Last week it was racist rap. This week it is dirty tricks. Ar Gennifer Flowers and Murphy Brown to be consigned so quickly to history's ash heaps? Is Sister Souljah also to be a passing fancy, pushed off the front page by Inspector Perot, the super sleuth pursuing and being pursued by Hitlerian propagandists at the Republican National Committee?
Let it be said right off that the bizarre 1992 presidential campaign is not without its uses. It enriched Ms. Flowers, increased the ratings of the Murphy Brown TV show and undoubtedly will boost sales of Sister Souljah's records. But what will it do for Ross Perot and for George Bush, the fellow who really runs the show at the RNC?
Bill Clinton, emerging from his spat with Jesse Jackson over Sister Souljah's racist bilge, didn't quite say he hoped his rivals for the presidency would knock each other off. But he came close: "It's obvious that they've got an almost obsession with one another, and I'll let them play it out."
The danger for the prospective Democratic nominee is that he might be relegated once again to the inside pages now that he is no longer an object of titillation and is concentrating on position papers.
The current fad is the feud between Mr. Perot and Mr. Bush, especially now that Barbara Bush has intervened with the revelation that the billionaire once offered her millionaire a "big" BTC job, which he declined. "Maybe people don't say no to Ross Perot," says the First Lady. We await a response from Margot Perot, Goucher College's newest famous alumna.
What is happening is very much in keeping with the silly season. But it has its serious purposes. When it first appeared that Mr. Clinton might actually make it all the way from Little Rock to Washington, the press began to look into his background and came up with extramarital affairs, draft dodging and a non-inhaled whiff of drugs. Now Mr. Perot is getting the treatment, and he doesn't like it. In fact, the Texas entrepreneur even suggests that the media, with its stories about his authoritarian ways and penchant for investigating enemies, is in cahoots with Republican Party dirty tricksters. Richard Nixon would find this idea intriguing.
All these hijinks are a necessary exercise to flush out the Perot temperament and give the American people something more than a public relations man's version of what he is all about. There will be time enough for policy papers. The American
presidency is such a highly personal position that the public should see its candidates whole. Just ask George Bush; voters already know him very well.