Inside Washington's Headlines

by Ken Feltman

Radnor Inc.

September 2008


Legislative insight

Political intelligence










Ken Feltman is Chairman of Radnor Inc., a political consulting and legislative relations firm in Washington, D.C. He is past-president of the International Association of Political Consultants and the American League of Lobbyists.




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St. Paul: Is every rumor true?

Every rumor is based on truth.

- L. James Nelson

Wednesday, September 3 - I once worked with a fellow who reduced everything to a few basic truths. One was his observation that all rumors have an element of truth.

One day, a rumor came along that was just impossible to believe. The man could not be involved. He was too sickly. He was also a devoted family man, always praising his wife and kids. The woman was a high powered achiever who must have had little time for dalliances. They worked in different cities and may never have met. I told my friend that this was the exception that proves the rule. I was wrong.

Three divorces later, it turned out that the sickly man was involved, but with a different woman, actually two different women. The woman was involved with another man. Her husband, believing the original rumor, punched the first man in the mouth. Later, he sought out and punched the right man. Meantime, he continued his affair with the original man's assistant, whose husband was the first to head to divorce court.

Every rumor is at least a little bit true

The delegates and guests arrived in St. Paul in good spirits. They believed that Barack Obama had not seized his moment in Denver. The rumors about Governor Sarah Palin covering up for her daughter's pregnancy - by claiming that her daughter's baby was hers - did not distract them. The rumor was preposterous. Still, what if every rumor is a little bit true?

This one was fed by left-wing bloggers. Was truth hidden somewhere in the details? People wanted to believe that Sarah Palin was going to save them from a November disaster. They blamed the kooky left and continued to have a bouyant time.

Then the truth came out. Bouyancy ended and hopes sank. The first question: What else don't we know about Sarah Palin? It was not so much what we did not know as the fact that we would all wonder when the next shoe would drop. The Democrats understood that and started to drop all sorts of shoes, some real, most unreal, some just downright vicious. But now the delegates wondered what to believe. Doubt had intruded upon the party.

Every convention has loads of consultants, pollsters and officials from the other party in attendance. At first, the Democrats in St. Paul seemed disspirited. Everything changed when Bristol Palin's pregnancy was confirmed. The Democrats were joyous. Gone were any lingering feelings that Obama did not take full advantage of his moment in the spotlight in Denver. How would McCain explain this, they laughed?

Both Senator and Cindy McCain said that they had known about the pregnancy before McCain introduced Sarah Palin as his running mate. But old rumors suggest that McCain tends to vacillate and delay important decisions. Finally, he makes an impetuous decision, for better or worse.

As the rumor spread and grew, many former and current McCain staffers were going around giving media interviews saying that McCain is a great boss and denying the rumors that he has a temper. Well now, I have been on the receiving end of that "non-temper" a few times. It surely seemed like a temper tantrum. The little bit of truth may be that McCain gets frustrated with people who disagree with him. He vents. Then he forgets it and moves on.

The staffers were having no success in batting down the temper rumor. They were told to move on to an even more urgent mission: They went around saying that McCain was a thorough and careful man who had made sure that Palin was properly vetted. Okay, say we believe that - but if McCain knew all along, why didn't he get the messy news out of the way earlier? Like when he announced her?

Suddenly, because of her daughter's pregnancy, people began to doubt Palin and, therefore, they doubted McCain's judgment. They listened to other rumors, some old, most new. But in the end, these delegates wanted to trust and support Palin. They identified with her. So they tried to believe another rumor: McCain had chosen Palin because she is a gifted speaker.

A ticket of two white guys?

In fact, McCain knew a GOP ticket of two white guys was a loser unless, perhaps, the other white guy was Senator Joe Lieberman. Finally, with his staff demonstrating that picking Lieberman would further alienate the right, McCain moved on to other options.

Rumors for months suggested that he had been rebuffed by two African-Americans, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. He decided that he needed a woman but passed over several in his own campaign. Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman are former chief executives of major corporations. Linda Lingle is the successful Republican governor of heavily Democratic Hawaii. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) is effective but overlaps McCain in policy strengths. Many of the best and brightest Republcan women have left the House of Representatives, some because of the rigid stance of House leaders on reproductive rights.

Gallows humor made the delegates feel better: Gustav had saved them from live appearances by President Bush and Vice President Cheney. They were also cheered when Gustav did not devastate New Orleans and polls showed that Palin had given the GOP ticket a boost, especially among Evangelicals. Beside, the Palin rumors and truths were soaking up all the news time while Obama was being shut out.

As the day wore on, delegates began to tell each other that one rumor was surely true: Palin is a gifted speaker. They knew that the immediate future of their party rested on the shoulders of an obscure governor who was known in her basketball-playing youth as "Sarah Barracuda."

Questions about differences between Democrats and Republicans

Several people have asked if there are significant differences between Democratic and Republican convention delegations. Yes, there are, but perhaps the differences are not unexpected.

Democrats tend to stress programs and solutions for society as a whole. Democrats talk about many more issues as "rights." Republicans tend to emphasize individual rights, not group rights.

In a given election year, Republican delegates are less diverse than delegates at the Democratic convention. But over the years, the Republican delegates have shown more change - from moderates in the 1960s to convervatives in the 1970s and 1980s and the religious right in the 1990s.

This Republican convention, despite nominating two pro-life candidates, showed signs that pro-choice Republicans are moving into positions of party leadership.

Thursday, September 4 - Everything changed last night as Sarah Palin began speaking. The convention was alive with optimism. The delegates loved every word. The faces of my Democratic friends let me know their distress. When the speech was over, one said: "She is a barracuda. This will be a rough fight."

At an early morning breakfast for writers and publishers of online newsletters, a woman from Boston who writes a successful political blog was introduced as a Harvard classmate of Barack Obama. She gave a forgettable speech but ended by saying that Palin was a bad choice because a nursing mother could never stand up to the demands of the campaign.

Whoa! Almost as one, people from the left and from the right, male and female, rose up.

Didn't this woman realize that the industrialized world has created a new species? "Super-Mom" has proven that she can do it all. Working wives and mothers have exploited opportunities and pushed ahead, gaining more equality, step by step, as they balance the demands of work and family. Never mind that the fathers may not be as helpful as they could be. The women move ahead. They make things happen.

Clearly, everyone identified with or appreciated the problems that Palin has already overcome. Maybe John McCain is not so impetuous as to make a totally wrong decision after all.

People still worry, of course, and throughout Thursday the worry was that McCain's speech would never live up to Palin's. I had read early drafts of McCain's speech and knew that he was going to flesh out some programs he would stress in coming weeks. This is something that he does well, giving the crowd some red meat and putting the opposition on the defensive.

As the moment for McCain's speech grew closer, it was clear that the crowd was with him totally, some for the first time. They just wanted him to do a decent job and then get on with the campaign.

Friday, September 5 - These are happy Republicans. McCain exceeded expectations. Palin has made a strengh out of some family problems. As they leave, the delegates and guests are itching to go to work.

Perhaps this proves another rule, one that I made up years ago after attending conventions of both parties. The delegates leave in the same mood with which they arrived. The Democrats arrived in Denver a bit worried, distracted and concerned that Obama was running in place, not moving ahead. The delegates arrived in St. Paul on a happy note and were determined to go home in that same mood.


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