Past three months I and the other pundits who...

FOR THE

November 03, 1990|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

FOR THE past three months I and the other pundits who write for the space above this column have been studying the candidates whose names will be on the ballots next Tuesday.

We've interviewed most of them and in many cases also their colleagues, friends and enemies. We've looked at the record. We've debated and discussed their strengths and weaknesses. Out of this have come our recommendations.

I concurred in all the decisions and wrote a few of the endorsement editorials. In every race in which I am eligible to vote, incumbent politicians won the nod. I know something about all of these people. I know some of them first hand. I respect them all. One's a good friend.

On Tuesday I'm voting against 'em all, even the unopposed!

For the first time in my life I regard an election as a device to send a message, not to chose public officials.

The message I want to send is that it's broke and it's time to fix it. I mean the electoral process. Or should I say so-called process? Officeholders at every level are routinely maligned by John Q. Voter -- but are re-elected.

Congress, which is the main sinner this year, has always been held in low esteem by the public and press. The envelope, please?:

"Congress, you won't do. Go home, you mizzerable devils -- go home!" -- Artemus Ward, 1865.

"Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself." -- Mark Twain, 1882.

"You can't use tact with a congressman. A congressman is a hog. You must take a stick and hit him in the snout." -- Henry Adams, 1918.

And so on. The big difference between this year and those is that we really have democracy now. Public disgust should mean something. In Artemus Ward's day, only about 15 percent of the populace voted. In Mark Twains', only about 18 percent did. In Henry Adams', only about 20 percent. Generalized public desire for change could hardly be expected to translate into action.

But since then, with the franchise extended to women, blacks and 18-21-year-olds, nearly 40 percent of the total population votes.

Furthermore, most people know a lot about public officeholders these days, as opposed to those days. When Ward, Twain and Adams were ridiculing Congress, only people who took the time to read a lot knew what was going on.

Today you've got Congress live on C-span, in your morning paper, on angry radio talk shows all day long, in the evening paper, on the nightly news on TV -- and on Carson or Leno, Hall and Letterman.

Given the level of public awareness and of public unhappiness, it is an outrage that almost all incumbents will be re-elected.

This sermon is only half over. I'll finish preaching Wednesday, election day's morning after. The text will be this quotation: "There is but one way for a newspaperman to look at a politician, and that is down."

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