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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Can the empire strike back?

This weekend, while cleaning off some old bookshelves, I discovered a book by journalist Mark Shields, On the Campaign Trail, published in 1985.

In the 1984 primary season, Colorado Senator Gary Hart emerged from virtual oblivion to provide a serious challenge against former Vice President Walter Mondale for the Democratic nomination for president. Hart was likened to JFK, as Shields notes (p. 31).

Meanwhile, Shields referred pejoratively to Mondale's "Imperial Candidacy" (p. 27), built on years of insider politics and the presumption of inevitability. Sound familiar?

These excerpts are from pp. 24-28:
TO: Walter F. Mondale
FROM: Mark Shields, Washington Post, March 1984

Sir: ...Cannot overemphasize now that time is not your ally. Incredible as it may seem after all you've accomplished over the last two years, this nomination can get away from you by the end of this month. This weekend you are still on the slippery slope. Urgent action is required.

The heart of the matter is this: Americans, which includes Democrats, are mostly incurable optimists. They equate change with improvement. For fifty years, Democrats generally represented change in the nation's politics.

...Gary Hart seized the change side of the equation in this year's Democratic presidential politics...television has told the whole country that Hart is the candidate of "the future" and "new ideas," while some of your supporters have demonstrated the eloquence of an OSHA regulation for water closets....

In politics, only the candidate -- you -- can give a campaign clear definition and meaning for the voters. You have failed to do this so far, but you simply must do it before March 20. You must take personal responsibility for defining your campaign...

You simply cannot run on a program of restoring Reagan's budget cuts...and repeal of the third year of the Reagan tax cut.

...Tell voters where you want to lead our nation: Give them your vision for the future -- a vision larger than any legislative program and based on values. Articulate our national interest and what we must all do to protect it and make the world a safer place. Patriotism means more than just paying higher taxes. Summon the best in all of us to make a more just American family.
Mondale went on to defeat Hart -- his success is attributed in great part to his asking Hart, "Where's the beef?," but Mondale got blown out of the water by Ronald Reagan in November.

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