In the final days of the least memorable presidential campaign since Taft beat Bryan (campaign slogan: Why not elect a fat guy for a change?), it finally gets interesting.
The tenor of the campaign changes when Bob Dole, in desperation, asks Ross Perot to give up the race. Perot goes on Larry King to call the request "weird." And then Perot, who hates to be out-weirded, demands that Bill Clinton and his whole draft-dodgin', pot-smokin', money-stashin' staff resign, ya see. Now, kin Ah finish talkin' here?
Clinton, who hates to disappoint any eligible voter, says he'll have to check with his Indonesian connection. Dole, smelling blood, says that "Bob Dole never took any money from Indonesia, Micronesia or Amnesia." Then, in a bid to wrap up the California vote, he pledges his support for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Meanwhile, Al Gore is holed up in a Buddhist temple. Hillary Rodham Clinton is missing. Newt Gingrich is in a funk. Jack Kemp is in Harlem, in search of home-boy Republicans. And Dole, who hasn't fallen off a stage in months, is promising a final-weekend, No-Doz-sponsored, Grateful-Dead-concert-length marathon, with co-host Jerry Lewis who will join Dole at the end for a stirring rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone." There won't be a dry eye in the whatever.
If you didn't trust the polls -- Clinton even leads in Canada, 67-11 -- you might think it was an actual race.
How did we get to this point? I'm pretty sure we had to cross at least one bridge.
It begins, of course, in Iowa and New Hampshire where it always begins because, well, nobody knows why. If you've been in either place, you know it's not the food. Maybe it's the climate.
Dole and the boys are on the trail. Steven Forbes has the flat tax and the Freddy smile. Lamar Alexander is promising flannel in every closet. Patrick Buchanan is building a fence at the Canadian border. Alan Keyes goes on a hunger strike. Morry Taylor is giving away money. But the most important story is the new math, and you wonder why the Republicans want to abolish the Department of Education.
When Dole beats Buchanan in Iowa by three points, the pundits, eager for an angle, call it a "huge defeat" for Dole. Alexander finishes third in New Hampshire and calls it a "tremendous victory." Can't anybody count here? Buchanan wins New Hampshire and calls it a revolution.
In what is remembered as his anti-Camelot speech, Buchanan says his followers are peasants with pitchforks storming the castle. But then the old speech-writer gets himself into trouble when he mixes metaphors. Buchanan shows up in Tombstone, Ariz., one day dressed up like Wyatt Earp and gives his lock-and-load message. Wins over the NRA and most of the militia vote, loses the anti-monarchists.
Scandal, Part I
Back in Washington, the "missing" subpoenaed Rose law firm billing statements miraculously turn up on Hillary Clinton's dresser, prompting New York Times columnist and former Nixon speech-writer Bill Safire to call Hillary a "congenital liar." An angry Bill Clinton responds: "If anyone in this family's a congenital liar, it's me."
America applauds his honesty.
Politics per usual
Newtie has an idea. People say they hate the government, and he, naively, believes them. So, for the second time, and for a reason no one can quite remember, he shuts the whole thing down. Looking back on this January surprise, it's reminiscent of Napoleon's march on Moscow, only the weather is worse this time.
The pollsters, slogging their way through the blizzard, reveal that 72 percent of the people blame Newtie for the shutdown, 16 percent blame O. J. and 12 percent weatherman Norm Lewis. Clinton, running against the Gingrich/Dole/Lewis ticket, leads in polls by 20. Gingrich goes into self-imposed exile.
Clinton and adviser/lothario Dick Morris have their own idea: Clinton would become a Republican who promises not to shut down the government, just close it on weekends. In his State of the Union message, he says: "The era of big government is over." Ted Kennedy, shaken to his shoes, is rushed to the nearest tavern.
Dole, meanwhile, gives the Republican reply, in which he seems to be auditioning for "Grumpy Old Men III."
Finally, and only because none of the other candidates could possibly win the nomination, Dole sweeps the South on Super Tuesday and returns to his condo in Bal Harbour, Fla., in time to enter the Zonker Harris tanning competition. Addressing the media from his chaise longue, Dole reveals that although he's no doctor, he's pretty sure that big splotchy blisters all over your body do not suggest skin cancer.
Buchanan, refusing to give up the fight, begins his Long March, mumbling something about revolution and the point of a gun.
Scandal, Part II
In Arkansas, Gov. Joe Bob Guy "Jimmy the Weasel" Tucker gets two years in a Whitewater-related trial. Asked for his reaction, Clinton says he always aspired to be an "unindicted co-conspirator."
-! America applauds his honesty.
Looking for a bounce
Desperate for some upward movement in his poll standings -- at this point, he's tied for fourth in the American League East -- Dole resigns from the Senate, where he's been since Strom Thurmond was a Democrat. "Bob Dole is a normal American citizen," Dole says, meaning, apparently, a down-sized, outta-work white guy sucking down some brewskies who blames all his problems on affirmative action.
