A Democratic Savior


April 20, 1991|By TOM TEEPEN

ATLANTA — I can't say this idea is exactly original, but I do think I can safely claim that, until now, no one has been, let us say, bold enough to go public with it.

After all, according to the conventional political wisdom (can an oxymoron have three words?) 1992 is hopeless for any residual Democratic presidential ambitions. There is no candidate on the horizon with the stature to run credibly and any who might develop would, by definition, be too smart to waste himself in political suicide.

So far, the throat-clearing offstage has been coming only from two actors. Paul Tsongas and George McGovern, both former U.S. senators. Great. An obscure liberal with a foreign-sounding name from Massachusetts. Hey, that worked so well in '88, why not build on it? And a has-been who never was, the Harold Stassen wannabe of the Democratic Party. Can Ramsey Clark be far behind?

Oh, yeah: And Jesse is ready to go in, coach.

But the Democratic Party is not so impoverished of talent as all that. Nor is finding the right candidate much of a task, once you think about it. Just outline the winning profile and then look for a fit.

First, the candidate has to be experienced. 1992 won't be a year for new faces. George Bush ran as Mr. Resume in '88 and he has added a stint of incumbency since. The Democrats need someone whose background suggests he could sit down at the Oval Office desk and not fumble around a lot for the paper clips.

Name recognition will be important, too. The Democrats won't have enough campaign money to build up a marginal figure into household word-dom and still have change enough left over to elect him.

The candidate ought to have an easy mastery of at least some of the key issues that currently occupy Americans' concerns -- the entwined issues, say, of the environment and energy policy. Polls show that both matters worry us, and Mr. Bush is weak on them. His idea of an energy policy is to drill for oil in wildlife reserves, and his idea of an environmental policy is -- well, to drill for oil in wildlife reserves.

The candidate needs to be a moderate, someone Americans recognize as speaking from mainstream values; preferably, someone who has a sincere religious faith but is so comfortable in it he doesn't feel he must harry those who believe differently.

Geography has to be taken into account, too. It has been said until it has become a cliche, but it is nonetheless so: In order for a Democratic candidate to win, he must carry the South. A nominee from the region would give the party a leg up into the general election.

And with President Bush building international points (unless he blows it with the Kurds), it wouldn't hurt, either, if the Democratic nominee brought to his candidacy an earned respect abroad, especially a reputation for humanitarianism, a quality with which America's international posture has not been exactly overburdened through the last decade.

So, as you see, identifying a compelling Democratic nominee for 1992 is not so daunting after all.

The real trick, I'm afraid, will be in getting Jimmy Carter to go for it.

Tom Teepen is editor of the Atlanta Constitution's editorial pages.

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