WITH A presidential election coming up, Americans have an unusual civic opportunity. Just about anyone can be a political activist.
And you can do it without sending in a campaign contribution, volunteering to stuff envelopes, making partisan phone calls, ringing doorbells or handing out campaign propaganda.
In fact, you can make an impact without leaving the comfort or discomfort of your own home.
It works this way:
Most political experts agree that the key to this election will be the economy. If times don't get much worse, or if they improve, President Bush has a good chance of being re-elected.
If the slump gets worse, and more people lose their jobs, a Democrat will have an excellent chance of beating Bush. Especially if the pink slips keep going to well-educated white collar types, who aren't accustomed to such rude treatment.
(Of course, the political experts weren't saying this six months ago. Then they agreed that bold warrior-chieftain Bush was unbeatable and wondered which Democrat would be suicidal enough to run. That's why so many political experts are yo-yos.)
But now what's-his-name, Saddam Hussein, is old news. And when was the last time you heard anything about "Stormin' Norman," unless you are the booking agent for a speakers bureau?
The welcome-home parades are over. The yellow ribbons are gone. And if anyone in Washington is thinking about the troops, it's in terms of how to persuade them to accept a bonus to retire early and cut the military payroll. (The smart GIs will ask: "Uh-huh. And what kind of job you figure I can get out there?")
Now it is bottom-line time. One of the oldest truths in American politics is that people vote their pocketbooks. When their pocketbooks runneth over, they hail the president's vision, wisdom, statesmanship
and erect posture. But if they look in the pocketbook and see only lint and Kleenex, they ask how a boob like that ever stumbled into public office.
And that is how you can help shape the outcome of next year's election even before you vote.
You still don't see? It's so simple.
The polls show that even though his popularity has slipped, Bush is still admired by many people. Not as much as when he was blowing up Iraq and making the world safe for the emir with the hound-dog face. But there are still a lot of people, Republicans and others, who believe that Bush is the best man for the job.
Then what they should do to support Bush is spend. That's right, buy something right now. And tomorrow. And the day after. Whip out that checkbook. If you don't have enough in the account, use the credit card and pay later. Your car is wheezing? Don't put more money into that clunker. Get down to the showroom and drive home in something new. As the ads say, you owe it to yourself. You deserve it.
Big-ticket items are the best. Wouldn't you like a big-screen TV? Or new furniture? Or maybe a personal computer, even though you don't need it and it will just confuse you?
Then do it and help keep Bush in office. Go Christmas shopping immediately. Or order from a catalog if the weather is lousy. And don't be a cheapo -- let your loved ones know that you care enough to blow a wad.
By spending, you will stimulate the economy and create jobs. The retailer, the wholesaler, the shipper, the manufacturer -- you'll make them all happy. (Unfortunately, many of them are 5,000 miles away and speak no English, but some of it will trickle down here.)
And don't worry about getting in over your head. Debt is good. If it wasn't, why would Bush have talked about lowering credit card interest rates so people would buy, buy, buy? Remember, we don't have debtors' prisons. And if you can't handle the payments, let them repossess. You can get a new piece of plastic and start over again later.
That should be the Republican strategy. But for hard-core Democrats, it is just the opposite. Think poor. Think cheap. Think hot dogs and beans. Think resale shops. Think putting your money under the mattress or burying it in the back yard. Well, that might be a bit extreme, so put it into something that pays interest. Then don't touch it.
But don't spend. Or spend as little as possible. Believe me, your wife will be thrilled when she removes the gift wrapping and finds a darning needle. And you will beam when you get that Christmas bar of non-scented shaving soap you always wanted.
When you see Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" on TV, cheer for Scrooge -- at least until he turns into a money-squandering fool.
If enough Democrats do that, every time one of those economic indicators is announced, it will go down by two-tenths of 1 percent and Wall Street will have another nervous breakdown and the pundits will shriek: "What is Bush going to do?"
And he'll say: "Indexes, not reliable. Future, bright."
And off-camera: "Barbara, doo-doo, deep."