A reader has raised a question about presidential campaigns.
"I keep hearing about this issue and that issue," he says. "But what I've never understood is, who decides what becomes an issue?"
Some issues are issues because everybody agrees they are issues. The economy is the most obvious example. Those with money want to keep it. Those without money want some.
Other issues, such as family values, are created by the professional manipulators, pollsters and spin artists who hustle ideas for the candidates.
But other issues just pop up as a result of reporters and TV producers being a constant presence on the campaign trail.
Let us imagine that Bill Clinton is out for his morning jog and a dog --es out of a yard toward one of Clinton's legs.
And let us say that Clinton's foot swings in an arc and his toe makes contact with the dog's rib cage. The dog yelps and runs away.
The scene would be captured on TV and in photographs and would be flashed across the nation. By the evening TV news hour and when the newspaper presses rolled, it would become a major story: "Clinton kicks dog."
At his next meeting with the press, Clinton would be asked: "Governor, why did you kick that dog?"
He would answer: "I didn't kick that dog. I was jogging and the dog ran into my foot."
On the next news hour, the story would begin: "Presidential candidate Bill Clinton today denied that he kicked a dog." The headlines would say: "Clinton blames dog for rib woes."
Dog lovers would then phone radio talk shows and say: "That man says he is for the underdog, but he goes around kicking them."
And suddenly we would have a new issue.
Clinton would confer with his spin doctors, and at his next briefing, he might say: "After reviewing the videotape of that incident, it appears that I might have reacted instinctively, with my subconscious telling me that the dog might bite, so it is possible that without intending to, I let my foot hit the dog's ribs. But I did not set out to kick that dog." So the day's headline would say: "Clinton waffles on dog issue."
When the McGoofy Group did its next show, host McGoofy would bark: "Clinton and the dog: Did he kick it or didn't he? Morton."
"Uh, kicked it, but not on purpose."
"Vicious beast deserved what it got."
"Tried to kill it, just as he will the American taxpayer."
"Who the hell cares?"
McGoofy: "The verdict. He brutalized it, and there goes the mutt vote!"
Teams of investigative reporters would be sent to Arkansas by the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times to interview longtime Clinton observers about his attitude toward dogs.
Some would say: "We've known about this trait for a long time. He's kicked dogs from one end of Arkansas to the other. And you should see what he does to cats, swinging them by the tail. Enough to make you weep."
While others would say: "Piffle. I have seen big hounds try to take his leg off, and he just turned the other leg and petted them and fed them Dog Yummies. A saint, that man is."
They would track down childhood acquaintances, one of whom would say: "Yep, I remember when he kicked my old dog Blue, kicked 'em so hard that Ol' Blue died, and we buried him in our back yard. It's time the rest of the country knew."
But another childhood acquaintance would say: "When my dog Blue got a chicken bone caught in his throat, Bill jumped right in and used the Heimlich maneuver and mouth to mouth and saved Blue's life. I remember thinking way back then: 'That boy's gonna be president someday.'"
At his next news conference, Clinton would be asked: "Governor, there are conflicting views on your attitude toward the kicking of dogs."
He would snap: "I believe I have answered those questions fully, and we should move on to other matters, such as whether President Bush's dog actually wrote that book or a ghost writer did it."
Which would lead to stories that said: "Gov. Bill Clinton, showing the strain of the long campaign, grew snappish with reporters and refused to answer questions about the growing issue of dog kicking."
The Wall Street Journal would have an editorial that said: "In light of the candidate's sidestepping of this issue, one can can understand the deep apprehension of the multibillion-dollar dog-care industry."
And if you don't believe that's how issues get started and grow, well, just ask Murphy Brown.