Democrats Cheat the Public


"The Libertarian Party has one thing going for it the Democrats do not -- two contenders for the [presidential] nomination." So wrote Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times. Sad but true. Just over five months till the first presidential preference primaries, the oldest political party in the world still has just one announced candidate, former Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts.

Last month, there were some interesting announcements from Democrats. Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee announced he would not run because of family concerns, and Robert Farmer, the treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, announced he was resigning to raise money for Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, should the governor, as is now widely assumed, decide to run.

It is a sign of the Democrats' troubles that Mr. Farmer also announced that Mr. Clinton was his second choice for the nomination. (He said House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt was his first choice.) What do you suppose the Democratic slogan will be if Governor Clinton is nominated? "When you don't care enough to send the very best"? "You're not dealing with AT&T; now"?

That Governor Clinton is a second-choice candidate is not his fault. The first choice -- first tier -- candidates all are ducking the 1992 race. In addition to Senator Gore, Sens. Sam Nunn, Lloyd Bentsen, Bill Bradley and John D. Rockefeller IV have all virtually taken themselves out of the race. So has Gov. Mario Cuomo.

Some of these Democrats give the impression that 1996 will be a better year. It might not be. A party that cannot produce a single, serious candidate of presidential stature may have trouble convincing the public the next time that any of its candidates should be taken seriously -- especially those who have chosen not to run this time.

"In a world of newly emerging democracies, we should be embarrassed by our own shortage of candidates," Walter Mondale wrote recently. "More than the fate of the Democratic Party is at stake," the former vice president and presidential nominee said. "The public is cheated -- and our nation is weaker -- when the two parties do not effectively compete at the presidential level."

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