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Cokie Roberts
116th Landon Lecture
Monday, November 8, 1999


Who Will Be the Next President of the United States?


I very much appreciate you rearranging to come this afternoon instead of this morning. You can blame USAir. It was one of those nice moments you arrive at the airport, "Canceled." So it took a little longer to get here than I expected, but thank you for rearranging it.

I actually am thrilled to be here, because I always wanted to meet Alf Landon. I never did, and I tried desperately hard to. At the Republican Convention in 1984 I was sitting next to Nancy Landon Kassebaum, and at one point they were playing "Happy Days Are Here Again," and lauding Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and this was -- you know, they had already done Truman and Hubert Humphrey. And I turned to her -- as they were going into all of this praise of Roosevelt, I said, "Can I go see your father right now? This is a Republican Convention, what does he think is going on here?" She said, "Don't you dare."

But unfortunately by not doing that I messed ever getting to meet him, which is a loss. But Nancy is a great and good friend, and not only have I enjoyed her friendship and company, she and my mother served together in the United States Congress, where they were often the only voices of reason.

You know, it's a very funny thing to write a book called "We Are Our Mother's Daughters," because for any of you that might have read it, it is really a book about the continuity of women throughout history and across space, but people seem to have this visceral reaction about it, and actually to the point where I worried so much that the editors, the 40-something-year-old women at the publishing house who were editors, reacted so negatively to this title that I was afraid that you know, it might depress sales.

And I hesitated for a minute, and I finally said, "What is your problem?" And they kept saying -- well, finally one of them says, "I'm not my mother's daughter." You know, "You can't make me be my mother's daughter." And I said, "Well, that's really not what the book is about," but you know in my own case, I'm dying to be my mother's daughter.

And for those of you who know her, you know that my mother, Lindy Boggs, two years ago when she was 81 years old, took a new job in a new country as the United States ambassador to the Vatican, and this puts my mother in the extremely interesting position of representing Bill Clinton to the Pope.

Now I want you to know if anybody can do this, my mother can. She's always been able to do anything, but it is a challenge. She and Nancy Kassebaum, though, do say that it is less of a challenge, however, than it would be to be in the United States Congress today, which is really not a happy scene. I left them this morning happily bickering over the budget which is hardly anything new.

But what they are trying to do is to get it done and get out of there and go home, which makes a great deal of sense, because after all, what we've learned now in polling over the years is when they are in Washington their approval rating goes down. When they come home, everybody likes them fine. I think there's actually probably a fairly sensible view on the part of the voters, first do no harm. So they are just trying to get done what they need to get done and get out of there.

And one of the things that Republicans in Congress are saying is that they really need to let George Bush become the face of the party, that that is the best thing that can happen to them, because they don't want Tom DeLay particularly to be the face of the party, and they're still smarting over Newt Gingrich.

I must say it was a really black day for the Democrats when News Gingrich resigned. They really have not figured out yet how to deal with it because it was so handy for them to just, you know, have him there as a punching bag. And, of course, they couldn't predict that he would resign, I mean, who could predict that he would resign? It's been a tough year for predictors. After all, Bill Clinton did what he did, and Newt Gingrich had to resign.

I mean, does this make any sense to any of you? No. But, you know actually the day it happened, as you recall, it was right after the election, I was in San Francisco and I was in a car most of the day, because it was California. And I kept checking in with the office and it just got more and more amazing as the day wore on, you know, there are rumors, then it's fact. Gingrich really is quitting. So the first thing I do is call Bob Livingston and say, "Are you running for Speaker?" "Yes, I'm running for Speaker and I'm going to be Speaker." Ha. He had another surprise coming to him. But why wouldn't you be surprised? It was, as I say, a year where every day you felt like, "No, this isn't happening, this cannot be happening."

The day that, you know, the Starr report came out on the Internet and live on the air all at the same time, and we're sitting there reading it live on the air and not quite knowing what's coming up next, and, you know, how can we censor ourselves as we're going, was really one of the most remarkable days in broadcasting that any of us has ever experienced.

Now, I know that people were not interested in the Starr report, that's why it was No. 1 and 2 on the USA Today bestseller list at the same time, but I know that people didn't read it. I, however, was paid to read it, and I'm really glad I was, because it was wonderful. It had some sections in it that I really do commend to you if you have not read it. I was frantically reading it before Sunday morning, and there were times when I would just burst out laughing all by myself, because you see there were moments in it like this, where Monica says to Bill, "You never write, you never call, you're busy all the time," and he says, "Every day can't be sunshine."

