Are not supposed to take physical...

RIGHT THINKERS

May 01, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

RIGHT THINKERS are not supposed to take physical attributes into account when thinking about politics, but we do.

There are a lot of traditional reasons for dismissing Paul Tsongas' presidential candidacy. He's a Massachusetts liberal (like Michael Dukakis), he's unknown nationally (as Dukakis was in 1987), he's of Greek descent (like Dukakis; unlike every president from Washington to Bush).

For me, however, and I will probably be condemned to Pundit Hell for admitting it, the big reason for dismissing his candidacy is -- his voice and looks. The contours of his face and the rhythms of his articulation combine to remind me just a little of Bugs Bunny's nemesis. I keep expecting him to attack "those wascally Wepublicans!"

Image has always counted in politics -- especially presidential politics. The taller candidate usually wins. The better-looking candidate usually wins. The more accomplished orator usually wins.

Some of this is in the eyes and ears of the beholder. For example, most Democrats look at Richard Nixon and see the shifty-eyed, banana-nosed, five-o'clock-shadowed caricature drawn by Washington Post editorial page cartoonist Herblock. Most Republicans see the clean-cut, favorite-uncle, all-American Nixon as painted by Norman Rockwell and displayed in the Hall of Presidents in the National Portrait Gallery.

*Both parties like the looks and voice of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf. No Elmer Fudd he.

So could the Democrats count on him to lead them into the White House? Probably not. Generalships aren't stepping stones the presidency.

Sure, Dwight Eisenhower took that route, and before him Generals George Washington, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, U.S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Arthur and Benjamin Harrison all became president. But most of those were citizen-soldiers, not careerists like Schwarzkopf. Only Taylor (40 years), Grant (19 years) and Ike (34 years) were real soljers.

Florida Republicans want Schwarzkopf to run for the Senate against incumbent Democrat Bob Graham. Career military to Senate is a big leap, too. The Senate Historical Office has no statistics but says "very, very few" senators over the years were career generals.

There are many reasons for this. One is, career military men move around a lot. They don't have home states. When the Senate's only military careerist, John McCain of Arizona, ran for Congress after 22 years as a naval officer, he had been a resident for only a year. His opponent called him a carpetbagger.

But he turned it to his advantage. "The longest place I ever lived was Hanoi," he said. He was a Navy pilot who was a heroic prisoner of war. That helped elect him to office.

Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf may be electable on the basis of heroic accomplishments, too, but don't bet a whole lot on it.

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