No Winners in Sight Up North

CARL ROWAN

February 20, 1992|By CARL ROWAN

Washington -- After a surprisingly newsworthy primary in New Hampshire, what have we got? Nothing much to be happy about.

On the Republican side, we have an incumbent president, George Bush, who has been exposed by right-winger Pat Buchanan as a double dispenser of economic voodoo, as a man who breaks his promises to voters and whose greatest claim to re-election is that he ordered a desert war that produced triumphs but no victory.

Mr. Buchanan has played the politics of fear, of ''America First'' isolationism, well enough to embarrass his sitting president. Yet it is clear that while many in New Hampshire used Mr. Buchanan as a symbol of protest, few would want him to become president.

Mr. Buchanan has wounded Mr. Bush just enough to leave him vulnerable to a strong Democratic challenger for the White House.

But New Hampshire has shown us that there is no ''strong'' Democrat in the current crop of candidates.

Former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas came on strong in the last days of the New Hampshire struggle, but for unenduring reasons. Voters disgusted with the twin scandals of Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, the charges of marital infidelity and draft dodging, decided to vote for a neighbor, Mr. Tsongas.

So the Democrats have a regional aberration in Mr. Tsongas, who will pull off the political miracle of this generation if he can maintain support in the South, in Michigan and California, and remain a front-runner going into the nominating convention in New York.

It may be a harsh judgment, but even with his ties with red horizontal strips, Mr. Tsongas does not ''look'' presidential.

Mr. Clinton worked hard to stay above the muck of charges that he had extramarital affairs and dodged any role in fighting in the Vietnam war. But he still paid a price at the polls.

It is hard to believe that Southern voters, who he hopes will give him a big victory on Super Tuesday, will be more forgiving than New Hampshire voters -- especially on the ''patriotism'' issue of ''draft dodging.''

HTC The Republican National Committee has to be worried that Mr. Bush is a wounded lion who will have a pack of hungry hyenas biting him on every flank, finally chewing him to pieces.

The Democratic National Committee is praying for the emergence of a lion of its own that will declare meaningfully that he is the king of the jungle.

So Democrats now watch with added interest a draft movement to turn a pussycat named Mario Cuomo into a rampaging beast.

Other Democrats are yelling louder than Tarzan, trying to trumpet the rise of elephants like Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas and Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri to stampede their way to the rescue. So far, Mr. Bentsen and Mr. Gephardt don't believe it's really Tarzan's voice they hear.

Voters living in the economic mess of New Hampshire have only convinced me that this country is in a worse mess of political leadership -- or the lack of it.

Carl Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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