Democratic Convention Outlook

William A. Galston
Bill Galston
William A. Galston Ezra K. Zilkha Chair and Senior Fellow - Governance Studies

August 25, 2008

William Galston joins Markos Moulitsas and John Podesta on The Diane Rehm Show to discuss the Democratic National Convention.

Frank Sesno, host: And thanks for joining us, I’m Frank Sesno of CNN, sitting in for Diane Rehm today. After two years of campaigning, Democrats meet this week in Denver to officially nominate Barack Obama for President. On Saturday, Obama announced his running mate would be Senator Joe Biden of Delaware. Well, joining me in the studio to talk about the Democratic ticket and what it must do, what’s going to happen at the convention and some more of that for Barack Obama and beyond is William Galston, senior fellow of the Brookings Institution. Welcome.

William Galston: Good to be here.

Frank: With us from station KUVO in Denver is Markos Moulitsas, he is the founder of the Daily Kos political blog. Marcos, you hear us?

Markos Moulitsas: Good morning.

Frank: Good morning and welcome to you. It’s great to hear you. And from a phone near the Pepsi Center in Denver, John Podesta, President of the Center for American Progress. Hi John Podesta, how are you?

John Podesta: Hey Frank, how are you?

Frank: I’m just great. John Podesta, let us start with you since you’re closer to the action there. What does this convention have to accomplish to be a success for Barack Obama?

John: Well I think two things. One, I think that Democrats need to come out of the convention unified, which I think they will. I think Senator Clinton will be speaking tomorrow night, I think she will blow the roof off, turn her delegates toward Senator Obama. But then I think the most important thing is they need to lay out a clear contrast between the failed policies of the conservative status quota that Senator McCain is not only embraced but sort of double downed on. And a different path, a different future that embraces a focus on the middle class that Senator Obama has promised to the American people. I think that both those speakers at the convention but most particularly, Senator Biden and of course Senator Obama need to lay that message out clearly and with specificity.

Frank: Markos, what do you think?

Markos: Well you know people like me who really engage in politics, we’ve been paying attention for the last four years essentially to this race. Most people haven’t and this is about the time when people, the general public would start tuning in. So this is the opportunity I think for the Democrats to introduce the ticket, Barack Obama and Joe Biden. And also start laying out the themes, not only the positive themes that will highlight why people should vote for the Obama/Biden ticket, but also start laying the contrast with John McCain and whoever he chooses and George Bush, which is essentially what they’re offering.

Frank: Let me ask you about one thing you just said and follow that up a little bit. You said now is the time to introduce the ticket, but it would seem that Barack Obama of all the candidates we have seen in recent years and I have covered a lot of them, has been campaigning and has had more attention and more written and said and streamed about him than just about anybody else. Really think people don’t know who Barack Obama is yet?

Markos: I mean I think they know who he is with the name, but I don’t think they really quite understand what he’s about. And you can see that I think in the poll numbers. People know who John McCain is and he tops out at about 45% max. Now Barack Obama, depending on the news cycle, flows between 45% and 50%, maybe he’ll go a little bit over. But there’s a lot of sort of, I mean I don’t know if the word is on knees, but people don’t really quite know who he is and they think they like him but maybe they need to hear more. But they have been sort of listening to the campaign and the periphery and in the back of the mind. And I think this is when they are really going to start focusing and paying attention and really trying to decide once and for all that this is the guy they can possibly vote for.

Frank: William Galston, you and I were talking a moment ago and we were sharing our reminisces of previous conventions and you’ve been going to them and helping shape them since 1984. What’s different about this one?

William: Well, a number of things. First of all, we had one of the most closely contested primary campaigns in recent American political history.

Frank: Democrats did.

William: Democrats did and there’s some bruised feelings left over, there’s no question about it. Surveys indicate that, from the Democratic standpoint, a distressingly high percentage of people who supported Senator Clinton during the primary campaign are still indicating significant reservations about supporting Senator Obama in the general election. So I agree with my fellow panelists that underscoring unity is one of the most important tasks. The second thing that’s different is that despite Senator Obama’s long campaign for the Democratic nomination, he is not well known.

Frank: You really think that.

William: Who he is and what he stands for, I think are still mysteries and to some extent troubling mysteries for large portions of the electorate. So people I think need to come away from this convention, two things about Senator Obama. First of all, what precisely will he do if he were President of the United States. I suspect that most voters really don’t know what the top three things are that he will do in domestic policy and to turn around the economy. If they don’t fill in the blanks in the next seventy some on days then I think there’s going to be a problem. Secondly, people have to get comfortable with him, they have to get comfortable with the idea of him as President. They have to believe that he’s ready to be President and every survey indicates that significant percentages of the electorate haven’t got there yet.

Listen to the full interview »