So Damn Much Money by Robert G. Kaiser

So Damn Much Money by Robert G. Kaiser

Author:Robert G. Kaiser [KAISER, ROBERT G.]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 978-0-307-27125-9
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Published: 2009-08-14T16:00:00+00:00



Robert Byrd was the chairman of the Appropriations Committee because Democrats in the Senate and House had benefited from two good election cycles at the end of the 1980s, when they put the anxieties of the Reagan ascendancy behind them. Reagan's second term, marred by the Iran-contra affair and the scandals at HUD, undid his political magic. Democrats recaptured the Senate in 1986 when they picked up eight seats, an unusually strong showing for the out party in an off-year election. In the House, Democrats gained five more seats in 1986, increasing their majority—once again apparently impregnable—to eighty-one.

Partisan Democrats, Gerald Cassidy included, allowed themselves to daydream of a Democratic sweep in 1988, and for a brief moment in the summer of 1988, that looked likely. Just after the Democratic convention in Atlanta that July, their nominee for president, Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, led Vice President George H. W. Bush by nearly 20 percentage points, according to several national polls.

That lead did not last out the summer. By running a nasty, tough, creative, and effective campaign, mostly on television, that was based on symbols and emotions almost entirely disconnected from traditional issues, Bush surged. The hapless stumbling of an ineffectual opponent, Dukakis, made success considerably easier than it might have been. Bush won the popular vote by nearly 8 percentage points.

The 1988 Bush campaign was a triumph of the new political technology, which came into its own in the 1980s. Appropriately, Bush's “media consultant,” Roger Ailes, the maker of its television commercials, learned how to combine politics and television as a twenty-eight-year-old whiz kidworking on the first high-tech campaign, Richard Nixon's in 1968. Ailes had learned the techniques of television as the producer of The Mike Douglas Show, a daytime talk show popular with housewives. In 1996, the same Roger Ailes would launch Fox News. For Nixon in 1968, Ailes orchestrated and produced one-hour programs that featured Nixon answering questions from panels of questioners. In those relatively early years of television, a campaign could buy a one-hour, prime-time slot for such a program. Spooked by the impact of television on his losing campaign against Kennedy in 1960, Nixon was determined to conquer the new medium in 1968, and Ailes was one of his most important co-conspirators.

Ailes's approach was recorded memorably in Joe McGinniss's book The Selling of the President 1968, which reprinted internal memos from the Nixon campaign, including an analysis by Ailes of Nixon's performance in one of those hour-long programs. Topic A in Ailes's memo was something he called “The Look.” Nixon, he wrote, “looks good on his feet” and conveyed a sense of confidence. “Generally, he has a very ‘Presidential’ look and style… We are still working on lightening up his eyes a bit… I may try slightly whiter makeup on upper eyelids.”

In the twenty years that separated Nixon's campaign from Bush's, technology changed everything about electoral politics in America. The new technology diminished the role of the Democratic and Republican parties,


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