Okay, so this headline isn’t exactly original, but neither is the Obama Phenomena, which continues to present one of the most extraordinary spectacles in American political history. I keep thinking he is going to deflate like a souffle, but perhaps not.
I have commented several times now to reporters that Obama reminds me of Gary Hart in 1984, the charismatic candidate of "new ideas" who had none beyond his own name change (from "Hartpence," remember). I keep waiting for the roof to fall in on Obama from the media and from Billary’s brass knuckles, just as the media and Mondale turned on Hart with ferocity that year. Maybe, this week, we are starting to see the matter turn, but perhaps too late for Clinton.
Margaret Carlson makes the case today in Bloomberg News that "it’s the nature of the press to have severe morning-after regret for having gotten a lump in the throat over a candidate." They sure did in 1984. Here’s a passage about Hart from the chapter on the 1984 election in my forthcoming Reagan book:
On the CBS Evening News in early March, shortly before the next round of big primaries, Dan Rather led a segment thus: “Who is this man, this Gary Hart?” On NBC the following night, Roger Mudd asked: “How old is Gary Hart? And why did he change his name?” NBC wasn’t done. Two nights later, NBC’s John Dancy offered another Hart segment that began: “Who is Gary Hart, anyway, and what does he believe?” Tom Brokaw dismissed Hart as “this season’s hit rock-‘n’-roll single.” Roger Mudd practically taunted Hart in an interview: “Why do you imitate John Kennedy so much?” CBS’s Bruce Morton kept up the theme: “Gary Hart is the hottest political property around, at least this week. But who is he?” ABC was not left out, with Jack Smith delivering a devastating syllabus of Hart’s strangeness: “He’s even fudged the year of his birth.”
Hart compounded the fresh doubts about his character with several miscues in the next round of primaries that happened to be in the big unionized, Mondale-friendly states including Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. Mondale’s campaign was suddenly rejuvenated and skillfully exploited Hart’s vulnerabilities. The most devastating hit was the “red phone” TV spot, which never mentioned Hart. Instead, the camera panned in slowly on a blinking red telephone, meant to evoke the mythical “hot line” to Moscow, with the voiceover: “The most awesome, powerful responsibility in the world lies in the hand that picks up this phone. The idea of an unsure, unsteady, untested hand is something to really think about. Vote as if the future of the world is at stake, because it is. Mondale. This President will know what he’s doing, and that’s the difference.”
We’ll see if Obama is about to get this kind of press treatment. My guess is he will. Hillary is already attempting the equivalent of Mondale’s red phone ad. But it’s hard to make that line work in a party that does not believe we are in a serious conflict.
But it’s hard to make that line work in a party that does not believe we are in a serious conflict. That's exactly right. And that's why it probably won't work . . . in these primaries. But the general election is another proposition. McCain could do worse than to look up the guys who produced that red-phone ad.