Wanted: a better crop of presidential candidates


"I just had one of the shocks of my life," Slats Grobnik said, his hand shaking so badly that he sloshed his drink. "Our nation is in peril."

What is it? Some sort of terrible news bulletin that I've missed?

"It ought to be. People should be running in the streets screaming and all panicky. I'm surprised they ain't jumping off buildings and bridges."

Then tell me, has the Dow Jones collapsed? Is it a plague? An invasion from Mars?

"Awright. Do you realize that the next president of the United States is gonna be George Bush, Bill Clinton or this Ross Perot?"

Of course. Everyone knows that. Bush has his nomination sewed up. Clinton is very close to his. And Perot, if he runs as a third-party candidate, will be the only alternative.

"Everybody knows it? Then how come everybody is so calm? Why ain't there mass hysteria?"

Really, you shouldn't bang your forehead on the bar that way. It disturbs the other patrons.

"How did we get in this kind of mess? It's like it sort of sneaked up on us when we weren't looking."

I don't understand your pessimism. You fail to appreciate that there are many people out there who like Bush and Clinton, which is why they have won so many primaries. And there seem to be many others who are fond of Perot.

"That ain't the way I read it. They got these polls, and the polls got something called a negative rating. And in all these polls, Bush and Clinton got such high negatives that they don't get as much respect as Rodney Dangerfield."

Perot's negatives aren't high.

"Yeah, but that's only because people say they don't know enough about him yet. Watch, when they get to know him, they'll hold their noses for him, too."

Well, maybe the negative feelings for the candidates will decline once the actual campaigns begin and people begin looking more closely at the issues.

"Decline? I figure they'll go up. What's Bush gonna do, fight a duel with Saddam Hussein? Now it's coming out that right up to the time we were going to war with Iraq, we're letting Iraq run a scam so that it's borrowing money from us to buy farm stuff but using some of the money to buy weapons to use against us in the war. So we got Saddam using our tax money to buy guns to shoot us with. How's Bush gonna talk his way out of that one?"

Yes, it's a rather embarrassing disclosure. But I suppose he can say that mistakes happen, we won the war anyway, so all's well that ends well.

"Except it didn't end too well, either. And this L.A. stuff isn't going to do him a lot of good, either. Now he's got to pretend that he cares about the cities when down in his heart he's a suburban guy. So if he does too much for cities, the suburbs and farmers are gonna get mad at him. But if he doesn't do enough, he's gonna look like a commuter running home to hide from the trouble. And he's still got Pat Buchanan to worry about."

Ah, but Buchanan's campaign is almost over.

"Wait. Buchanan likes being a pain in the butt. He's a natural at it. So he's gonna go to the Republican Convention and get all of his right-wing pals to give Bush a migraine if Bush don't put on a right-wing act of his own. I'm telling you, Bush has only got one thing going for him."

Let me guess. He's clean and well-groomed?

"Besides that. Clinton. It was like the Democrats sat down and said: 'OK, let's look at everybody we got in our party and see if we can find one guy who has got a real good chance of losing to President Preppie.' "

Oh, he's not the worst candidate they could have found.

"He's the worst who ain't been pinched for mopery with intent to gawk. It's like they said: 'Oh, here's a good one. There are rumors all over Arkansas that he's had a thing going with some bimbo, and she's ready to blab, and his marriage had problems, and he ducked the Vietnam draft, and he talks out of both sides of his mouth and does double flip-flops on issues. Hey, let's make him our candidate."

There have been stronger choices. But it sounds to me like you might be forced to lean toward Perot.

"Not yet. We're already finding out he used to hang around Richard Nixon's office, showing off his dough. Like somebody said, any friend of Richard Nixon's is somebody who ought to take a lie-box test. And he talks like an outsider, which is the thing to be today, but he made his bundle by being an insider and getting all those government contracts. And he's still at it. So what's he gonna say: 'Elect me, because I'm just a regular guy like you, except that I got to be a billionaire by knowing how the system works.'?"

Well, like it or not, those will be our choices, and you might as well stop moaning.

"I guess. Hey, how many people we got in the U.S."

About 250 million, give or take a few illegals.

"That's something. We got 250 million people to choose from, and this is what we get. What we need is a hat about the size of the Grand Canyon."

For what?

"Then we can toss in all 250 million names, pick one, and say: 'Here, you got the job.' "

A lottery?

"Why not? It can't be any worse than a stacked deck."

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