Then there's the moment where she comes to him and says, "If you don't get me a job I'm going to tell my Mommy and my Daddy about us." He doesn't know she's at this point told half the world, of course. And he pulls himself up to his full six feet, whatever, and says, "It's against the law to threaten the President of the United States." So when you have years like this you just sort of say, go figure, and of course, the effect of all of that has been to seriously endanger Al Gore.

Now, Al Gore -- I've known Al Gore since he was born. He has been the best little boy, he was a boring child, and he has never done anything wrong. You know, he went to all the right schools, got all the right grades, married his high school sweetheart, who is terrific, stayed true to her, all of those things. So what happens, he gets, you know, the fallout from Bill Clinton's behavior.

You know, I keep thinking this guy is probably now thinking, "You know, I could have had a little more fun in college." George Bush did, we know that.

So he's now hired, as you I'm sure know, because we keep trying to tell you about it all over the place, Naomi Wolfe, a controversial feminist author. She's controversial because she says things like, "We are really demon goddesses of lust." That's a quotation from her book "Promiscuities," where she tells more.

But it was her article in George magazine last year that attracted the Gore campaign to her and caused the vice president to hire this woman who, you know, is trying to turn him into Bill Clinton, as far as I can tell, which is an interesting thing. And in the article -- and again I'm quoting here -- she says, "We have a history." She's explaining in this article that Al Gore is really a little bit nuts. Actually she refers to him as a Blakean and that he is a Blakean deep inside, referring to the poet, William Blake, which you can work that one out yourselves.

But she says after describing how he's not really a normal person, and she says this very admiringly, "We have a history of cherishing our loopy visionaries after we have mocked them hard." And it was that article that caused the Gores to hire her. Again, you know, loopy visionaries that they are, they decided that this would be a good thing for them.

So, I don't know what effect that will have on the Gore campaign, but probably not a particularly good one.

He's already having trouble enough, of course, he's got a serious opponent in Bill Bradley, who I know you've had here before for a lecture, and Bradley is going about this methodically, the way he did about practicing his jump shots, and he is slowly, slowly creeping up in the polls, particularly in Iowa and New Hampshire and in New York.

Next Sunday, this coming Sunday in Madison Square Garden, anybody who wants to pay $1,000 to support Bill Bradley can play basketball with Willis Reed and Dave DeBusschere, and all the old Knicks and plus some young people, some people who actually can still play basketball. I have this awful feeling that we are going to see more middle-aged, fat, white thighs next Sunday than we would ever want to see, as all these men are there. It's a brilliant thing for Bradley to do.

But still in all, regardless of what happens on the Democratic side, what we are certainly seeing at the moment is George W. Bush trouncing either one of them, Bradley or Gore, in the polls.

Now George Bush clearly has problems of his own, Chechnya, where might that be? I actually think Americans have a little -- a lot of sympathy for that. I can assure you I don't know who the head of Chechnya is, and I've now read this story 400 times and can't keep it in my poor brain. But, you know, as the reporter pointed out to him, he's not running for President. George bush is. And you know what the problem is with a little pop quiz like that is not that anybody really expects him to know the answers, but it becomes such fabulous fodder for the late night comedians. It does, you know, Leno and Letterman are already having their fun with cocaine. In fact, they keep invoking my name, and it's not something I'm very fond of. And my brother named me Cokie when I came home from the hospital, so it has nothing to do with illegal substances or soft drinks.

But the fact is, this is George Bush's introduction to the American people. Nobody knows him. And so for his introduction to be the comedians making jokes about him not knowing some foreign policy answers is not a good thing for him. Now, I don't think it's anywhere near as bad as it was for his father not knowing the answer to the question of how much is a gallon of milk. Because that is something that, you know, our Americans really care about as opposed to Chechnya. But I do think that he's going to have some time here where it's going to be very interesting to watch how he responds and how he behaves. He really has not been in unscripted situations, and he's been kept from them pretty emphatically by his staff.

Now, interestingly he has decided to do -- and I think this is very smart of him -- he's decided to do a bunch of debates now. Now, part of this is that the debate chicken was following him around, you know, that they now every time somebody avoids a debate, somebody dresses up as a chicken and follows that person around. In my home state of Louisiana it just happened with a governor who was miles ahead running for re-election refused to debate, and one of his opponents hired a chicken.

And the governor invited the chicken into the governor's mansion and, you know, said, "Why don't you have a seat at my desk; it's the closest that your guy will ever come to the governor's mansion." You know, brings him in, takes pictures of the chicken.

