THERE aren't too many surprises in this presidential campaign. One which has shaken people is that President Bush has decided to take the low road and leave the high road to Dan Quayle.
I called up Roger Bomb, one of the president's top advisers. "What happened? Why has the president turned sleazy?"
"He hasn't turned sleazy. He is just being more presidential than he has been in the past. After all, we are coming up to the final inning." "But he called Gov. Clinton a traitor. You told me last week that Quayle was going to accuse Clinton of selling out his country by leading anti-American demonstrations in Moscow. Why did Bush take the mud-slinging away from him?"
"The electorate wasn't listening to Quayle. Dan could have said that Al Gore was the illegitimate son of Fidel Castro and nobody would have taken him seriously.
"But when you have the president of the United States calling the Democratic candidate a traitor, people listen."
"Was Bush programmed to go that far?"
"No, he just said it off the top of his head.
"George Bush is fed up with all those Americans who won't put their country first, and he feels that he should speak out against them even if it is the unpopular thing to do."
"But the sleaze isn't working," I said. "The polls still show him way down."
"We won't know if it worked or not until election day. Who knows what the voters will do when they pull the lever? They will only have to ask, 'Do we want a strong, experienced president who has led this country through the greatest period of prosperity in its history?' or, 'Do we want a president with no experience who, as a student at Georgetown, sold U.S. nuclear secrets to the Kremlin?' "
"That's a tough choice for the voter," I admitted. "I assume Bush intends to take the low road for the rest of the campaign."
"He has to if he ever hopes to catch up. He lost so much ground when he was Mr. Nice Guy. The toughest thing I had to do is inform the vice president that he must give up the mud-slinging."
"He wasn't very good at it anyway. Every time he resorted to bashing the other side, the audience laughed.
"What are you going to do with him?"
"Quayle's a good soldier and he will talk about God and country and how tough it was to go to public school."
"This is a weird race. Bush seems to be madder at Bill Clinton than he is at Saddam Hussein."
"Why not? Saddam is not leading by 12 points in the polls."
"Is there any chance that the red-baiting might work against Bush?"
"It's never failed before. We have a slogan in the White House locker room, 'When the going gets tough, the tough kick the commies.' "
"Roger, I hope you don't mind my saying so, but all your usual scare tactics haven't had any effect this time. Maybe your mistake is that you're still fighting the last election."
"Don't tell me what's effective and what isn't.
"My tactics would work if the Lenin-loving media told the truth about the other side. We didn't start the dirty stuff."
"Clinton, when he was a KGB agent at Oxford."