In 1996, the Forrest Gump ticket will win in a walk

March 29, 1995|By Sandy Grady

WASHINGTON -- LET'S SEE if you have it: Dumb is good, smart is bad. Simple is good, complex is bad. Stupid is great, brilliant is terrible.

Hey, you're ready to run for president in 1996 on the Gump ticket.

When asked a tricky question on "Meet the Press," look glassy-eyed and drone, "Mama told me life is like a box of chocolates."

Or when debating your opponent, constantly snap, "Stupid is as stupid does."

In the swirl of trophies, blather and applause for "Forrest Gump" at Monday night's Oscar awards, we saw Hollywood's glitziest celebration of the "Dumbing Down of America."

Throw away those books, look vacuous, talk as if you're one brick shy of a load, you'll be a smash winner.

I mean, Gump's an American hero who is dim as a 40-watt bulb, floats through wars and riots, meets John F. Kennedy, gives advice to everybody, becomes a success and gets the girl.

(Hmmm. Take away the Rhodes scholarship, it sounds like Bill Clinton's career.)

But in truth, long before Tom Hanks and the Oscars elevated dumbness to a national virtue, we saw the Gumping of politics.

Look at the Hanks character -- naive, bland, earnest, honorable, simple-minded, dopey, down-to-earth: the dream 1996 political candidate.

No wonder the pols are trying to out-Gump each other.

You have Lamar Alexander, hiding the fact that he's a Yale grad who plays Chopin and writes books, wearing a plaid hand-me-down shirt and talking as though he fell off a tractor.

Or Phil Gramm, a Ph.D. in economics, doing his Texas twang about about "makin' folks ridin' in the wagon get out and help push." Or raving about his down-home pal, Dicky Flatt.

Or Pat Buchanan, the Know-Nothing candidate, promising to call out the National Guard to keep America's borders safe from non-Gump invaders.

Gumpiness first emerged in California when Michael Huffington, a man too dim to tie his shoelaces without his staff, spent $27 million as an All-Gump senatorial loser.

Now the guv, colorless Pete Wilson, runs for president hoping voters are too dumb to remember his no-White House pledge.

It's a state of Gumps.

Don't worry, the Clintons have latched onto the Gump trend. At Saturday night's Gridiron show in Washington, Hillary did a hilarious video imitation -- drawling mama-tol'-me jokes on a park bench -- that out-Gumped Gump.

OK, what about Newt Gingrich?

A history prof who flaunts his brain power with rants about cyberspace and the Third Information Wave and laptops for the poor, Newt's clearly a non-Gump. But polls show the smarter Newt talks, the more he's disliked.

Get a bowl haircut, some dopey horn rims and dumb down, Newt.

Maybe that's behind the enormous popularity of "Forrest Gump," a movie about a simpleton who drifts through life outwitting smart, cynical folks: It's a revolt against experts and elites.

Richard Hofstadter's "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life" pointed out that dumbness as a national virus runs in cycles from 19th-century evangelism to Adlai Stevenson in 1952 derided as an "egghead."

You never know what you'll get in a book, mama.

True, we've had dumb movies before. Three Stooges, Laurel & Hardy, "Bedtime for Bonzo," "Wayne's World," "Beavis and Butt-Head" were not "Masterpiece Theater." When Hollywood does a film about a brain, it comes up with "IQ," in which Albert Einstein is a cutesy-pie matchmaker.

But when "Forrest Gump" hauls down $371 box-office millions and the Oscar baubles, and a schlock movie for 13-year-olds called "Dumb and Dumber" racks up $128 million, something odd's going on.

Sure, those who love "Gump" point out that the Hanks character is virtuous, brave and lovable, stuff you don't find in your blood-and-gore, anti-hero bummers.

Gump mocks the smart-alecky cynicism of the 1960s -- "except," as one critic notes, "in the 100 songs on the soundtrack."

One guess is that "Gump" shows Americans are cranky, suspicious and rebellious about the technological onslaught of the 1990s. It didn't take "The Bell Curve" to show that the best jobs are going to those with higher IQs, or that the country is splitting into two classes, the educated and the Gumps.

No wonder it's a burst of sunshine -- or dose of Valium -- to see a movie in which the idiot savant beats the wise guys by being noble, honest and nitwitted.

The Defeat of the Nerds! Dorks Win!

Long before Tom Hanks became the ultimate dummy, Sen. Roman Hruska of Nebraska said Gumpishly, "The mediocre people deserve representation."

If dumbness is going to be a national mode, I'm resigned to seeing the Gumping of Politics run wild in '96. Beware of plaid shirts, el cheapo haircuts and candidates who talk real slow about their mamas opening boxes of chocolates.

Down with brains! Dummies Forever! Gump for President!

Where is Dan Quayle now that we need him?

Sandy Grady is Washington columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.

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