It took all of 10 seconds as a candidate for president for Lamar Alexander to lose any chance of ever getting my vote.
Even if he proves to be a man of great vision -- promising to exempt columnists from all taxes, chop off the fingers of computer hackers and burst the eardrums of droolers who turn their cars into rolling boomboxes -- he has already lost me.
I usually try to be patient and fair in judging candidates, listening to their speeches, pondering their backgrounds and even reading the slick position papers written by their hired campaign hucksters.
But with Alexander, all it took was one look at his shirt.
That's right, his shirt. The man announces that he is running for president of the United States -- the biggest job in the world except for Judge Ito's -- and what does he wear for the occasion?
A red and black plaid flannel shirt, open at the collar, no tie or jacket.
I'm no fashion fuss-pot, since I often dress like I live under a bridge in a cardboard crate. But I'm not asking people to make me the leader of the free world.
And it's not that there is something wrong with the shirt itself. It's obviously a respectable, sturdy, flannel shirt. Just the garment to wear if you are going to the hardware store on a Saturday, out with the family for a hamburger or maybe fishing on a cool day.
But you could say the same about a set of red long underwear with a bottom-flap: respectable and sturdy. That wouldn't make it the appropriate garment to wear while declaring a candidacy for president.
Worse than the choice of the shirt, though, is the obvious thought that went into wearing it.
Imagine for a moment that it is the morning that you are going to reveal to the whole country that you are seeking the office once held by men like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt and Eisenhower.
You know that the TV cameras will be there to instantly flash your image and your words across the nation.
So you get dressed and prepare to introduce yourself to the nation. And your wife or someone says:
"Uh, what's with the shirt?"
"What about it? Is there a stain or something?"
"No, but it is a flannel shirt. Red and black plaid flannel. I thought you were going to announce that you are running for president."
"Yes, that is precisely what I'm going to do."
"Then don't you think a dress shirt and a tie and a suit would be more appropriate? Something more formal, but quietly understated."
"Ah, but that just proves that you know nothing about fooling some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, and if I am lucky, 51 percent of the people when it counts."
"You'll do all that by wearing a plaid flannel shirt?"
"Sure. You see, this shirt will let the folks out there in TV land know that I am really a regular Joe, sort of a plain, everyday neighborly guy like they are."
"But you are not. You were once president of a big university. And the governor of a state."
"Yeah, but this working stiff shirt will let them know that I'm not one of those evil and slick Washington Beltway insiders who has caused all the misery and grief in their tormented lives; that the absence of a dark, single-breasted suit, and a red power tie, means that I'm just a grass-roots kind of guy."
"But you went to Washington and served in the Cabinet of President Bush. You can't get any more inside Washington than being a Cabinet member."
"Hush up. If those other candidates want to wear suits and ties and flaunt their insiderness, let them. Me, I'm just good old Joe."
"But your name is Lamar."
"Yeah, and I guess it's too late to get people calling me plain Lum. Say, how does this stalk of corn silk in the teeth look to you?"
"It might be a bit much. Maybe you should save it for New Hampshire."
"Good idea. And I got to remember to get to New Hampshire before the snows fall."
"So's I can campaign in my bare feet."