On the day New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote that Dick Morris’ opinion polls on morality and Monica Lewinsky embodied “the nadir of Bill Clinton’s presidency,” Morris himself stood in the Davenport College common room, throwing his entire body into explanations of why polling is the key to reviving democratic ideals in an increasingly apathetic age.
“Polls are a dialogue between the possible and the ideal,” he said, pivoting to take in the crowd of over 50 people at Tuesday’s master’s tea.
Beyond offering a compact defense of presidential polling — a practice he honed as former President Clinton’s political advisor — Morris also gave tips to small nations in a globalized world and outlined his vision for the future of the American political campaign.
“There will never be a system of campaign finance reform that guys like me can’t outwit,” Morris said.
For this reason, Morris proposed that future political campaigns should be run entirely over the Internet, allowing the problem of unwieldy campaign finances to solve itself.
“In the 1970s and 1980s, the media — TV and journalism — ran the country,” Morris said. “But the media couldn’t bring down Bill Clinton during the ‘un-impeachment’. No one is watching television anymore.”
Morris cited statistics to reinforce his claims: only 15 percent of Americans watch one of the three network evening news broadcasts.
He explained that political advertising will become voluntary, similar to the Super Bowl advertisements Americans look forward to each year. People will want political information and take the initiative to access it over the Internet.
“Everything will be customized. The two percent of Americans whose favorite issue is UFOs, for example, will instantly be able to know where the candidates stand on declassifying Roswell documents,” said Morris.
Morris spoke on his feet for nearly an hour. He grew increasingly animated while outlining his original ideas about the media and global politics. At times, he mimed interactions between himself and President Clinton, frequently using the phrase, “I polled it.”
When challenged by students about his love for flashy Internet campaigning, Morris defended himself frankly.
“Politicians have no interest in making politics alluring until political communications become voluntary. The Internet will empower poor people. In the future, politicians will have to work as hard as Hollywood movie producers to create entertaining Web sites, and that’s appropriate, that’s democracy.”
Morris refuted student claims that the “sustained contact” presidential candidates seek could be better achieved by personal contact and grassroots campaigning rather than by Internet campaigning.
“You want personal contact? Go back to the Stone Age,” he said.
Despite espousing a unique form of political pragmatism that some students perceived as crassness, Morris played the humanitarian when he raved about third world nations “learning to play hardball” with the United States.
Morris said that smaller countries should accept the terms of globalization, but blackmail the United States into granting them acceptable economic situations.
“If I were Bolivia, I would go to the U.S. and say, ‘Go screw yourself, we’re gonna double cocaine production unless you let us into NAFTA,'” he said.
Political Science major Rob Cunningham ’02 called Morris’ talk “fantastic.”
“I fear that his entertainment model for campaigning will destroy any honor left in the system,” he said. “But after sitting there for an hour, you can see that he’s a genius at what he does.”
Maggie Sherriffs ’02, called Morris “definitely Clinton-esque, exciting, and appealing.”
“Still,” she said, “I found it weird that he held the lowest common denominator — advertising — up as an example of democracy at work. That sounded fishy.”