Washington Prowler

Ready for Primetime

How much star quality can the White House provide? Also: Who's afraid of Charlie Daniels?

By 6.25.02

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STAR QUALITY
They may be the linchpins in Republican plans to take back the Senate. But the Republican National Committee is grumbling over the White House's seeming uninterest in helping Rep. John Thune of South Dakota, former Rep. James Talent of Missouri and former St. Paul, Minn. Mayor Norman Coleman, in their bids to unseat sitting Democratic senators. While President Bush has helped raise more than $40 million for Republicans in the past two weeks, and as veep Cheney criss-crosses the country fundraising for Republicans, the White House recently sent national economic adviser Larry Lindsey to be the featured speaker at a private New York fundraiser for Thune, Talent and Coleman.

Coleman is a former a Democrat who jumped parties, "and I don't think the DNC would treat Coleman this shabbily if he were critical to the party's success in the fall," says a Coleman campaign aide in Minneapolis. "I mean, really, Lindsey?"

The Thune and Talent camps weren't complaining, though, nor was Coleman seemingly put out by the Lindsey appearance in New York. "Sure, it would have been nice to have Cheney," says a Talent staffer. "But for the donors we had, Lindsey wasn't bad."

The private event in midtown Manhattan netted the GOP threesome more than a half million dollars from mostly Wall Street types who paid for cocktails and dinner and to hear Lindsey speak on the economy, with some forward-looking commentary on the markets.

"For the audience, Lawrence was the best guy to speak," says a White House aide involved in political outreach. "These were finance types. You want to make the evening somewhat attractive to them beyond just showing up with a check. And we're certainly not going to send someone like [Treasury Secretary] Paul O'Neill for a fundraising event."

The RNC doesn't see it that way. "We would have preferred a bigger name, a rock star," says an RNC fundraiser. "We're talking billionaires sitting down to dinner with a national economic adviser no one has heard of."

But to those who paid $10,000 for a dinner seat Lindsey was a well-known name, with a reputation in the room that made the evening a success. As the White House source points out, who is more interesting to a billionaire, a man who can make him more money, or an official making a standard stump speech with nothing much else to say? "All these people have met President Bush, Vice President Cheney. They will meet them again. This was for Coleman, Talent and Thune. They were the rock stars, as the RNC likes to call them. This was their night."

White House sources say that while RNC deputy chairman Jack Oliver has successfully imparted the Bush/Rove message for the GOP to many segments of the party establishment, there are still pockets of opposition that resent what they perceive as micro-managing from Pennsylvania Avenue.

"These are the people who complain about not having the president at their disposal," says an RNC advance staffer who defended the White House use of Lindsey. "They don't understand that the president isn't here just to win elections and raise money. He has a job. It's our job to use all of the tools to help the president achieve his goals. If that means using Lindsey instead of Cheney, so be it. That's what we've determined the best course of action is. It's that kind of thinking -- just use the president -- that is going to cost us elections in the fall."

THE LAST FALLEN NETWORK
According to a producer for the Public Broadcasting System in New York, the reason country singer Charlie Daniels was barred from performing his hit single about 9-11, "The Last Fallen Hero," was that executives at PBS believe the songs are "too Republican."

Daniels was to appear on the popular "A Capitol Fourth," which PBS broadcasts from the Mall and Capitol in Washington every July 4th. Each year it's one of the network's most highly rated shows (although ratings fell by half when the Arts and Entertainment network began broadcasting the Boston Pops' July 4th performance about a decade ago). Now that Daniels has gone public about not being allowed to appear, PBS is finding itself under major fire.

"They see people like Lee Greenwood performing 'Proud To Be an American' at the Republican National Convention and they equate all of those kinds of songs with Republicans," says the producer. "They call them propaganda."

As well, there is simply a discomfort with the patriotic nature of the songs. "It's one thing to have the Marine Corps band playing, or having some second rate singer-dancer singing 'It's a Grand Old Flag.' It's another for a deeply felt, emotional, patriotic song," says the PBS source. "There are those inside the company that cringe when things like that are broadcast."

The official PBS line is that Daniels's song wasn't "upbeat" enough. But given the solemn nature of this July 4th, in light of the September attacks and the numerous memorial celebrations that are slated on that day, the "upbeat" excuse doesn't make sense to many. "These are the same people who trot out Ossie Davis to pompously spout some crap about Paul Robeson or about slavery in the middle of a Memorial Day or 4th show. They are always looking for wet blankets to throw on top of the patriotic shows," says the producer. "They'll do anything to avoid broadcasting an overt display of true, emotional patriotism."

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