betty Ford counting that when Gerald Ford was House minority leader, he was away from home 256 days in a year so she was on call 24 hours, seven days a week for their kids. Even when the couple is together, there’s a certain apartness; the drug of public adulation makes it difficult [for the candidate] to come down. It’s not a whole heck of a lot of fun being in a room where all eyes are on your spouse, you’re the prop, and your mandate is a variation of the Hippocratic oath: do no harm. And this guy that you married 25 years ago when you were just students, there are ego issues—and simply the insanity of the campaign trail, the late nights, the jumping from hotel to motel. But the White House is a surprisingly healing place for a marriage.

Q: How?
The couple is finally living above the store, as they say. There’s less travel, they’re entertaining more, so she’s no longer just a prop. Also, you’re in this glamorous mansion with servants galore—there’s a fairy-tale nature to the existence. The other thing that heals presidential marriages, and probably to some extent vice-presidential ones, is that it’s hard when you’re president to get straight advice, especially if it’s critical. Even some of your closest friends clam up. Nancy Reagan reported that during the Iran-Contra scandal, she asked Robert Strauss, a Democrat and one of the wise men of Washington, to explain to her husband how serious the issue was. But as soon as Strauss sat down he got all “Mr. President” and couldn’t deliver the message. So she had to do it. Presidents love the adulation, but also understand the need to be grounded, and the spouse is often the conduit to reality. It’s a key bond.

Q: So if you go through the hell of campaigning and then lose, like Gore, you don’t get that healing opportunity?
It was a devastating public blow. Al Gore was raised for the presidency, and they came so close to getting the White House.

Q: Was it crushing for her, too, after decades as the Good Wife?
Absolutely. The job of first lady is alluring because you do have a certain kind of power, you can make a difference in people’s lives. You bring a lot of political capital to the table as the spouse, through the entertaining, through creating the narrative. We don’t really know what goes on even in our best friends’ marriages, so we don’t know to what extent did she blame him for the loss in 2000? Did she think he could’ve campaigned more effectively? We have no idea.

Q: Would she have grounds for blaming him?
It wasn’t just that forces beyond Al Gore’s control stole the election. Al Gore lost it. Two things were going on: the press was very hard on him, and his campaign was a nightmare—poorly planned, poorly run. There were all kinds of ridiculous things that came out, like he was thinking of dressing more in brown, because it’s an earth colour. How did we even hear about that? There was competition among Gore’s campaign staff, and also a failure to lead on his part. Part of the reason he didn’t run in 2004 is that a lot of his fundraisers just wouldn’t work with him again.

Q: What is it like to have to leave your home, Washington, after a loss like that?
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter wrote very powerfully about how devastating it was to be repudiated by the American people [in 1980], especially after they had such an amazing run in 1976, and to come home to Plains and think, “Now what?” There’s also the comedown, which the Gores would’ve experienced after eight years of having staff at their beck and call. It’s not just that you’re not in the White House but that all these goodies you’ve become accustomed to disappear. Harry Truman talked about coming home after his time in the White House and having to drag his own luggage, though he was the kind of person who enjoyed it. But few of us enjoy going backwards.

Q: Has any other losing candidate for the presidency reinvented himself as Gore did?
No. He hit the celebrity trifecta: bestselling book, Nobel prize, Academy Award. He’s had political impact, cultural impact, international impact—which takes us back to why their separation is generating water-cooler conversations. The Gores remained in the popular mind; they didn’t fade away. But maybe, like Pat Nixon, Tipper had had enough. Once they left the White House, Pat Nixon said, “You can do what you want, but I’ve paid my dues and I’m not going to be a public woman anymore, no more speeches.”

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By Gil Troy

(Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University in Montreal. His latest book, co-authored with Vincent J. Cannato, is Living in the Eighties (Oxford University Press, 2010).)

News that Al Gore and Tipper Gore are separating after forty years of marriage has unnerved many.  Despite our collective cynicism, especially about celebrity marriages, this marriage was supposed to last.  This assumption was not based on believing the Gores were the ideal couple.  They had shared their struggles over the years with her depression, their clear personality differences, the trauma of having a six-year-old hit by a car.  But they paraded publicly for so long as exemplars of family values, they were so ostentatiously self-righteous about their rectitude, and he was just so flamboyantly square, that their “till-death-do-us-part marriage” had become part of the national furniture, taken for granted, relied upon, and now, conspicuously absent and sorely missed.

