Is this a great country or what? Where else would voters be given just two short weeks (actually nine days from today) to become intimately familiar with the nation's presidential candidates and make an informed selection for filling the most powerful post on earth?
That's the situation Maryland voters are in. Political dunderheads in Annapolis moved the presidential primary to a frigid winter date when only the most dedicated voters will go to the polls. It is so early in the campaign season that virtually no one has an inkling about the candidates' specific stands on issues. This puts voters at a severe disadvantage.
What are the issues? And who are these candidates, anyway? For readers who think they know the answers, here is a user-friendly test that could show otherwise:
1. Paul Tsongas is
b) anti-Democratic Party.
2. Bill Clinton is best known for
a) dodging the draft.
b) dodging political bullets.
c) dodging Gennifer Flowers.
d) dodging the issues.
3. Bob Kerrey is best known for
a) sharing a Midwestern governor's mansion with Debra Winger.
b) sharing his congressional medal of honor with Vietnam vets.
L c) sharing a plate of ribs at his restaurant with reporters.
d) sharing the also-ran spot in New Hampshire with Tom Harkin.
4. Tom Harkin
a) hasn't met a social program he didn't like.
b) hasn't met a tax on the rich he didn't like.
c) hasn't met a farm-subsidy bill he didn't like.
d) hasn't met a fourth-place finish he didn't like.
5. Jerry Brown
a) used to be known as Governor Moonbeam.
b) used to squire Linda Ronstadt on African safaris.
c) used to quote thoughtfully from Buckminster Fuller.
d) used to make sense.
6. Mario Cuomo
a) wants to be elected president.
b) doesn't want to be elected president.
c) isn't sure if he wants to be elected president.
d) wants more time to think it over.
7. Pat Buchanan is related to
a) former President James Buchanan.
b) former actor Edgar Buchanan.
c) former football great Buck Buchanan.
d) a former columnist who used to spout elegant but zany right-wing gibberish.
8. George Bush wants to be known as
a) the education president.
b) the environmental president.
c) the New World Order president.
d) the two-term president.
Voters are confused, and it will get worse. We will be inundated by candidates with catchy slogans and trite, emotionally appealing rhetoric -- with little substance.
Yet most voters can't correctly spell the names of candidates Kerrey (isn't it Kerry?), Cuomo (who isn't even on the ballot) or Tsongas (most folks can't pronounce it).
How about where these folks come from? Is Bob Kerrey the guy from Iowa, Nebraska or Kansas? (All farm states look alike to Easterners). Is Tom Harkin from some other state where the corn is as high as an elephant's eye? We know Bill Clinton's from the South, but what part? Port Everglades? Tupelo? Enterprise, Ala.? Plains, Ga.? Pocomoke City?
It is reassuring that some things never change. Mario Cuomo is still governor of New York and as Hamlet-like as ever. Jerry
Brown is as nutty as ever, spending time washing the feet of the poor in Calcutta.
And Pat Buchanan, well, Pat is still narrow-minded, 18th century Pat, who wants to return America to the good old days, before all them foreigners arrived. Only this time he's not columnizing; he's gone as low as he can -- he's a politician.
What are voters to do? Tom Diffenbach has a suggestion. The Harrisburg consultant has come up with the novel suggestion that voters shouldn't be conned by "slick campaign ads and speech-writers' slogans that can make anyone look good." He has launched a "hold-out campaign" to convince voters to remain uncommitted until election day -- and demand details on issues.
He created a mini-stir in New Hampshire with his "Vote Wisely" pitch. Using a fax machine in his basement, in just three weeks he got free air time on 30 radio stations, 10 lengthy on-air interviews and exposure on three public TV stations. He and two friends spent last weekend in New Hampshire handing out 5,000 fliers urging voters to "eyeball each candidate and test his ideas."
He's trying the same thing here. The goal: heighten voter awareness of the candidates' attempts to seduce them. He wants voters to demand of candidates a higher standard -- a campaign based on issues and problem-solving.
If that were to happen, come March 3 we could cast our votes intelligently. Now that would be a novel development.