Imagine the intrigue, the prose if Clancy covered the convention REPUBLICAN CONVENTION

August 15, 1996|By ARTHUR HIRSCH

Appearing this week in a book store near you: "Executive Orders," the latest novel by Maryland resident, Orioles investor and perennial bestseller Tom Clancy. In this book, chockablock with the overheated Clancy prose that makes so many critics cringe, fictional hero Jack Ryan becomes president of the United States. The plot makes staff writer Arthur Hirsch wonder: What if Clancy were writing about this week's Republican National Convention?

The speech of his life, they kept saying. He would have to make The speech of his life. But was it true? Or was it just more of the godless media's sickening excess? Another Big Lie served up night after night like so much greasy sausage by these blow-dried, bubblehead news anchors, these errand boys of the media conglomerates. How he hated them with every steely fiber of his 73-year-old body, a body ravaged by the nameless horrors of a war that made it safe for these know-nothings to peddle

their liberal twaddle.

Make a note, he said to himself. Make a note right now: Absolutely no more interviews with Katie Couric.

How he loathed that smug little sprite.

The speech of his life, indeed.

Robert Joseph Dole, son of Russell, Kansas, battle-scarred veteran of World War II, former U.S. senator, just-nominated Republican candidate for President of the United States, wheeled around in his swivel chair in his suite in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Diego. And there it was. Staring him right in his craggy Midwestern face that had seen enough agony, triumph and soul-crushing disappointment for six lifetimes: his desk.

Strewn there on the deck of polished mahogany, bathed in the light of a 75-watt Westinghouse Soft White bulb, was the hideous debris of battle: sheets of scribble torn from a yellow legal pad. A scattering of laser-jet printed manuscript pages horribly scarred with red Flair pen and marked with Post-its. A cocktail napkin from Dick's Last Resort Bar and Restaurant upon which an exhausted staff member had written over and over in blue Papermate medium ball point "the message, the message, the message "

This was The Acceptance Speech. This was The Speech of His Life. A total mess.

Dole reached to his left under a coffee-stained copy of the San Diego Union and pulled out his IBM ThinkPad 365. He slid the sleek black box in front of him and struggled with the side catches, lifting the lid. With his powerful left hand he flicked the ON switch on the left side of the machine and listened with quiet satisfaction as 166 megahertz of Pentium power surged to maximum potency. The active-matrix liquid crystal display screen lighted and showed his menu of options floating before an image of the Iwo Jima Memorial. Within the ThinkPad's 32 megabytes of memory lay The Speech.

The California sun had barely edged over the western rim of San Diego, igniting a million downtown office windows with the glow of a monstrous inferno. Fifteen hours to go. Tops.

In the next room Elizabeth Hanford Dole slept the sleep of the loyal, the stalwart, the proven.

Echoing even now in his head were the words she spoke last night before lights out, as Dole listened to the cassette recording "Taps" he always carries on the road.

"Bob, Bob," she said, her eyes welling with something like pride, "You are what America was, you are what America could be again. Know that, always always know that."

"It's something I've often thought about," he told her. "It's what I'm thinking when I know I'm on message."

He thought he heard her stir. Then nothing. Not a sound. The solitary war hero sat engulfed in the transcendent silence of a crypt.

Of course, he was not alone. He had not been alone for a moment since this thing began. When it started the consultants came to perform their alchemic labors on his public persona. From then on he'd been followed by a mocking shadow, an obscene doppelganger who grinned and twitched and played the crowds like some cross between Pat Paulsen and Wink Martindale.

"Senator," said one of the consultants, because Dole was still a senator then, "Here it is: you're too sharp, too smart, too funny for your own good. The Party absolutely must invoke and evoke Ronald Reagan, the avuncular, cuddly Communicator, the Sultan Simple. With all due respect, Senator, you are darkness. You are irony. You are the shadowed complexity of the Deep Game. That is you. That is Washington. But that is not Peoria, U.S.A. "

On and on they went. The idiots. From then on it was Dole and Dole Lite, which led to other unholy alliances. Dole and Reed, Dole and Buchanan, Dole and -- it was really too sickening -- Dole and Kemp.

Stay on message, Dole, he told himself. For the love of God and country stay on message. OK, OK, he reminded himself, you're now a supply-sider. OK, you're strongly opposed to abortion rights. You have strong convictions about Hollywood movies and the doings of Howard Stern and Guns N' Roses.

You do, dammit, you do.

Dole quickly struck two keys on the ThinkPad, went into his document files and with a few more keystrokes brought up a file slugged THESPEECH. He cleared space at the top with his paragraph key and began, nodding a slow nod that said so much more than a mere nod.

"Mr. Chairman, fellow delegates," he typed, "I stand here as a proud Republican, humbled by the demonstration of ..."

He blinked into the screen, rubbed his eyes and felt for a moment the unification of the two Doles. Dole, he said to himself with the elixir of victory rising in his gall bladder, meet Dole Lite, the next President of the United States.

Pub Date: 8/15/96

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