I HAD an end-of-the-year vacation on Hilton...


I HAD an end-of-the-year vacation on Hilton Head Island, visiting relatives, but I wasn't invited to Renaissance Weekend.

That's the annual idea-swapping retreat for the elite that President and Mrs. Clinton made famous. Among the elite joining the Clintons in recent years has been Sen. Barbara Mikulski, whose photo dominated the front page of the local rag, the Island Packet, the day I arrived.

(I use "rag" affectionately. It's one of the better small community dailies I've seen in years. Better than some of the not-at-all-small-community dailies I had to depend on during a couple of weeks in South Carolina and Georgia.)

I don't care that I wasn't invited to Renaissance Weekend. Why? I had breakfast with Newt Gingrich when I got back! He's a one-man Renaissance Weekend! He spouted more ideas, some good, some bad, in an hour and a half with some Sun folks than all the brains at Hilton Head put together.

Gingrich has a way of surprising people, by his words and his deeds. For example, I expected the most publicized, celebrated and castigated man in Washington today to sweep into the Washington hotel where he met us with a security platoon and aides to help him answer questions, keep on schedule and take notes of the Qs and As (in case any lying journalists misquoted him).

But he came into the breakfast room alone. He also kept A-ing the Qs long past the scheduled time. Some As were unexpected.

Contrast that with a meeting most of the same Sun people had with Vice President Al Gore at 501 Calvert a couple of days earlier.

Gore was accompanied by staff (one who took notes), and Secret Service men cased the joint, and uniformed Baltimore police men and women sealed off the lobby and stairway. Gore ducked a lot of questions, surprised no one with any answer, and left right on time.

The most interesting (to me, at least) contrast between the speaker and the vice president was that the gulf between the two, in terms of aura, was enormous. The speaker, with rumpled hair and wrinkled suit, and unattended, was a much more commanding figure than the sleekly dressed, perfectly coiffed, well-protected vice president.

It was not just that the latter expressed no interesting or new or particularly believable ideas. Nor did it relate to style (though the vice president is pretty wooden and the speaker is pretty brassy). No, it's authority that made the difference. Politics is all about power. Speaker Gingrich has more of it than any speaker in at least 80 years, and it shows. Vice President Gore has no more power than any vice president ever has, and it shows.

What Gore has is potential. To become president. Of his 11 immediate predecessors, five (Truman, Nixon, Johnson, Ford and Bush) became president and one (Quayle) may in 1997.

Actually, I don't believe Dan Quayle will be the next president.

Thursday: President Gingrich?

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