< Presidential Hopeless


Friday, May 26, 2006

BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. On Monday, Christopher J. Dodd, the Democratic senator from Connecticut, told the Hartford Current that he had quote, "decided to do all the things that are necessary to prepare to seek the presidency in 2008." On Tuesday, a New York Times story about Bill and Hillary Clinton's marriage sparked more pundit pap about Hillary's potential run. And Al Gore's global warming movie opened in select theaters, and there was endless speculation about his readiness for the stump. Ladies and gentlemen, it seems the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries are on. [BROADCAST CLIPS] [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

MALE: Now, a new movie, a new Al Gore, and buzz about a new run for the White House.

WOMAN: Several sources close to the former Veep say a rerun is not unthinkable, but it is unlikely.

MALE: He's the darling of the left, especially the Internet-left now. If he sees this continuing over the next six months, I think he'll be there.

MALE: Do you buy this Al Gore resurgence? You know, is that for real or is that just sort of the media latching onto something and not - [OVERTALK]

MALE: Does this create an opportunity on the left of Hillary in the Democratic Party that could end being the explosive winner of the nomination? [END BROADCAST CLIPS]

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Gore and Hillary can draw the media with little more than a tantalizing wink, but how do politicians on the fringe grab the spotlight? As Michael Crowley detailed in The New Republic, a small-time politician need only announce a run for president and the press can't help but swarm. Take former Alaska senator Mike Gravel, absent from politics for over two decades. Last month, notes Crowley, Gravel drew an impressive audience of 50 reporters, including some from the Associated Press and The Washington Post, merely by tossing his hat into the 2008 presidential ring.

MICHAEL CROWLEY: The bar is pretty low, as I think Gravel showed.


MICHAEL CROWLEY: I mean, in addition to those two reporters, he was also interviewed on Fox News. His press conference was carried on C-SPAN. He made a little [CHUCKLES] rumble for a guy who's, you know, clearly not going to be a serious candidate.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: But is he grandstanding for the sheer joy of it, or does he have some axe to grind?

MICHAEL CROWLEY: He does actually have an agenda here, which is a kind of pet plan of his, which would involve ballot initiatives so that people could sort of vote on things that the government did, including, say, going to war. And he was going around giving speeches about this thing to some very, very fringy groups. And no one was paying attention, but as soon as he said, “Eh, I'm running for president” -


MICHAEL CROWLEY: - suddenly he's in The Washington Post. [LAUGHS]

BROOKE GLADSTONE: And, of course, as you note, it's a great way to make money. Newt Gingrich hinted he was open to a presidential run after the release of his book, and, of course, we know Colin Powell spent his entire book tour contemplating the race for president.

MICHAEL CROWLEY: Colin Powell set the gold standard for this in 1996. He had just published a thick 30-dollar autobiography and went on this massive book tour, I think, to about two dozen cities around the country. And at the time, he was publicly indicating that he might run for president. And the coverage was just astounding, and the book rocketed to the top of the best-seller list. And it was only after his book tour ended that he went off and kind of stroked his chin for a while and said, “Nah, actually, I'm not going to run for president anyway.”


MICHAEL CROWLEY: And Gingrich, as you mentioned, did something similar. He started talking about running for president, which was really a bolt out of the blue, right when he had a book coming out. Gingrich actually got a better reception than anyone expected, and I think now he's actually become kind of a serious candidate. I mean, in this weird way, sometimes people may wade into these things with one agenda and then realize, “Wow, people are taking me kind of seriously. Maybe I should really put my all into it and make this more than just kind of a media spectacle.”

BROOKE GLADSTONE: You think the press has a presidential fixation, don't you?

MICHAEL CROWLEY: Oh, there's absolutely no question. I think political reporters just love presidential campaigns and they want to see as many candidates as possible, because that makes for more stories they can write. There's more conflict. They like to, I think, kind of build up rivalries that will be entertaining for them to cover. Also, I think that there's this very strange, almost kind of reality-TV quality that's developed. It's kind of like "The Real World" is more fun, you know, the more people there are living in the house to fight with each other and, you know, do embarrassing things on camera.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: In your article in The New Republic recently, you talk about a candidate, a well-regarded person, if somewhat on the margins, Gary Bauer, who couldn't collect a crowd no matter how he announced for president, while others, like Carol Mosley Braun, seemed to be able to walk away from the Senate with the taint of ethical misbehavior and still get to run a campaign and get treated with all the respect that connects to a presidential candidacy.

MICHAEL CROWLEY: Yes. Well, it can be kind of random, and I think it goes to show that the media treats it a little bit like a circus. And someone like Bauer actually ran, I think, for reasons, basically, of principle, having to do with his religious, conservative views. But he just wasn't that entertaining. He was completely obscured by Alan Keyes, best known for having dived into a mosh pit that I think Michael Moore arranged at some campaign event - [OVERTALK]


MICHAEL CROWLEY: - in [LAUGHING] 1996. And the press loved him, and he got all this coverage, and he drew crowds as a result. And Bauer really couldn't get anyone to pay attention to his sort of fairly serious issue-based crusade.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, I brought up Carol Mosley Braun because I remember she was on the stage for a lot of the debates. Did the press ignore her previous mishaps the moment she entered the Democratic primaries?

MICHAEL CROWLEY: You know, what do you do when you've sort of left public life under a cloud of shame? Well, you run for president! [LAUGHS] Because you can kind of launder your reputation through the media. You can recreate yourself. And when she finally left the race, after having never had a serious campaign, she was sort of hailed as having been a noble candidate who contributed to the debate and was such a pleasant person. And all these sort of terrible things about her seemed suddenly like kind of ancient history, like another chapter in her life. And I think one of the first things in her little bio says, you know, former candidate for President of the United States, Carol Mosley - [OVERTALK]


MICHAEL CROWLEY: - Braun, blah, blah, blah, blah.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Should the media have the power to decide who's a real candidate and who isn't?

MICHAEL CROWLEY: It's a very thorny question, and I wish I had a good answer. I think one thing that I would say is to keep in mind that the media does already do this. And the system right now rewards theatrics and outrageousness, and not thoughtfulness. It would be nice if presidential campaigns generally were a little bit more about ideas and less about theatrics, less about jumping into the mosh pit.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Michael, thank you very much.

MICHAEL CROWLEY: Thank you very much.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Michael Crowley writes for The New Republic.