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As Long as We Remember...

March 6, 2007

Presidential Candidate Hustle

Roy Meachum

Once upon a time the Christmas season did not begin until Thanksgiving, which is why all the famous department store parades happen on Turkey Day.

And, once upon a time, as all good fables must begin, presidential elections waited until after the tinsel and trees had come down; the candidates and their troops provided winter spectacle to lighten January's inevitable gloom.

But no more, in either case.

Some retailers pop out the red and green before all the crowds are back from their Labor Day outings, and hustling White House wannabes start about the same time but a whole year earlier! What's happening right now can hardly be described as typical.

With no sitting president or vice president in the race, the man who actually received more popular votes than George W. Bush is now busy building a reputation among Greenies. The film industry's Oscar Award for his alarming documentary about the environment did little to encourage Al Gore to dump the tree-huggers for politics' smoke-filled rooms.

(I know, I know, anybody who hopes to become somebody avoids nicotine! The goody-two-shoes' prevailing mentality makes me think about dredging up an old brier. But my heart won't take a hissy fit from the doctor and the nurse in my life.)

James Carville agreed to return to his former perch right next to the Clintons' ears. Before moving into his campaign slot, he told a reporter that Al Gore was a cinch for trying again to grab the White House ring. I don't believe the Raging Cajun. I suspect a ploy to sew further confusion among the New York senator's rivals.

Is Mr. Carville capable of such tricks? The question cannot be taken seriously. He belongs to the breed of advisors that bring their own lights and mirrors. They also tote along their favorite mud. Mr. Carville prefers bayou gumbo; it's thick and very stinky.

James Carville is a political force that cannot be totally controlled. He relies on a combination of slyness and direct confrontation. Sparks fly. There's always the possibility that things can get very nasty indeed. And this year nasty must be tampered down.

We saw in last year's Virginia U.S. senatorial race how a single faux pas can knock the stuffing out of even those running way-ahead in the polls. Here's the existential problem of extending the presidential primary season: it gives candidates all that extra time to make mistakes. Even private words and deeds are no longer private.

The line around public personalities was firmly fixed in my days as a young Washington Post reporter; the sacrosanct barrier that kept their bedroom secrets secret is non-existent now.

Journalists in the back of the 1960 bus told jokes about Jack Kennedy's peccadilloes; few of his capers spilled into print. But nobody was laughing when the Monica Lewinsky camp spread rumors about her Oval Office tête-à-têtes with Bill Clinton. Reporting types were busy running all over each other to get the latest poop.

More than ever, the media consist now of an overabundance of ears and eyes; cameras appear everywhere. Between cable and blogs, it's hardly safe for any politico/politica to step out of doors. Nobody wants to suffer the Brittany Spears treatment, and the possibility is always there.

The profusion of opportunities to be heard and seen probably has much to do with the literally plethora of White House aspirants popping up seemingly everywhere. Roughly one complete calendar rotation remains before the first official primaries: still subject to a decision is where or when. You can safely bet names will continue to appear and disappear.

The first declared wannabe who bailed out was Iowa's former governor. It's amazing that Democrat Tom Vilsack ever entertained the notion that his popularity in Mount Pleasant, Iowa - his hometown - could be transferred to other places, like Mount Pleasant, Maryland, for example.

His reason for fleeing? The lack of money, especially since front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, with the smiling help of her husband, co-opted many of the party's reliable funding sources.

But not all.

Mega-bucks liberal backer David Geffen's recent blast scarcely brimmed with gratitude for the two nights he camped out in Lincoln's bedroom during Bill Clinton's regime. And that's the problem.

In appraising whether the country is ready for a female president, Mrs. Clinton should not be confused with the average, intelligent, ambitious woman. She's not.

The fear of building a dynasty that might be passed on to daughter Chelsea is ridiculous, on par with her invocation of a vast right-wing conspiracy to "get" her husband, then president.

The conspiracy was real enough and based on the GOP's right-wing, but the vastness - if it existed at all - came from average people, including some Democrats fed up with the trashing of the Oval Office.

And that trashing can be attributed to Republicans, as much as Mr. Clinton's "juvenile" behavior; in order to destroy their Democratic target they felt compelled to waste all his trappings of dignity and accomplishment, as well as their target.

The present Oval Office occupant has not benefited. This very well may be why Mr. Bush and all his men continually try to instill the notion of an imperial presidency, which really hasn't existed since Richard Nixon's hurried departure.

Having peddled the misinformation that Bill Clinton left behind such a mess, the administration was obliged to clean it up: we were not displeased. The country was inclined to endorse the notion. Essentially, in a democracy common folks try very hard to avoid politics; this worked to Mr. Bush's advantage.

And that was before 9/11!

Attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon endowed the president and all his men with powers that approached the supernatural, at least for that part of the public frightened beyond its wits. The past use of those super-legal powers has shaped next year's elections.

According to polls and last year's congressional races, Republicans have jettisoned everyone but their hard-core. Specific numbers don't matter, but basically three-fourths of the nation expresses disillusion, not only with Mr. Bush, but his party. This has happened before and within my lifetime.

Having been handed their head for 12 years, Democrats came roaring back, in 1932; the Great Depression stigmatized the Republican Party. That's the official reasoning. But, in truth, they had stayed at the Washington "fair" too long. Exactly the same thing happened in 1952's elections.

Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower's wartime heroic role, as commander of the triumphant Crusade in Europe, played a pivotal part in the brand-new Republican's election by near-acclimation, we are told. But the real reason? Demonstrated 20 years earlier, the incumbent party had little left to say that voters wanted to hear.

As Mr. Hoover before him, incumbent President Harry S Truman left office on a mounting barrage of criticism, made bitter by GOP failure four years earlier when they shoulda...but didn't.

The Washington Post page open on my desk contains names and pictures of 13 Republicans; the overwhelming majority has already filed statements of intent to run for the White House. Mr. Vilsack's withdrawal leaves a round dozen Democratic hopefuls.

Barring a miracle and the only possibility currently on Washington's plate would be total surrender by Iraqi insurgents; George W. Bush will lead his party next year into another prolonged exile.

As in 1932 and 1952, the White House's current live-in has made himself anathema to most voters; surveys map his continuing decline. Mr. Bush and his would-be GOP successors have made themselves anathema by engendering incessant clamor. The war is not the only subject for which the public demonstrates it is fed up!

Since no Republican candidate offers the promise of coming out ahead in 2008, the next column will concentrate on likely Democratic contenders for the Oval Office.

As ever, I'm prepared to eat my words and with a gusto that didn't come when Kathleen Kennedy Townsend tried and fell short of becoming this state's first female governor. That display of selfishness by elected officials left bitterness towards my fellow Democrats.

Meanwhile, as usual, I plan to stick to my opinion: Republicans have little chance of retaining the White House in 2008. So let the Democratic follies kick off, on Friday's TheTentacle.Com.

Stick around for the dance.

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