This year, Bush has no Horton, no war, no prosperity

Mike Royko

March 20, 1992|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

It's unlikely that the thought has even crossed George Bush's mind. He's one of those positive thinkers.

But with recession gloom spreading and national grumbling growing to a roar, he might consider quitting before he's fired.

Yes, he's marching along winning all of the Republican primaries. As an incumbent president, he's supposed to win the primaries. But as an incumbent president, he's not supposed to be embarrassed by someone like Pat Buchanan.

Winning those primaries doesn't mean much if he's losing the working-class votes that put Ronald Reagan and him in office. Which he's doing.

These are the people who were fooled by what Bush called "voodoo economics." They were so charmed by Reagan's feel-good presidency and delighted by Bush's Willie Horton racial symbolism that they didn't notice the Incredible Shrinking Paycheck.

Now they are noticing. And in many cases, it's the Incredible Disappearing Paycheck.

Reagan is no longer available to snap off salutes at airports. And Willie Horton will be of no use to Bush this time around.

So unless the economy leaps out of the intensive-care ward in full health, which it isn't going to do, Bush is going to find himself in -- what was the preppie phrase he used? -- ah, yes, deep doo-doo.

But, you ask, who is capable of beating Bush? Surely not Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, who seems to be on his way to winning the Democratic nomination.

A few months ago, even a matter of weeks, that did seem like the unlikeliest of possibilities. Clinton had been given the Gary Hart treatment by a blond floozie and was labeled as little more than a regional candidate. Then came the story of how he tried to stay out of Vietnam.

Well, it didn't seem to hurt Clinton in the South, including Texas, where people are said to take patriotism and morality more seriously than those of us in the big, sinful Northern cities. In fact, his strongest support came from those who wouldn't have received college deferments and who are more likely to frown at husbands suspected of playing around.

And it hasn't hurt him in Illinois.

Clinton is proving that when the going gets tough on the wallet or purse, the voters aren't going to be diverted by character judgments. They're going to listen to the candidate who talks about how to put meat on the table. And so far, Clinton has done a better job of talking kitchen-table basics than anyone in the race, including Bush. Especially Bush.

Bush could get away with zooming across the TV screen in a golf cart when most of the country was putting up yellow ribbons and cheering on the troops to get the evil Saddam.

But a golf-cart presidency doesn't play well when Saddam is a distant memory and there is this nagging feeling that the country is going to hell and you'll need a $100,000 annuity to pay for the kid's first year of college.

Nor will the cheap tricks that were used on Michael Dukakis work on Clinton.

For one thing, Clinton is a slicker politician than Dukakis, a better campaigner, a stronger speaker, and he and his election crew think faster on their feet. If the dirt flies, they'll be ready. And it may be that the voting public is fed up with dirt. If so, it will get the thrower muddier than the target.

And if he can't throw mud at Clinton, just what kind of campaign does Bush plan to run?

Is he going to remind the nation that he vanquished the evil Saddam and made Kuwait safe for decent, honest, super-rich emirs?

If so, how does he explain that Saddam is alive, dapper and chipper as ever, still in power and is once again suspected of trying to build his very own bomb? If anything, the less said about Saddam, the better for Bush.

Is he going to tell paycheck America not to worry, the economic doo-doo isn't really that deep, and just wait, we're going to have one heck of a Christmas, you know, the retail shopping thing. Just watch the Dow Jones.

Sure. Then GM or Chrysler or some other corporate giant announces another plant closing, another 10 percent round of head-chopping, and where are Dow and Jones when you need them?

He can run against Congress and maybe milk the check-kiting issue. Unfortunately, several of his top people used to be congressmen and some kited checks in their day. So will he fire them for being irresponsible?

Besides, Clinton isn't a congressman. And he can run against Congress, too, then make friends with it later.

What is Bush's platform going to be? I suppose he could call upon Americans to remember the glory days of Reagan-Bush, when they were getting 9.5 percent on their CDs from Charles Keating's S&L. But that just opens another can of worms.

So to spare himself possible embarrassment, Bush might give some thought to doing a Lyndon Johnson. Johnson could have won the primaries in 1968 and had the Democratic nomination. But he knew there would be a lot of angry people out there in November, so he took a walk.

It isn't too late. And Vice President J. Danforth Quayle is available. Republicans keep saying that Quayle has really grown and grown and grown soooo big, he's just about ready.

And since J. Danforth's job in this campaign is to play tough guy for Bush, why not let him play tough guy for himself?

All they'd have to do is make sure he stays out of the golf carts, too.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.