So Bush was having a few chicken problems. But the main thing is that if he does enough of these debates early, it will defuse any problems that he might have. If he waits and we're finally all built up to this big debate, then it becomes a very big deal.

So he's going to do one in New Hampshire in December, he's going to do one in Arizona in December. I think he's going to do one in Iowa in either December or January, and we'll start to get some sense of him better at this point, and then we'll see about press conferences and things like that and see how he does and how we respond.

The rest of the Republican field is really just waiting. Now, a lot of them couldn't wait long enough to stay in. Elizabeth Dole, who you probably know well, and who was a very engaging candidate, but who just couldn't keep enough money coming in. Same for Lamar Alexander, Dan Quayle and others. So the person who is sort of falling to as the No. 2 if anything should happen to George Bush, at the moment appears to be John McCain, the senator from Arizona, and as McCain comes up in the polls you start to see the first stories that are even vaguely negative about it. And there are stories about his temper and/or temperament, and they seem to come mainly from other members of the United States Senate, which is not, as I say, really an organization that works and plays well with others at the moment. But none of them will go on the record.

So I think it's unfair right now. If they really think that John McCain does not have the temperament to be president, then they should come forward and say so with their names attached to it, otherwise I think they should be quiet. But that is what's bubbling at the moment.

Of course, the other person who thinks that he's an alternative to Bush is Steve Forbes, because he's got the cash. You know, the last time he ran I felt that his daughters should basically say to him, "You spent $40 million trying to be president, I get a Jaguar."

But now I'm beginning to feel sorry for them because apparently he's really going through the family fortune, and it would be a very big surprise if he became president of the United States, but he would be in there for a while, because he does have the wherewithal financial to stay in there.

But when you look at it, it really does at this point certainly look like it's George W. Bush, unless George W. Bush does something to himself to stop it from being George W. Bush. And he is, as I said, trouncing both Gore and Bradley this moment in most polls. The U.S. News poll out today has him up by about 20 points.

Now, the interesting thing there is that the reason Bush is doing so well is that he has cut dramatically -- for the moment, now this could all change, you know -- George Herbert Walker Bush was doing very well at this stage in 1991. Remember after the Persian Gulf War he was at 90 percent approval rating, and I remember there was a cartoon at the time that had him sitting there saying, "Ten more points to go." And then we know what happened, so, you know, politics -- American politics definitely can change overnight. Just ask Gary Hart.

But the reason Bush is doing so well right now has to do almost entirely with the women's vote. And that is a very interesting phenomenon that I want to take a few minutes to talk to you about.

Since 1980 the women's vote -- first of all, after women got the right to vote 80 years ago there was -- women really did not show up at the polls, and then they finally did in 1980 for the first time show up as a vote and as a vote that was discernibly different from the male vote. And what we saw for the first time that year was a statistical difference between the margin of the men's vote for Reagan and the women's vote for Reagan. The majority of each voted for Reagan but women did so by about seven points less than men did. That seven points is what we have come to call the gender gap.

And we talk about it, we throw around this term like it is, you know, something that everybody knows what it means. It does not mean that women vote for women, and it does not mean that women vote on, quote, unquote, women's issues. It means that since 1980 women have been voting, all things being equal, considerably more Democratic than men have been voting. So that, for instance, by 1996 had the 19th Amendment never passed, and only men were voting, Bob Dole would be President today, and what a relief it might be. But the fact is that it was the women's vote that elected Bill Clinton to office.

Now, what is the women's vote. It has absolutely nothing to do with issues like abortion, equal rights, those kinds of things. In fact, men and women vote precisely the same way on the subject of abortion. But it has everything to do with economic issues, so that when you do the polling and do the interviewing with women voters, what you find is a tremendous concern abut job stability, about wages, and when you're talking about a minimum wage bill, for instance, which Congress is talking about right now, that is a direct attempt to woo the women's vote because two-thirds of the people on minimum wage are female.

And then, of course, the whole panoply of concerns about education, health and children and old people, because women either are old people -- we wish that the gents lived as long, they don't -- and therefore, people who are often dependent.

Government programs like Medicare and Social Security, or they are the caretakers of older people, and are concerned about the elderly in this society as well as being concerned about the children and putting education as a very high-up issue.

