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Add a new hat to political ring


The thing is, I wanted to be up there in New Hampshire, traipsing through the snow with the media herds and wolfing down stale doughnuts in the back of some dusty American Legion hall while one of the presidential candidates droned on and on about national health care.

Lord, yes, I wantedthat kind of action. But the newspaper wouldn't send me. I brought the matter up at a staff meeting last month and 27 editors looked at me like I had just run over somebody's dog.

A deathly silence descended on the room. Finally, one editor cleared his throat and mumbled something about the paper's advertising revenue being down and the travel budget maxed out, and so on and so forth. Then they started talking about where everybody was going for lunch.

So that sort of took care of that. Not only wasn't I going to New Hampshire, but from the wave of enthusiasm that washed over the room following my proposal, there was every reason to suspect I'd soon be helping out with the obituaries. Or the noon rush in the cafeteria.

Anyway, the reason I was so hot to go to New Hampshire wasn't for the snow or doughnuts or incredible mid-recession real estate opportunities -- they say you can pick up a four-bedroom, two-bath rancher for about 27 bucks now.

No, I was going for an up-close and personal look at Republican candidate Pat Buchanan, who is my new hero.

Here is a man running for president of the United States, and his major qualification is: He's a newspaper columnist! Is that a hoot?

OK, fine, he's also a talk-show celebrity, the requisite frothing right-winger on such shows as CNN's "Crossfire."

But the bottom line is, the man is a media person who has never held elected office in his life.

Well. If they're going to let media people run for president, I don't see any reason to sit in front of a word processor and bang out this drivel day after day -- not when you've got a shot at a window seat on Air Force One and all the shrimp cocktail you can eat.

It's too late to make a serious run at the presidency this fall. But rest assured that my, ahem, staff and I are laying in wait for the 1996 election and assessing our campaign strategy, which is basically to lie about our positions.

Look, the art of politics essentially revolves around this core strategy: Say what your audience wants to hear.

In other words, if you're Candidate A and you're addressing 200 cranky senior citizens sitting on cold metal folding chairs at the local library, you make sure they know what a tireless champion of Medicare you've been, and that it's a national disgrace that this country does not take better care of its elderly.

But if your next stop is a college campus, the first words out of your mouth might well be: "The problem with this country is that we're paying too much attention to these old geezers and not enough to you young people, who are the bright, shining hope for tomorrow."

Later, at a textile factory, you might wait for the noon whistle and then roll up your sleeves and slap on a John Deere cap and have the photographers swarming around as you rip into a bologna and cheese sandwich with the other workers.

But that night at a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser at the Sheraton, you could straighten your black tie and remark to the circle of swells around you: "Boy, these smelly factory workers . . . They're like animals -- everyone eats these disgusting bologna and cheese sandwiches! Say, could you pass the champagne?"

In any event, this sort of double talk and chameleon-like ability to be all things to all people comes naturally to me, as I have been doing it for most of the 13 years of my marriage.

When it comes to family matters, I generally adopt a strong position on an issue and stick to it ferociously -- unless my wife or the kids happen to feel differently, in which case I quickly swing over to their way of thinking.

If that isn't politics at the grass-roots level, then, mister, I don't know what is.

Anyway, all that is neither here nor there at this point. The good news is that Pat Buchanan is running for president. The man has opened the door a crack for all newspaper columnists who aspire to the same office. I intend to be the guy who kicks that door in.

As I said, we have four more years to fine-tune our campaign before beginning the snowbank-to-snowbank battle for the New Hampshire primary.

Hopefully the travel budget here will have loosened up by then.

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