DONALD L. FOWLER, chair, Democratic National Committee, scheduled the 1996 St. Valentine's Day massacre for precisely February 14. Today is the deadline practicing Democrats must meet to pay up or get erased from the ranks of "the loyal."
Initially, the missive didn't look like a shakedown. Both my wife and I received questionnaires with cover letters inviting us to join the 1996 National Democratic Platform Poll. There was a mention of our generous contribution near the end of the windy letter, but we're inured to politicians, charities and missionaries who want money.
There are XII sections in the poll (the DNC, like the NFL, opts for Roman numerals). The first XI are filled with leading questions -- you can answer them only one way if you haven't converted to Newtie and the Blowhard Fish. Section XII is a series of tiny blanks that Doc, Happy, Dopey and other tiny miners might be able to fill out.
"Thank you for your participation in this poll."
That's the closing line of section XII. Nice ending. Too bad it didn't come at the bottom of the page.
"Democratic Party Membership Acceptance Form."
It isn't a tear-off section. It's part of the poll. It gives respondents a choice of between answering yes, we accept the Democrats and Slick Willie, or no, we don't. If we accept, it's $19.96, $30, $50, $100 or other $. If we say no, we get off by paying $10.
DNC math doesn't make sense. For $19.96 a head or more, we can be loyal Democrats. For $10, we can refuse to be loyal Democrats. What do we get for $0? My wife and I plan to find out. We tossed the poll in the recycling bin.
Does this mean we're planning to cross the aisle, to change our registration?
No way. It would probably cost a minimum of $1996 (no decimal points need apply) to grump our way Dolefully toward the White House in 1996. Why vote for a candidate who looks and sounds like Eeyore simply because he doesn't go Whitewater rafting?
I became a Democrat in 1958 because I was 21 and either chose a party or didn't vote in primaries. My wife became a Democrat in 1960 for the same reason. We've carried our registrations from Kansas, to Missouri, to Maryland, where we've lived since 1965 and voted since 1966. Now Don Fowler wants to chuck us out of the party because we won't pony up an ante we've never before been asked to pay.
Judging from the mass of digits in my assigned poll code (I could use them to play the lottery's big drawing and have enough left over for the daily numbers), I assume this poll goes to a lot of registered Democrats. That makes me wonder if it's secretly sponsored by Republicans.
In which case it won't work. There's a third vote always available -- neither of the above. Or, if Ross Perot ever gets his movement beyond the talk stage, none of the above.
If Don Fowler wants my opinion, he'll find it buried somewhere in the returns after the polls close on November 5. He won't like it. He'll bear responsibility for it.
H.H. Morris writes from Aberdeen.