Clinton Beat Opponents and Rumors


March 21, 1992|By GARLAND L. THOMPSON

So ends another political race, even if dogged campaigns do diehard. Paul Tsongas inspired a corps of believers in his quest for the Democratic nomination, but starting from behind can be debilitating. Thursday, Mr. Tsongas said he just didn't have the funds to compete.

Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory noted that Mr. Tsongas was raising good money at the end -- $93,000 a day -- but he had already lost the fund-raising competition last year. After disappointing defeats in Michigan and Illinois, he was too far behind to catch up.

The former senator put a good face on things, saying he'd succeeded in making his message the party's, and made a graceful exit.

Not so Patrick Buchanan, the GOP's dogged pursuer. He got trounced in the same states Mr. Tsongas lost, but he had been getting trounced all along. His backward-looking march gave little to be inspired about, anyway, and his mean-spirited diatribes took away even the image of well-meaning decency a candidate wants voters to take to the polls. Now, while he admits only ''celestial intervention'' could breathe life into his chance at the Brass Ring, he hangs on.

If Pat the Rebuker were not so focused on the fist-fights of his hoary past, he might see that celestial intervention came years ago. Martin Luther King publicly prayed to God beside the troops who faced truncheons and fire hoses and dogs every day, and they went out and changed everything. Pat Buchanan just wasn't looking.

And so it goes.

Speaking of outlandish claims, consider the oblique shots directed at Jesse Jackson, who did what so many Democrats were asking and shut up during this election season. Suddenly, he's responsible for Doug Wilder's failure to catch fire. Mr.

Jackson, who made history in 1984 and 1988, says with justice that his registration drives boosted black representation in statehouses, municipal offices and Congress, but he was dogged by claims he was not a ''legitimate'' politician.

Enter Mr. Wilder, a civil rights ''moderate'' who won a chief executive's chair in the capital of the Confederacy, a man whose victory was said to ''diminish'' Mr. Jackson.

Now that white voters outside Virginia have failed to rally to Mr. Wilder and the blacks whose support he was supposedly guaranteed have failed to find him exciting, it's Jesse Jackson's fault. By keeping quiet, the theory goes, Mr. Jackson sabotaged President Wilder. Without Mr. Jackson's strong endorsement, his followers refused to sign on, so the Wilder campaign was sunk before he made it out of the starting slip.

Such rhetoric might be understandable coming from the Wilder camp. Any scapegoat in a storm.

But that ignores the albatross some whites would have called Mr. Jackson had he taken a prominent role in the Wilder campaign. Loud calls for Mr. Wilder to ''distance'' himself from Mr. Jackson would have reverberated across the land, many from supposed ''friends'' of black aspirations.

Besides, a Wilder campaign with so little horsepower it couldn't get going without an outboard motor named Jesse Jackson was bound to stall. Any ''analyst'' who couldn't see that must still believe in the Wicked Witch.

And so it goes.

Meanwhile, out on the hustings, dogged rumors continue to flow while Governor Clinton keeps piling up victories. That's despite the nasty things commentators think he might have done behind closed doors, things that Republican sharp-shooters might target in the fall. What might be obvious by now is that the voters are disregarding such rumors. Mr. Clinton, who out-polled George Bush in his big Southern tests, is looking more and more credible the longer he runs.

Some pollsters are mystified about his strong support in black communities, but his record of appointments -- almost half his gubernatorial cabinet choices were blacks -- and his steady track of coalition-building clearly have meant more to Arkansas' blacks than his somewhat conservative ideology. Their support resounds in the urban North, too.

And so it goes. Former California Gov. Jerry Brown might yet upset the Clinton apple-cart, but it doesn't seem likely. With no Paul Tsongas to distract Mr. Clinton's assiduous campaigners, Mr. Brown looks to have little success in blocking a Clinton nomination. Barring the truly staggering revelation no one has yet managed, Mr. Clinton is the one who will face a vulnerable-looking George Bush in the fall. That meeting keeps looking more interesting as the year wears on, dogged pursuits and silly rumors aside.

Garland L. Thompson writes editorials for The Sun.

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