Jewish World Review Jan. 24, 2003 / 22 Shevat, 5763
The Dem "six pack" is already flat
Not many people go to speeches anymore; they hear their political campaigning via soundbites, which isn't quite the same thing.
Yet those people who do show up at speeches, especially presidential campaign speeches, invariably show up to be inspired, and they are almost invariably disappointed.
Running for president is such a high stakes game, in which a single mistake can ruin you, that most candidates opt for safe, pre-digested, previously tested rhetoric, instead of soaring prose.
There are always exceptions, and these exceptions always wow the crowd. But then what?
The Democratic Six Pack -- and the number will probably grow by one or two in coming weeks -- is not strong on oratory. All are capable of delivering a decent speech, and all will probably get better as the campaign progresses.
But as the Democrats showed Tuesday night when they addressed a NARAL Pro-Choice America dinner celebrating the 30th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, there are two among them who can actually rouse a crowd.
They are Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, who is a very longshot to win the nomination, and Al Sharpton, civil rights leader, who could probably win the nomination only in some alternate universe.
It is a phenomenon the Republicans experienced in 1996 and 2000 with Alan Keyes. He was always the best speaker, he always wowed the crowd, he never failed to impress, and he had no chance of getting the nomination.
So what are the rest of the Democrats to do? Just watch Dean and Sharpton blow them away on the stump?
Probably. Or they could refuse to show up at too many more of these group dinners. (Dick Gephardt has already turned one down in New Hampshire in February.)
"Both Dean and Sharpton completely pander in every speech they give," a political operative for a competing campaign said. "Especially Dean. He goes to the left and excites the base. But that makes it very hard for him to win a general election."
Dean, of course, is not worried about a general election. He would be daffy with delight if he managed to win the nomination.
But what the operative was saying is that candidates with no hope of winning can afford to be reckless and candidates who may have to face George W. Bush or even govern cannot be.
"In order to get nominated and elected, you have to demonstrate a broader reach than either Dean or Sharpton," the operative said. "Sharpton is very entertaining, a motivating speaker. But is he as intense as Jesse Jackson was? Will he really do well with Southern blacks?"
The operative thinks -- hopes -- he will not.
As I said, there are more candidates due to get in the race, a number of them being encouraged by Donna Brazile, the grass-roots organizer extraordinaire of the Democratic Party.
Brazile is encouraging African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and others to run in the primaries as "favorite sons," get delegates, make demands at the convention and then run on their own for the Senate, House or governor, etc., in future elections.
"This party needs revival," she told me Tuesday night after listening to the Six Pack. "We need to bring new voters into this process. I don't care if the other candidates are angry with me. Four have called me already. But I am an inciter; I am an agitator."
So what does she think of those already running, including the crowd-pleasing Sharpton and Dean?
"No vision," she said. "No vision. This party is running on an empty."
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