All of those kinds of issues play better for Democratic candidates than they do for Republican candidates. So over the years what we've seen is the majority of the female vote -- and this is obviously not every woman -- but the majority of the female vote going Democratic. And Al Gore is not winning it, so what is the problem here? He talks about all those issues, and yet it doesn't seem to be working. I think one of the answers is that George W. Bush has caught on very well. That's what compassionate conservatism is all about, is to say to women, "Yes, I'm for less government, but I'm not for less compassion. I do want to take care of people. I want to take care of little children, I want to take care of the elderly." He has been very explicit in his education programs. The Republicans took Congress in 1994 saying they wanted to eliminate the Department of Education. George W. Bush has given several education speeches proposing to expand the Department of Education and to give it the entire Headstart Program.

So what you have here is so far a successful attempt of the lead Republican candidate to cut into the issues that have been traditionally Democratic issues, and a tremendous interest on the part of the Republicans to cut into others of them, particularly education, for instance. Where the Democrats talk about more teachers in the classroom, the Republicans are talking about more community control, ability to opt out of failing schools, that kind of thing.

The Republicans are trying to get to other issues of concern to women, like violence on television, or morality. So it is an interesting thing to watch, and as you hear all of these things talked about both in Congress and on the campaign trail -- and you'll see in Congress there's already been an HMO bill that was done because of concern abut women. You'll see a minimum wage bill, and all of that again is all looking at the electorate in 2000 and trying to figure out how to woo that vote.

Now, so far, as I say, it's working for George Bush, but one of the things that I think is going to be very interesting to watch about the year 2000 is that because we are in essentially a post-ideological time, the end of the Cold War, and the end of strong ideologies in either party, I think that it's going to be a more event-driven election than I've ever seen, that that some dramatic event, and particularly because of the way we cover dramatic events now with 24-hour news channels and the Internet and all of that, so events become magnified, I think it could shift votes right up until election day.

And that can work either way politically. A violent gun battle of some kind could work for a Democratic candidate, and by the way, women absolutely see gun control as a Mommy issue, this odd notion that they don't want assault weapons on playgrounds and you know, it's very interesting. It's because of the Republican women in Congress that the assault weapons ban was passed a couple of years ago.

I'll just give you the statistics because it really does give you an interesting example of how women really can vote differently from men on certain issues. On the assault weapons ban 23 percent of Republican men voted for it, 67 percent of Republican women in Congress and 72 percent of Democratic men, 89 percent of Democratic women. It was a very close vote. It won because of the number of women in Congress.

So, you get an event like a Littleton three weeks before election day, and it could have a tremendous impact, and it's likely to have a better impact for the Democratic candidate than the Republican candidate, depending on how it's handled.

Some farm policy crisis, now that's sort of an interesting question. Do people say, "Well maybe we better stick with the guy who is vice president of the United States," if there's a foreign policy crisis, or do they say, "That's the administration that got us into this mess," if that's the way it's perceived. Or do they say, "Democrats have never really been so great on national security, maybe we're better off with a Republican." It's a bunch of balancing acts there and it will be interesting to see how something like that plays out if, in fact, it does happen.

The other thing that I think to watch is to see how -- if George W. Bush wins this nomination and is able to keep this kind of lead, because he is trying to stake out a centralist ground, what that means for the Congress. And it's my view that the Democrats' best hope of retaking the Congress is George Bush's election as President and vice versa, the Republican's best hope of keeping the Congress would be Al Gore's election as president.

And that's for a very good reason which is, the voters have caught on that the politicians in Washington of each party are not where the voters are. There are some in the Senate who are, but the House is the most polarized House of Representatives in my lifetime and maybe ever. And if you have a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president, the legislation is likely to be considerably to the left of where the mainstream of America is. And if you have a Republican Congress and a Republican President, the legislation is likely to be considerably to the right of where the mainstream America is, and the voters have caught on to this.

And, you know, with great hesitancy in 1992, they turned over Washington to one party with tremendous trepidation. People coming out of the polls -- and we interview on election day through the voter news service really in the 40,000 to 50,000 range of voters in key precincts all over the country -- they came out on election day in '92 and were really nervous about their vote for Bill Clinton and about having turned Washington over to the Democrats. And, of course, it was only 43 percent who did that. 1994 they just said, "Enough. We tried that experiment for two years, forget it," and sent Republicans to the Congress and, of course, have kept them there.

I think that there is now ample evidence that when voters take a look on the ballot and say, "I like that George W. Bush," or "I like that Al Gore," they then look down the ballot and say, "I'm not sure that I want to see the Congress in the same hands." That's only true in a few districts, but there are only a few districts that are up for grabs. We're talking by and large we know who's going to win in most congressional districts right now today, but as we go into the election that number of 10, 20 districts where people are not going to go with the incumbent who's there, or there is an open seat you will see that calculation being made, and I think that calculation will continue to be made for a divided government.

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