No one other than the Gores knows exactly what happened—and they, too, may not be completely sure.  Even marriages free of public scrutiny are icebergs, with the true foundations submerged:  some rock solid, some fragile.  Still, as national role models who frequently made their private lives public, their private trauma has public repercussions.

Since the 1980s, the Gores have been a totemic couple in the nation’s culture wars, baby boomers preaching that it was hip to be square.  In 1984, when Al Gore was a Democratic senator from Tennessee, Tipper Gore allied with another Washington spouse, Susan Baker, to crusade against popular culture’s immoral excesses.  Baker’s husband, James A. Baker III, was the Republican White House Chief of Staff, making for a formidable bipartisan alliance. Baker and Gore formed the Parents Music Resource Center, advancing proposals for voluntary labels on music records warning of excessive sexual content and violence.

These efforts triggered an intense backlash from Hollywood, with the two accused of being moralistic prudes.  Tipper Gore subsequently went out of her way to show how fun-loving she was, how with-it she was, emphasizing her love of the Rolling Stones, along with her disgust at music celebrating rape, misogyny, and other depravity.

Tipper Gore’s public image as chipper became even more important in 1992 when her husband became Bill Clinton’s running mate, because Al Gore was a stiff.  Silky smooth Bill Clinton could charm a snake out its skin, but he was as inconstant as he was charismatic. Earnest Al Gore stabilized the ticket – and the White House – during the roller coaster Clinton years.

Throughout the 1990s, as Bill and Hillary Clinton became the most dysfunctional couple in American politics, Al and Tipper Gore served as the counterbalance.  The Gores played the ever-wholesome Mike and Carol Brady of the “Brady Bunch” to Bill and Hillary Clinton’s Homer and Marge Simpson—a battling, mismatched duo who nevertheless stayed together.  During the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, the Gores appeared ever more self-righteous and stable as the Clintons appeared ever more estranged.  Al Gore even chose to telegraph to the American people that he was a passionate politician by giving Tipper a famously long smooch after his nomination.

The Gores’ obvious distaste for Bill Clinton’s extramarital escapades strained relations among the four.  During the 2000 campaign, Vice President Gore distanced himself so much from President Clinton that many observers believed he sacrificed his shot at the White House on the altar of his marital morality.

The Clintons and Gores had always competed with each other as contrasting symbols of the baby boom generation.  The Clintons usually nosed out the Gores as the more famous couple and the couple more buffeted by the turbulence of the sexual revolution, one of the baby boomers’ signature cultural contributions.  It is therefore ironic to see the Gores outdoing the Clintons by separating, considering that divorce is one of the ultimate, iconic baby boomer acts.

Representing the generation that created the disposable camera and disposable diapers, the Gores will now offer further proof that relationships are disposable too.  Divorce is not inevitable like death and taxes, but it is ubiquitous.  And while it is impossible to assess the private pain that precipitated this decision, it will feed cynicism about the stability of marriages.  The revelations about seemingly happy public couples like John and Elizabeth Edwards, like Tipper and Al Gore, make it harder to foster the traditional family values they championed so prominently then betrayed.

In my modern United States history courses, students have trouble fathoming how the public culture and passing trends shape the most intimate decisions affecting their lives, from the longevity of their parents’ marriages to their own decisions about sex.  In the 1970s, when Time and Newsweek ran cover stories celebrating the freedom individuals enjoyed by leaving their spouses, the divorce rate skyrocketed; in the 1990s, when the same publications ran cover stories charting divorce’s destructive impact on many children, divorce rates dipped.

Divorce is not always a worse option than remaining imprisoned in an unhappy marriage.  Few divorcees take this difficult step lightly.  And we are lucky to live in an era which enables men and women to move on to second, even third, acts in their lives when necessary.  Still, the buzz around the watercoolers as the articles about the Gore separation became among the day’s most emailed articles, suggests that while many like having divorce as an option when necessary, they also yearn for some role models who stay together, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, “till death do us part.”

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Assumptions Go Asunder as Gores Split

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Al Gore with his wife, Tipper, in 2007.

…Al and Tipper Gore’s announcement Tuesday that they would be separating after 40 years together underscores, yet again, a basic truism about any marriage, particularly political ones: You just never know. The point is made as vividly by the fraught political partnerships that remain intact — the Spitzers, the Clintons — as those that do not.Still, when the Gores circulated a joint e-mail message to friends announcing that “after a great deal of thought and discussion, we have decided to separate,” the news landed with some shock.

