The Democratic National Convention on Monday was all about love. "I love you, thank you very much," President Clinton said at the close of his speech last night, before rocking out to Fleetwood Mac. The Elvis Presley of American politics left the building in California to join his heir apparent on stage in Michigan today, a key state if the Democrats wish to retain the White House, which they surely do. They want it so bad you can smell it. On the other hand, it hit 95 degrees downtown today, so desire is not the only thing you can smell today.
You can also smell fear. The place reeks of it. It wafts from the Democratic Party platform, which the convention ratified Tuesday afternoon. (More on that in my next dispatch.) You can hear the fear, too. Fear is a great motivator, greater even than greed or lust. Fear of Republicans. Fear of "making the wrong choice." Fear of losing hard-fought rights, of losing ground, of turning back the clock to eight years ago, when 12 years of Republican misrule was brought to a halt and the Forces of Freedom took back the White House.
And were these delegates ever served up a steaming, spicy helping of Fear Gumbo today. "I'm scared," James Carville told an audience of 250 or so true believers at a forum Tuesday morning, put on by the People for the American Way at the Omni Hotel. Carville is scared that good people will be misled by talk that there are no important differences between Republicans and the Democrats. "You know, I hear it all the time, even if we do elect the Democrats they're gonna get in there and do the same old thing and it's nothin' to get all gassed up about, we can just go about our business," he said.
See, the problem with the Republicans is that they talk nice and so you forget how bad they are. "I'm scared it might work," Carville said. "You put on a nice enough ribbon and it doesn't matter what's [in the box.] I'm worried that our own people will get hoodwinked by that."
Carville is on the panel with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), PFAW Executive Director Ralph Neas, Robert Cox and pollster Julie Burton. NAACP President Kweisi Mfume was supposed to be there, too, but I didn't stick around long enough to see whether he actually showed up. They're here to put the fear of a Right-Wing Supreme Court in the assembled masses. "Our top-three issues," Neas said, "are the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court." Neas even steals Carville's line: "It's the Supreme Court, stupid." "The future of the Supreme Court is the national issue," Neas said. "This is the most important election since 1932. Our fundamental rights, rights we've taken for granted for 10, 20, 30 years, are in jeopardy." Rights that are fundamental are necessarily older than that, but those are not the rights Neas and People for the American Way are interested in today.
Carville tells it as only Carville can. "They're going to appoint people like Scalia and Thomas" Thomas's name elicits a hiss from this audience "then, bingo, Roe v. Wade is gone, bingo, workers' rights are gone, boom, boom, boom. You won't know what hit you. Then they'll pass the Business Reconciliation Omnibus Act of 2002. Next thing you know, you can get fired for looking the wrong way. You won't have a right to do anything." "Then one morning, you're gonna wake up to find a helluva lot different country than what you want," Carville said. "This is it, man. If we lose, we're gone. Look it up, it's right there" he means it's in the Republican Platform "But they're gonna be real nice about it."
Oh, yes, they are afraid. And not just of Bush. They're really worried about Ralph Nader. Nader is the spoiler candidate in 2000. He is Gore's Perot. Nader is appealing to the Democrats' left wing by saying there is no important difference between Gore and Bush. Barney Frank spent nearly half of his talk explaining why Nader isn't just wrong, but a dishonest fraud. "He would be honest," Frank said, "if he explained the difference between himself and Gore and Gore and Bush and if he were prepared to accept responsibility for the damage he's doing."
Nader is dangerous not because he has a chance of winning, but because he's polling anywhere from 5% to 7%. In a close race, 5% means Gore loses. And then what happens? Terrible, terrible things. The Republicans will rape the environment. They will "spend tax dollars so some kid can learn that the earth is 5,000 years old." Worse, they'll give people vouchers "and it will be nice. They'll probably bring out some nuns and some rabbis and it will be great," Carville said. Bottom line: "Anyone who votes for Ralph Nader is voting for Scalia and Thomas." This gets Carville a standing ovation.
Still, for a guy who says he's so scared, Carville sure grins a lot. Carville is a master showman, a true-blue shuck-and-jiver. He is a terrific showman. He pumps up the crowd with his hullaballoo act and then he blows out the door. Most impressive. Conservatives could use a guy like Carville. He lies, of course. He almost convinces you that a Republican government will take candy from babies and push old ladies in front of oncoming trucks. Almost. Then he grins, and you know better.
But Carville understands something about politics that many conservatives do not. The rhetoric of bi-partisan politics is fine as far as it goes, which is not very far at all. At the end of the day, "we're right and they're wrong." He knows that there is enough of a difference between Gore and Bush to undo at least some of the gains of the Administrative State if Gore loses. He understands the mechanics of politics, and he loves the fight. "It's time for the real stuff," Carville said. "These guys are playing hard. It's time for us to play hard, and let somebody else turn the other cheek."
Does Al Gore have "the real stuff"? Perhaps the answer to that question is what really has Carville and crew waking up in the middle of the night drenched in cold sweat. This much is true: It is an unfortunate fact of political life that many of the most important policy decisions in America today are made in the courts. Progressives have advanced their agenda through Congress and ratified it in the Supreme Court for more than half a century. This is what Neas means by "fundamental rights" we've taken for granted for thirty years. These are rights manufactured and enforced by government fiat. The right to free healthcare and cheap prescription drugs. The right to free breakfasts, after-school daycare, and midnight basketball. The right to a union job. And of course the right to abortion on demand.
What about the old rights? What about the right to keep the fruits of one's own labor? Or the right to self-defense? Or the right to associate freely? There is safety in freedom, in laws that are grounded in sound and immutable principles. These people would trade their freedom for a government check.