Are Democrats playing shrewd presidential politics?

Mike Royko

August 14, 1991|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

MANY POLITICAL pundits have expressed grave concern because here it is August, but only one Democrat has flung himself into the presidential meat grinder.

They point out that by August in past campaigns, hordes of candidates and their media gurus were stomping through Iowa, looking for farmers willing to share a 10-second TV bite with them.

But now only Paul Tsongas, a former senator from Massachusetts, has declared his candidacy. (Mike Dukakis? Ted Kennedy? Now Paul Tsongas? Has Massachusetts become the prankster state?)

The absence of Democratic candidates seems to alarm the pundits. They are wondering if the party is so terrified of the Bush-Quayle charisma and intellect that it has become listless, withdrawn, and will throw in the towel and shuffle through the next election.

Maybe the Democrats are timid. But there's another way to look at it. They may be showing shrewd judgment, whether they know it or not, and they probably don't.

Yes, it is August. But it is August of 1991. I don't know what kind of calendar they use in Washington, where the pundits brood, but that means the election won't be held for one year and three months. What does that come to -- about 65 weeks? More than 450 days?

Or look at it this way, sports fans. Before the next presidential election, we will watch the 1991 World Series, an entire football season, a Super Bowl, an entire basketball season, another entire baseball season, the 1992 World Series, and half of another football season.

So what the heck is the big hurry? I have not heard any Iowa farmers say: "I am lonely because no Democrat with a head full of hair spray has asked me to hunker down with him in my barnyard and tell him and the camera my woes in 20 seconds or less."

Nor have I heard even one normal person moan: "I can't bear to watch the TV news anymore, it is so dull. Where is a Paul Simon, a Bill Bradley, a Jesse Jackson, an Albert Gore, a Richard Gephardt, to make my pulse pound and my eyes well with tears of joy when they tell me how they will lead the nation into a brighter tomorrow, and an even more glorious day after tomorrow? Life is so empty without them."

To the contrary, most people haven't even noticed that Democrats have not begun harassing Iowa farmers. And those who have noticed are grateful, except for about 200 pundits who feel deprived of something to write about, and a few dozen huckster-consultants who are eager for their fees.

It shouldn't take a year and three months to define the issues, present one's positions, and make a lot of goofy promises. It shouldn't even take three weeks. With one or two good speeches, a credible candidate should be able to reach out and touch America's love of freedom, justice, equality and goodness. As well as its envy, class hatreds and regional malice.

And by starting too early, they risk Kook's Law. This was enunciated by Dr. I. M. Kookie, one of the world's leading experts on lots of stuff, who said: "The more you open your mouth, the greater the probability that a bug will fly in it."

In other words, the longer the campaign, the more a candidate talks. And the more he talks, the more opportunities he has to sound dumb or boring.

That's what happened to Michael Dukakis. He was out there so long that by the time the election was held, even those who gave him their vote winced at the sight of his frozen smirk. Had the campaign lasted another month, Kitty might have declared herself a Republican.

If the Democrats were smart, they would sit back and wait until the last possible moment to choose a candidate. They would announce: "Yes, we are going to have a candidate. But out of respect for your right not to be bored stiff, we are not going to beat on you for 14 months with speeches and sound bites and commercials that make you glassy-eyed. On Election Day, we ask only that you remember that we are the party that didn't get on your nerves."

True, by waiting they let George Bush hog the front pages and the TV news. But is that bad? Without a war to get the yellow ribbons flapping, what will he brag about -- vowing to settle the Cyprus problem? Sure, they're talking about Cyprus in all the sports bars.

With a limping economy, veterans of Desert Storm could be collecting unemployment checks by next summer. That's the time to start a campaign. Especially if Bush is shown for the 2,000th time in a boat, still trying to catch that first fish.

And they could launch the campaign by demanding to know why Bush hasn't done anything to stop the federal prisons from giving weekend furloughs to convicted felons.

Maybe they can find a felon named Willie. Hey, it works.

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