“We obviously have learned that the public is not always private and the private is not always public,” said Gil Troy, who teaches American history at McGill University in Montreal and has written about political marriages. “But you want to believe that there are certain marriages that will last. And the Gore marriage seemed to have become part of the national furniture in the best of ways.”…


A version of this article appeared in print on June 2, 2010, on page A14 of the New York edition

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By Gil Troy

HNN, 8-24-08

It is possible that liberals, conservatives and centrists who are not blinded by Obamania may all be able to agree that Joe Biden was a terrible choice as a running mate? Despite his contempt for George W. Bush, Obama seemed to be channeling the Cheney choice with this pick – trying to show that he really was not as inexperienced and unprepared as critics suggested. But Dick Cheney had at least one thing over Joe Biden – Cheney had not just run a presidential nominating campaign that demonstrated how unpopular he was.

It was one of the interesting anomalies of the 2008 Democratic race. There were three Washington veterans with decades of experience who went absolutely nowhere during the campaign. Senator Joe Biden, Senator Chris Dodd, and Governor Bill Richardson failed to get any traction, despite decades of governing and countless days and nights of hobnobbing with Beltway insiders. The three frontrunners, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had far better claims to outsider status – Edwards served only one term in the Senate, Clinton was just starting her second term, and Barack Obama was the most famous Senate freshman in decades.

Biden was a particular embarrassment on the campaign trail, shaming himself and his institution with his awkward, seemingly condescending remarks describing Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” After winning 9,000 votes and finishing fifth in Iowa, Biden left the race, proving how little American voters are impressed by a three-decade Senatorial resume. Obama’s ability to forgive Biden’s gaffe suggests a personal grace and generosity that is nice to see in politics; but this choice may fuel questions about Obama’s political and policy judgment.

Beyond this stunning – and recent — political failure, Biden’s supposed foreign policy experience may alienate both liberals and conservatives. Liberals will note that, unlike Obama, Biden voted for the war in Iraq – -just as Hillary Clinton and John McCain did. Thus, in the future, Obama will have to be a little more cautious when he mocks McCain’s judgment about initially supporting the war. At the same time, conservatives will note Biden’s failure to support the surge. This suggests that for all the media hype about Biden’s brilliance in overseas matters, he is just a conventional, finger-to-the-wind type, buffeted by the political trends of the moment. Holding fifty-plus Senate hearings and appearing repeatedly on Sunday morning television shows reveals a mastery of the Washington game not the intricacies of foreign affairs.

At the same time, centrists will mourn the fact that Joe Biden is neither a fresh face nor a bridge-builder. He lacks Obama’s outsider credentials and McCain’s track record in seeking bipartisan solutions. Biden is a good Democratic soldier, who has consistently stayed within party boundaries and helped create today’s destructive, angry, overly-charged Washington quagmire. In fact – and this we are told is part of his appeal – Biden knows how to throw hard political punches, as demonstrated by his partisanship during the Robert Bork and Samuel Alito hearings.

To be fair, Biden seems to be a decent man who has demonstrated tremendous personal grit over the years. The poignant story of the tragic loss of his first wife and daughter in an automobile accident shortly before he entered the Senate, his ability to raise his two boys on his own and eventually start a new family, his comeback from two brain aneurysms, and his record of thirty years in Washington without a major scandal – or it seems, a big payday – are all extremely admirable. But virtue does not always guarantee votes – as George H.W. Bush learned when Bill Clinton defeated him in 1992.

In fact, speaking of Clinton, Obama would have done much better had he learned from Clinton in 1992. That year, amid doubts about Clinton’s youth and inexperience, Clinton showed great moxie in refusing to nominate an elder statesman to compensate for his supposed weaknesses. Instead, Clinton thrilled voters by choosing another young Southern politician, Al Gore. This vice-presidential choice reinforced Clinton’s message of change; Obama’s choice, unfortunately, muddied the waters, suggesting that, at the end of the day, 2008 is going to be another conventional campaign and Obama may be just another conventional politician, like his new best friend, Joe Biden.

