How low can you stoop to win? Here's one guess

October 19, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

LOS ANGELES -- What would you do to gain high political office?

Would you lie? Cheat? Steal?

Well, those are pretty standard.

But would you exploit your own children? Or is that where you would draw the line?

Would you decide that political office is not worth selling out your human decency?

If you answered yes to that question, then you are probably a fine human being.

L But you may never become a governor or senator or president.

Think I exaggerate? Then consider what happened last week in the California governor's race:

In California this year, crime dominates the political agenda (with illegal immigration close behind).

The crime issue has turned out to be a huge boost for the formerly unpopular incumbent, Pete Wilson, and a huge liability for the one-time front-runner, Kathleen Brown.

Wilson, 60, the grandson of a murdered cop, beats the law and order drum very hard.

He has been endorsed by the sister of murder victim Sharon Tate and by Marc Klaas, father of Polly Klaas, the 12-year-old who was abducted and murdered last year.

State Treasurer Brown, 40, daughter of one former governor and sister to another, once led in the polls by 23 points. But now she trails Wilson.

Brown thought the economy was going to be the dominant issue in the race. (Unemployment is 9 percent in California.) But when crime came to dominate, this served to focus attention on Brown's personal opposition to the death penalty.

Brown and Wilson debated last Friday. The stakes for Brown were enormous. This was her best, perhaps only, chance to catch up with Wilson in the polls. And she needed a knockout punch.

So she attacked Wilson for attacking her alleged softness on crime.

"You cannot imagine," Brown said, "what it's like to be a mother waiting at home late at night for your kids to come home, waiting for your daughter to come home in the evening and having her come home and comfort her because she has been raped. . . . You can't understand. So don't question my commitment to be tough on crime."

It was an electrifying moment. And Brown confirmed after the debate that her daughter, Sascha, now 25, had been a victim of a date rape that had never been reported to police.

Needless to say, the rape remark dominated the news. The Los '' Angeles Times called it the "emotional peak" and "dramatic highlight" of the evening.

But one question occurred to me as I watched the debate: Had Sascha given her mother permission to reveal her rape to the world?

According to a Brown aide, Brown had told Sascha earlier in the campaign: "You know, Sascha, it's getting hot, getting ugly. This kind of thing could come out. Are you prepared for it to be made public?"

To which Sascha replied: "Yes, but this is very painful, and not something I personally want to describe or discuss."

"The implication," the aide told the Los Angeles Times, "was it was OK."

Really? That's not the implication I get from that conversation.

I get the impression Sascha was mentally prepared to have the rape story surface in an ugly campaign.

I don't get the impression Sascha gave her mother a green light to bring it up.

In any case, Brown says she was not planning on bringing it up during the debate, but she got "sick and tired" of Wilson "misrepresenting my position on crime . . . and suggesting that a woman, a mother, can't be tough on crime."

Brown says it was a completely spontaneous moment.

Well, it's possible. But candidates rehearse and rehearse and rehearse for these debates. And Brown had to know what a dramatic impact the rape story would have.

The way I see it, if Brown did get permission from her daughter to use the rape incident, then what Brown did was merely cold and calculating and exploitive. But if she did not get permission, then what Brown did was unspeakable.

I don't know if what Brown did won her any votes. Or, if it did, they are enough votes to win.

But either way, Brown, and all other politicians, ought to remember what Adlai Stevenson once said:

"The great test is to win public office without proving oneself unworthy of it."

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