Playing dooyathink with Powell

March 19, 1996|By Clarence Page

WASHINGTON -- Here we go again. Look out, Powellmania is back.

Rampant speculation, excited palpitations, dread. The speculation centers on whether retired Gen. Colin Powell is going to run for office. The palpitations are generated by the possibility that he will say yes. The dread is generated by the possibility that he will say no.

The general moved to dampen the speculation by stating firmly in newspaper interviews over the weekend that he would not be a candidate. We'll see whether that's the end of it. Don't bet on it. Now that Bob Dole is emerging as the clear Republican front-runner, speculation will continue that, with a few sweeteners in the deal, Mr. Powell might yet consent to be his running mate.

What kind of sweeteners? Well, Senator Dole could offer Mr. Powell an unprecedented but thoroughly constitutional dual job as vice president and secretary of state. Or, at age 72, he could offer a confidential one-term-and-out agreement, promising to step aside after serving a single term, clearing the way for a Powell candidacy for the presidency in the year 2000.

I am less amazed that Mr. Powell declines to throw his helmet into the ring than I am astounded by our refusal to let go.

Yes, ''our.'' I confess. I, too, am a Powellmaniac.

I tried to resist. After all, I have other things to do. But everywhere I go lately and I have been traveling a lot from town to town I hear the drumbeat of the ''dooyathink'' questions:

''Dooyathink Dole is going to choose Powell?''

''Dooyathink Powell will accept?''

''Dooyathink they can win?''

My answers, in order, have been ''yes,'' ''no'' and ''maybe.''

Who cares about Pat?

Yes, I think Senator Dole will continue to court Mr. Powell. He would be nuts not to. Who cares if Pat Buchanan and the other extremists don't like it? Their numbers are dwarfed by the members of the nation's moderate majority who would pour out of their homes to vote for a Dole-Powell ticket.

More than half the voters in the early Republican primaries told pollsters they wished there were ''somebody else'' on the ballot. Who might that someone else be? Well, Mr. Powell still scores higher than anyone else.

But even before his weekend demurrals, I didn't think he would accept. The retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was quite clear on that last fall when he ruled out a run for the presidency or ''for any elective office in 1996.'' The presidential run requires ''a calling I do not yet hear,'' he said. The calling is still there, but Mr. Powell apparently still does not hear it. Quite the opposite, he looks very comfortable in his retirement.

I think that's too bad. I would like to see Mr. Powell run if for no other reason than to see this long, drawn-out drama played out to its logical end. Polls show overwhelming numbers of white people are eager to vote for him, but pollsters have learned the hard way that many white voters will lie about their preferences in racially sensitive elections. That's odd, of course. The fibbers have no reason to feel embarrassed, since their responses are given anonymously. Guilt works in odd ways, I guess.

As the candidates often say (especially when they are losing) the only poll that counts is on election day. I would like to see white America put its money where its mouth is, at last.

I would like to see Mr. Powell run because I think he would be a terrific unifier of the races at a time when our national politics have grown dangerously divisive. He offers Americans an appealing alternative a magnetic leader drawing Americans toward common ground of wholesome, mutually shared values and away from the David Dukes, Pat Buchanans, Al Sharptons and Louis Farrakhans.

But, first, before the Dole-Powell ticket can have a chance to unify America, they will have to get past the disunity they would stir up in their own party. If Bill Clinton loses sleep at night worrying about running against a Dole-Powell ticket and I suspect he does he probably rests quite comfortably over the turmoil it would cause among Republicans.

Clarence Page is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 3/19/96

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