On the Campaign Trail
I don't know whether to blame Larry King or George Stephanopolous, but I missed the presidential campaign. I tried to stay current, really I did. I subscribed to (and read) The New York Times. I read my usual complement of liberal magazines, talked with friends. But without a television, I might as well have been living in another country.
I missed Clinton's jam session on Arsenio. Never saw Perot take calls on CNN. Wrote a column about the debates without seeing them. (In my defense, I offer the classic academic's line--I read the reviews.) Heard about Stockdale's virtuoso performance two days later. Didn't see Bush get defensive on network news. Missed Buchanan's tirade at the Republican Convention. I wonder if my grandchildren will believe me when I explain that it was hard to participate in history without cable.
But this is America, land of opportunity and second chances. So I was excited when the White House kicked off its second campaign: "Still can't stop thinking about tomorrow," if you will. Here was my turn to rendezvous with destiny, even if I was only being asked to endorse higher taxes, not pick the leader of the free world.
Like Zonker Harris, I got my chance sooner than I expected.
Last Friday, I walked ten blocks in a snowstorm to talk to the chair of the Democratic National Committee. The DNC chair (Ten dollars if you can come up with his name by the end of this paragraph) is just one of the many roving Democratic poobahs who have recently fanned out across the country in a barrage of talk shows and sound bites--revivalists urging their congregations to listen to Clinton and be saved. These messengers of goodwill have been sent out to make nice with the locals and drum up grass-roots support that will convince mean old nasty Congress to pass Clinton's economic plan. This may be the first administration that has home and away games.
David Wilhelm's (see, never heard of him, have you?) particular brief last Friday was to discuss the importance of youth to the Democratic party. The fax The Crimson received the day before the event described it as a "round table discussion"--pretty grandiose for a spin session between a semi-populist (he's from Ohio and he's not a lawyer) pol and five college reporters. Besides, it was a rectangular table.
Schmoozy events such as this are not usually my beat. My anti-establishment (any establishment) leanings are hardly a secret. Crimson President Ira E. Stoll '94 was being ironic when he suggested that going to this "would allow me to do what I like best." But I would probably trudge in the snow to meet the Republican National Committee Chair if I thought I could get a column out of it.
According to Wilhelm, college age students are very important to the Democratic party. They need to get in touch with us disaffected types before we all go and vote for Perot in large numbers again. Today's younger generation (Wilhelm seemed in blissful ignorance of the Alexander Star article in The New Republic that pointed out that there really is no such thing) is looking to its future, economically insecure and politically alienated, said Wilhelm. He actually said that youth were the most economically insecure group. Kind of makes you wonder about all those wonderfully secure poor people, doesn't it?
The afternoon was a delightful exercise in political rhetoric: how to promise much and say little, by David Wilhelm. A classic case was the discussion of the national service plan--which would allow students to pay for their college education by working in public sector jobs after graduation. According to Wilhelm, the program will involve 150,000 to 200,000 students by 1997.
A woman from Boston University asked what the unions would have to say about 200,000 young people competing for their jobs. Wilhelm explained that they would work with unions so that national service wouldn't displace any existing jobs. Someone else asked who was going to pay those 200,000 salaries if they didn't displace current jobs. Furthermore, the reporter continued, weren't establishing a huge national service project and fixing the economy (another big issue for youth, according to Wilhelm) slightly incompatible goals?
Cue for the big speech about the importance of "long term investment in our nation's youth." What we need to do is get our priorities straight. The cynical college reporters agreed that priorities were important but still wanted to know who was going to pay for them. Cue for the big speech about "250 cuts in the budget proposal over the next five years." Cuts in farm subsidies and federal overhead. And, of course, "revenue increases."
Wilhelm's other big issue is political reform. The puff piece on him in this month's Rolling Stone makes a big point of his work with labor groups and his success at mobilizing local activity while he was managing Clinton's campaign. In what seemed like a bad Jerry Brown flashback, Wilhelm predicted the increased use of "800" numbers and celebrity telethons. He even compared the possibility of such an event to "Jerry's Kids." You can just picture Barbara Streisand urging us all to give to "Clinton's Committees."
And asked where the Democratic Party was going, the chair of the National Committee said: "If I knew, we'd already be where we want to go. I know we want to get there."
I knew I'd enjoy this administration.
Lori E. Smith '93-'94 is a Crimson editor and, believe it or not, a lifetime Democrat and paleo-liberal.
The Democrats hit the streets to sell Clinton's plan--'Still can't stop thinking about tomorrow.'