2000 campaign takes a fashionable turn

March 05, 2000|By MICHAEL OLESKER

THESE DAYS I get my political news from W. That's the fashion industry magazine, not the middle initial of the Republican presidential contender. W's March issue is a cornucopian 516 pages thick with photographs of young women in the gauziest fashions this side of Jennifer Lopez, and one bit of political news about Vice President Al Gore picking a presidential running mate.

Named Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

Excuse me?

"Kennedy Connection," W proclaims next to a color photograph of Townsend and President Bill Clinton. "Al Gore's presidential campaign advisers are kicking around an idea about how to upstage George W. Bush in this fall's presidential race.

"The idea is to name Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the popular lieutenant governor of Maryland, as Gore's running mate. Townsend, the daughter of the late Robert Kennedy, is a strong campaigner, young and popular with Bill Bradley's liberal following -- just right, the campaign hopes, to replace Gore in his current job."

Immediately, I call Alan Fleischmann, Townsend's chief of staff, whose reaction is an absolute, unequi- vocating, "Excuse me?"

"It's in the new issue of W," I explain. "That's a fashion magazine."

"You're reading fashion magazines?" Fleischmann asks. (He may have noticed my sense of style, which comes directly out of early Sunny's Surplus.)

"See, you probably waste your time reading the New Republic and Atlantic Monthly," I say. "That's why you aren't in the loop the way I am."

"I'm in the loop," Fleischmann says. "I read Style Magazine, put out by the Jewish Times."

There is, in fact, nothing in Style Magazine about Gore picking Townsend, or in the New Republic or Atlantic Monthly, for the simple reason that virtually everyone in America (except those peering up from the lingerie shots at W) finds the notion flimsy.

It is presumably based on one slender premise: that the Republican Bush might select Elizabeth Dole as his running mate, and that the Democrat Gore, not wishing to seem gender-insensitive, would also select a woman.

"I give it no credence," Fleischmann says. Townsend "was one of the first out there to endorse [Gore], and she's been close with him and with Clinton. But this is absolutely the first we've heard of it."

"I know she has a great relationship with the vice president," adds Jeffrey Liss, Townsend's political treasurer, "but she is 100 percent focused on a long and productive career in Maryland."

Like everyone else around Townsend, they are thinking a few years down the road to her run for governor. But we do have a presidential primary here Tuesday -- part of so-called Super Tuesday -- in which Gore, still scanning the horizon for a running mate, prepares to end the White House dreams of Bill Bradley, while Bush attempts to erase John McCain's fading hopes.

But, if you watched the televised Republican debate Thursday night, you might have overlooked the most telling remark of the night because it came from Alan Keyes. Since he has no chance of winning, he has nothing to lose by telling the truth. And, he declared, neither Bush nor McCain can get elected -- not if each thinks he can win by talking about the economy, or campaign finance reform, or about anything except ethics and morality.

There is a reason for this, traceable directly to self-interest. Remove great drama from a presidential election -- a war, a scandal -- and Americans tend to vote their pocketbooks. At the current time, many are full.

In Annapolis, the surplus astonishes everyone in the State House, and county executives from all over arrive with their hands out for money they may never in this lifetime see again. In Baltimore, even with its continuing troubles, there are big capital projects downtown, and signs of life in previously dormant neighborhoods. Across the state, unemployment hasn't been this low in years. It is this way around the country.

The great flaw in this remarkable economy is the enormous gap between rich and poor: the most yawning spread in history. The rich aren't complaining about this, and nobody in politics is too concerned about the poor. The Republicans ignore them, and the Democrats take their votes for granted.

In the face of this, the Republicans Bush and McCain snipe at each other over negative ads, over religion, over who called whom a bad name, and over who's more beholden to big-money people.

And the Democrat Gore, hitting his stride, bathing in the continuing economic flush, has the luxury of pondering a running mate -- even if he finds her in the pages of a fashion magazine.

Pub Date: 3/05/00

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