But, as often happens, the Dole advisory team tries to take this concept a little too far when they ask Citizen Dole to go for the relaxed American, sit-back-and-do-some-tube-time look, meaning he has to take off his tie. A nation is shocked as Dole reveals a very distinct, neck-high tan line. Clinton remains 20 points ahead.
Still looking for a bounce
Dole searches for a vice president, saying he wants a "10," at which point Bo Derek, the only Republican ever to be naked, interviews for the job. Dole also interviews several overweight, draft-dodging Republican governors. Colin Powell turns him down. Undaunted, after watching Muhammad Ali light the Olympic torch, Dole tries to give the job to him.
He finally settles on Kemp, which doesn't give him any bounce in the polls but does set off a flurry of football metaphors. Favorite moment: when Kemp gives Dole a head-butt.
Scandal, Part III
Clinton under fire when newsboys break the Filegate story. It seems that Craig Livingstone, a former bouncer who becomes head of security at the White House -- where it can, you'll admit, get pretty rowdy -- had requested and received FBI files on many major Republicans. Dole compares this action to the compilation of Nixon's enemies list. Clinton replies: "I've never worn wingtips on the beach."
-! America applauds his honesty.
Up in smoke
With a few million bucks from tobacco companies in his pocket, Dole says that nicotine may not be addictive. The sound you hear is all America gasping. Sensing he has an issue, he then attacks Katie Couric -- reviving images of the "old" Dole, before he became simply old Dole -- and says that former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop is a "little bit" brainwashed on the subject of tobacco.
Clinton is gloating until the news breaks that since 1992, teen-age drug use has doubled. Dole blames Clinton, saying, "In a Dole administration, kids will learn to smoke cigarettes and not those funny ones that make you get tattoos and listen to that hep-cat music."
Ross Perot says he's willing to run for president again on the Reform Party ticket "if the people want me." Former Colorado governor Dick Lamm, who once advocated killing off old people, says he wants the job, too, and promises a "no B.S." campaign, giving the voters a clear choice. As it happens, the guy who knows Larry King's home phone number wins.
The networks decide to blow off the national political conventions, except for an hour a night at 10 o'clock after the kids have gone to bed, in order to preserve the American family's right to watch "Roseanne."
The Republicans go first. Colin Powell gives his "big tent" speech as the cameras fix on the one black guy in the audience, who gets more face time than Denzel Washington. Liddy Dole does her Oprah imitation. Dole promises a 15 percent tax cut and a bridge to the 19th century, when, he pointed out, "there were no teachers' unions and you smoked 'em if you had 'em." Kemp promises that, when he's president, there'll be no taxes at all. Just before the convention it was revealed that keynote speaker Susan Molinari had "experimented" with drugs while in college. No mention of whether the experiments involved a Bunsen burner.
The Democrats are in Chicago for the first time since 1968. This time, they have an area set aside for protesters, who are given a time and place to protest. For instance, anarchists are scheduled for Wednesday at 4 p.m. Inside the convention hall, Hillary plays Martha Stewart and Al Gore does the Macarena. Clinton gives a long speech, most of it involving bridges to the 21st century, after which Clinton and Gore begin a bus tour. Jesse and Mario give passionate speeches seen only by those who watch C-Span.
Soccer moms, or how I
learned to love the van
Soccer moms do not play soccer. They are suburbanites who car-pool children to soccer games where the kids run in 10 different directions and kick each other more often than they kick the ball. These people (the moms, not the kids) are the swing vote in the election, the pundits say. They say this because they're tired of talking about angry white males.
It's also another way to get at the gender gap. If you believe the most recent polling on the subject, every woman in America except Bay Buchanan is voting for Clinton.
Finally, a bounce
@4 Unfortunately, it's when Dole falls off a stage.
Scandal, Part IV
Clinton adviser Dick "Family Values" Morris is caught giving away state secrets to a $200 an hour hooker. Clinton says, "Every American has the right to suck toes in a consensual relationship."
-! America applauds his honesty.
Most Republican candidates are unwilling to be in the same state as Dole, who finally decides to go negative, calling Clinton a "liberal, liberal, liberal." He says it's not the White House, it's Animal House.
Clinton, taking the high road, says he enjoys the movie reference but denies he's a liberal. "I'm not a closet liberal," he says. "I don't even have a closet." He makes the same "joke" after signing the bill banning gay marriages.
Clinton points to his record: the welfare bill, the reduction of the deficit, the Family Leave Act and firing Hillary as chief medical adviser. He then accuses the Republicans of "risky tax schemes." Dole says he prefers "risky tax plans."
In the first debate, Dole shows his lighter side, causing some to compare his debating technique to Georgie Jessel's (if you're too young to get that reference, you're too young to vote for Dole).
In the second debate, Dole goes negative, although he continues to have articulation problems. At one stage, he points his finger at Clinton and says, "Indonesia." America is bemused. Clinton, meanwhile, is warm and cuddly and bites his lip a lot and says he likes bridges. In fact, as he leaves the second debate, he's humming the tune to "Bridge Over the River Kwai."
In the vice presidential debate, Gore trounces Kemp by beginning each sentence with "Bill Clinton, the greatest American president, living or dead "
Scandal, