A bet with Dick Morris
By Arianna Huffington
October 13, 1997
Dick Morris and I have a bet. He's convinced that Al Gore will be president. And I am convinced that he will not. The winner gets dinner and, my money says, the deep pleasure of never having to say those frightening words "President Gore."
Over dinner last week with Morris, his wife and a dozen others, I observed the Morris paradox at work. Out of the ashes of a humiliating personal defeat, the private Morris has fashioned a life with more integrity than ever before.
He has faced up to his addictions, forged a new relationship with his 6-year-old illegitimate daughter and painstakingly wooed his wife back -- and all without joining the Promise Keepers. As far as the naked eye can see, Morris and his wife have found each other all over again. Eileen McGann seemed a vastly different woman than the one -- stress and anger etched on her face -- who unconvincingly stood by her husband on the cover of Time magazine.
So while the private Morris flourishes, renewed through his fall, the public Morris remains a prisoner of his political success. Having helped re-elect a president pundits had assigned to history's dust bin, he now cannot see beyond the successful triangulation strategy that worked for Bill Clinton. And, like a general always fighting the last war, he thinks the same plan will propel Gore to the White House as heir apparent to a successful president.
"Clinton loves Gore," Morris said. "He said to me categorically: 'I will work ceaselessly -- cease-less-ly -- to make sure Al gets the nomination without a primary.' He sees Gore as the fulfiller of his legacy."
But a little problem remains: What is Clinton's legacy? Like a proud uncle, Morris waxed lyrical the other night about a budget heading to surplus, welfare rolls and crime going down, the economy and the stock market going up. But this analysis of America humming along while its president lackadaisically phones in a second term and prepares for the Gore inaugural is deeply flawed -- a reminder that Morris cannot see beyond the paradigm which produced the '96 victory.
Gore is getting ready to dust off the "Morning in America" rhetoric. But the most important dynamic of the next presidential election will be the battle between those for whom it is morning again and those for whom the night is getting progressively longer and darker -- those forgotten in the inner cities, the children sent to schools where they are not safe and cannot learn, the victims of gangs, drug dealers and random violence.
As we approach 2000, Gore will be locked in his role as the spokesman for the Clinton-Morris sunny paradigm, even as its bankruptcy becomes more and more obvious. The most interesting candidates to emerge against Gore will be populists who will ride this dynamic. There will be blow-dried faux populists like Dick Gephardt speaking for the "little guy" from within the pocket of the Big Unions. There will be angry populists like Pat Buchanan exploiting the disaffection of those left behind. And maybe there will be the real thing, someone coming out of the party of Lincoln who will restore it to its true origins and free it from its current state of captivity to corporate interests. (Soft money may make for golden handcuffs, but they are still handcuffs.)
For the moment, Morris remains a very articulate proponent of the shallow bipartisan consensus stifling American politics: The economy is doing well; the country is prospering. All that's left for politicians to do is listen to their pollsters and tell the American people what the American people tell the pollsters they want to hear. This toxic recycling has sucked the life out of political debate. And no one is better at this than the vice president -- a champion of clean air everywhere except within the Beltway.
I'm sure Morris would have told Lincoln that he would lose 20 points off his favorability rating if he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. But leadership is a risky and often lonely business. And no one has less of a stomach for all it entails than Gore -- the pampered son of a U.S. senator for whom the disenfranchised are middle-class parents having trouble paying their kids' college loans.
Dick Morris has a dog named Disraeli. I think his best hope for a political renewal is to ask his Disraeli to channel the spirit of its 19th century biped namesake. Disraeli brilliantly expounded the danger of England becoming "two nations." Though a Tory, he was a champion of those who had been left out of Victorian England's morning.
The American politician who takes after Disraeli at the onset of the new millennium will be Gore's lethal enemy -- much more than all the fund-raising scandals. Gore is ripe for the plucking: With no charisma, no imagination and no vision, his only strength was his ability to make the media equate his stiffness with honesty. With the Mr. Clean bit gone, what does he have left?Come November 2000, I'm looking forward to dinner at Dick Morris' expense. I can already imagine the conversation: "See, Arianna, Gore's plan was perfect. The electorate was the problem -- we polled them, they told us what they wanted, and then they changed their mind."
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