If George Bush loses the presidency, he lost it in Kennebunkport on a Labor Day weekend 24 years ago. Should the country continue its headfirst plunge into a political toxic waste dump, a Mainer can take the credit.
That’s not my view. It’s an opinion put forth by Dick Morris, the political guru who master-minded Bill Clinton’s two winning presidential campaigns. In a Nov. 15 column titled “DUI almost made Bush DOA,” Morris pointed out that Bush lost the lead in every poll going into the last weekend of the election. What caused the Bush crash?
“It was the driving under the influence (DUI), stupid. Nothing else – no other issue, no advertisement, no speech – was of comparable impact during the campaign’s closing days,” said Morris, who writes a syndicated column. A national CNN exit poll seems to bear out that thesis. Roughly 25 percent of voters interviewed said the DUI disclosure impacted on their vote. By a 3-to-1 ratio, the late-breaking voters went to Gore. Traditionally late-deciders swing to the challenger.
Tom Connolly, the man who kicked off this national furor, agrees with at least part of Morris’s analysis. The Portland lawyer was Maine’s 1998 Democratic gubernatorial nominee.
“Bush was like Evian water,” Morris wrote.”He had this purity going for him and little else. It was th contrast between Bush and Clinton – between black and white in the view of many – that framed the Republican’s candidacy. After the DUI, the contrast was no longer so absolute. The clear advantage that Bush had achieved was suddenly muddled.”
Connolly thinks Morris is right about the analogy to Bush’s perceived Evian water purity, and it’s contamination by the way he handed the DUI incident.
“It’s obvious they knew about this well in advance. There was a very cynical way they set up to have plausible deniability should there be a disclosure. They were not candid from the beginning. When the disclosure occurred, they counter-attacked by attacking me,” said Connolly.
Connolly has turned down interviews since the election because, he frankly admitted, his life has become a living hell. Not only are he and his family getting death threats, a Portland man with the same name earlier this week complained that the barrage of hate also has swept over him.
“I want you remind people of one thing. When I ran for governor the National Rifle Association gave me an “A” rating,” said the liberal Connolly. For those wanting to harass the Democrat at his home, that can be taken as a warning that he is the owner of several guns.
Connolly compared his situation to that of Daniel Ellsberg, the military consultant who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. Ellsberg was immediately targeted by the Nixon White House. Connolly charged that the Bush family, with its contacts to the CIA, may be conducting a similar search-and-destroy mission into his past.
Ross Connelly, who headed Maine’s Bush-Cheney campaign, disputed Morris’s attempt to establish a moral equivalency between Bush’s DUI arrest and the Clinton-Gore scandals. Clinton was alleged to have raped a woman within the same approximate time frame as Bush’s DUI. While in the Oval Office, Clinton had sex with an intern, lied about that to the American people, a federal judge and federal grand jury. While in office, Al Gore was thought to have broken federal campaign money laws by FBI investigators and top Justice Department officials, a conclusion overruled by Attorney General Janet Reno.
To compare that conduct to the decision by Bush not to mae public the fact he had been arrested for drunk driving 24 ago is ridiculous, said Connelly. Bush readily admitted guilt, did not try to use his family’s influence to quash the arrest and then quit drinking.
“You tell me which shows more character and is a better example for others to follow,” said the Bush-Cheney campaign aide. Connolly insisted his actions were that of a democrat with a “small d.”
“I stood up for the truth. That’s what a citizen is supposed to do,” he said.
Consider this. Another American claimed she was standing up for the “truth” when she went public with proof that Bill Clinton was having an affair with Monica Lewinsky. Like Connolly, she was publicly assailed – even subjected to an unsuccessful criminal prosecution. Her hard truth led to the impeachment of Bill Clinton and turned the country upside down for two years.
The woman’s name was Linda Tripp.
I’m not sure the American political system can handle many more of these “truths.”
John S. Day is a columnist for the Bangor Daily News who is based in Washington, D.C. His e-mail address is email@example.com.