Comeback Kid may find liabilities come back too

ROGER SIMON

July 19, 1992|By ROGER SIMON

NEW YORK -- In politics, unlike real life, you do get a second chance to make a first impression.

And so now Bill Clinton gets to reinvent himself.

He would like to be known as the Comeback Kid. Which certainly sounds better than Slick Willie.

He would like to remind us of John Kennedy. Which is certainly better than reminding us of Gary Hart.

But though Clinton now leaves New York with the customary improvement in the polls, he will find that, in a presidential campaign, the past is never gone.

What is old news to the candidate and the press is fresh news to the millions of Americans who have not paid much attention to the campaign so far.

And so all those issues which Clinton thinks he has handled and put to rest -- Gennifer Flowers, the draft, his wife's law practice -- are very likely to hit the front pages again when massaged and spun by the Republicans.

It was Al Gore who, in 1988 during the Democratic presidential primary in New York, first brought up Willie Horton in a debate with Michael Dukakis.

Dukakis sloughed it off. It was an old issue, an issue he had dealt with in Massachusetts.

But the Republicans managed to breathe a little life into that dead issue.

And it should come as no surprise, by the way, that it was Gore who tried to wound Dukakis with Willie Horton.

Gore has a reputation for being willing to exploit anything to win.

In 1988, he exploited the rift between Jews and blacks in an attempt to win New York. (He lost badly and dropped out of the race.)

And just last week, in his acceptance speech before the Democratic convention, he exploited in gruesome detail the accident that nearly killed his son, Al Jr.

I know Gore was just trying to show how warm and sensitive he is. But it is one thing to spend 30 days at the bedside of a son who is near death and it is quite another to exploit it on national TV for the purpose of gaining the White House.

But I'll give Gore credit for one thing: At least he didn't try to come up with a glib slogan to sum up his campaign.

That was left to Clinton, whose "new covenant" not only isn't that stirring a phrase, but is overly biblical in tone.

To me it sounds like some new, weird cult that recruits runaways in bus stations and takes them out to Montana to program them.

It is supposed to remind us, I guess, of the New Frontier. And while many reporters are calling the Clinton/Gore team the "Double Bubba" ticket, the image Clinton and Gore are trying for is: "The Young Kennedys."

Clinton invoked the image directly on Wednesday night when he entered the hall a day early (he actually seemed afraid someone would grab the nomination away from him.)

"Thirty-two years ago, another young candidate who wanted to get this country moving again came to the convention to say a simple thank-you," Clinton said on a night during which Joe Kennedy II and Ted Kennedy had spoken, a film was shown honoring Robert Kennedy, and the cameras took live and lingering pictures of Caroline Kennedy, Robert Kennedy Jr., Ethel Kennedy, John Kennedy Jr., and even, God help us, Maria Shriver.

(If Dan Quayle had been on the ball, he immediately would have issued a press release saying: "I've read about John Kennedy. I've heard about John Kennedy. And, Governor Clinton, you are no John Kennedy!")

This is the youngest ticket in history, and it is determined to show how audacious it can be: Gore dances with Tipper on the podium! Hillary dances with Tipper on the podium!

Camelot is at hand! America wants change and vigor and youth!

Maybe.

As Dan Quayle, who actually did worse among baby boomers than among other voters in 1988, found out, one's youth can have its disadvantages with members of one's own generation.

I am two days older than Al Gore and 19 months younger than Bill Clinton. We belong, in other words, to the same generation.

But I ask myself: Am I ready to be president? Am I ready to be vice president?

And if I am not, how come they think they are?

On the other hand, if I am ready, who are they to take the job away from me?

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