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SHOW: CANADA AM 8:08:00 ET, CTV Television, Inc. June 17, 2008



O’REGAN: Al Gore says he’s backing Senator Barack Obama for President. The former US Vice President joined Obama
at a Detroit rally last night. As the candidates get into full campaign mode, Americans appear to be equally divided on which candidate they agree with.

For some insight, we are joined by Gil Troy. He is a presidential historian and author of “Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents”. He joins us this morning from Washington.

A lot of people in Canada would probably agree with you. I think that’s where we firmly occupy our politics, is in the centre, Gil. Good to have you.

TROY: Great to be with you.

O’REGAN: Let’s first of all talk about the premise of your book, which is — and I’m going to make a quote here — “The middle has long been a very appealing and very American place to be and must remain so. The great American center has a long, proud history, of offering a muscular moderation, not a mushy middle.”

So, let’s start with this year’s campaign. Who is the centrist here? Is it Obama or is it McCain?

TROY: I think the race for the centre is on. Both Barack Obama and John McCain have to approach the campaign, understanding that if they want to win they have to master this politics of the centre. The centre: what does that mean? It means that Barack Obama has to go to that lyricism of his 2004 Democratic national convention speech where he spoke not of a red America or a blue America, but a red-white-and-blue America.

And John McCain has to understand that the reason why he became so popular is because he was the most anti-Bush of the Republicans.

And if they play for the centre they’ll be a success.

O’REGAN: What do you make of Al Gore yesterday and Barack Obama?

TROY: What a surprise. The former Democratic Vice President and nominee embraces Barack Obama. A little late, I would think, from the Barack Obama campaign. They would’ve loved the endorsement before Barack Obama won.

But it’s a way of feeding the news cycle and bringing some excitement to the campaign.

O’REGAN: John McCain is coming to Ottawa this Friday to talk about free trade. And, you know, Obama obviously has questioned NAFTA. Which one do you think, I mean, of the two — let’s move away from the centre and let’s talk about Canada. Which one of the two do you think would be better for Canada, particularly with free trade, you’ve got Afghanistan, borders, other issues?

TROY: I think there are two ways of approaching that question. First, to be honest, and this just isn’t a truism, the best candidate for America is going to be the best candidate for Canada. At this point, the United States has serious issues domestically and in terms of foreign policy. And the person who will be the most effective leader is what Canada needs, as America’s best friend.

On the other hand, I think Barack Obama stumbled during the Democratic primaries when he was playing that NAFTA game and one of his advisers said, “Oh, don’t worry, we’re not really serious about it.”

So, I think Canadians, justifiably, are going to be a little bit wary about Barack Obama. And the whole demagogic way that both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton ran the free-trade debate was a little bit disconcerting. So, McCain looks like he might be the stronger friend of Canada. So we have to see.

O’REGAN: This talk about the wives, Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama. Is this a factor at all during the course of the campaign? Does it matter?

TROY: The role of the wife is to follow a kind of political Hippocratic oath: first, do no harm. And Michelle Obama failed that test a little bit at the beginning when she made a comment saying “It’s the first time I’ve been proud of America.”

And one of the things that I’ve discovered in this book about moderation is that the most important thing is to be an American nationalist. Americans love their country, as Canadians do. And a great centrist is a great nationalist. And Michelle Obama undermined that.

O’REGAN: Let’s talk about John F. Kennedy. You devote a chapter to JFK. Tell me, in your mind, how he led from the centre, particularly during the Cuban missile crisis and civil rights.

TROY: John Kennedy is a good example of someone who grew in office and who learned how to be what I call a muscular moderate. When he first came to office he was a little bit callow, he was a little bit unsure of himself. But during the Cuban missile crisis he showed that he was able to ignore the generals who wanted to bomb Cuba and immediately start what could have been World War III, but to take a more cautious path without being weak. He called for a naval quarantine, a blockade, rather than going to war and rather than retreating.

Similarly, during civil rights he discovered and he showed that we need change sometimes in a country, we need a president who can listen to the American people, not be an extremist, not be a fanatic, but understand as in the 1960s that sometimes bold action is needed. And in his 1963 civil rights speech John Kennedy led the way. Unfortunately, the assassination cut him from being able to really mature as a great leader.

O’REGAN: Gil Troy, a very interesting book. Thank you so much for joining us.

TROY: Thanks. And let’s hope we can see some peace, order and good government in the United States as well. [laughter]

O’REGAN: There you go. Absolutely. Thank you.

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