Pundits who represented opposite poles of the political world battled it out Wednesday night in Funger Hall at the 1998 National Election Preview.
The event, which was co-sponsored by GW College Democrats, College Republicans and GW Friends of Israel, became vicious at times, as the focus of discussion veered from the intended election preview into a verbal war about President Clinton.
Moderated by Michael Bloomfield of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the two panelists – leading Democratic strategist Mark Mellman and Republican National Committee communications director Clifford May – began the discussion civally, focusing on the recent peace treaty between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Skeptical about the reality of lasting peace in the Middle East, May argued that Israel has given too much.
“Israel trades land, trades land and does not get peace in return,” he said.
Mellman weighed in with his version of the events.
“It’s amazing that the same Republicans who claimed Clinton was unable to lead the country now will not give credit to him when he does his job,” he said.
Shifting the focus to election advertising, Mellman took exception with May’s RNC ads, which recently have linked the conduct of the president with Democrats in upcoming congressional, gubernatorial and local elections.
May and Bloomfield read the dialogue of one of the ads aloud, each playing the role of a concerned voter.
“Bill Clinton lied to us for seven months,” Bloomfield said.
“I feel like I can’t trust him,” May replied.
Mellman said the advertisements were misleading.
“Cliff’s argument is that if you elect more Republicans to Congress, Bill Clinton wouldn’t have sex with interns,” Mellman said.
“Does that mean if the party distribution remains the same, he’ll still sleep with interns but only once in a while?” May responded.
Unable to remain on the topic any longer, the panelists began to make personal attacks.
“(May) has no idea what Republicans believe and no idea what he believes,” Mellman said.
May criticized what he believed to be Mellman’s attempt to create good sound bites. Mellman appeared on CNN’s daily political roundtable, “Crossfire,” earlier in the evening. He often is called upon to represent the Democrats’ side on television programs.
The only thing the panelists seemed to agree on was the importance of voter turnout and political participation in the upcoming election.
The two agreed that weather plays a disturbingly large role in voter turnout.
“Democrats are like the Wicked Witch of the West,” May said. “They melt when it rains.”
Mellman argued that this year is no different than any other election, as voter turnout always is important for Democrats.
May also entertained the modest audience with a hoarse Southern accent meant to sound like Bill Clinton’s voice.
Although many of the questions were partisan, audience members asked panelists about the roles issues like education and health care will play in the upcoming elections.
When an audience member asked how each party proposed to change health care so that he, an American with a pre-existing health condition, could get insured, the panel vas virtually speechless.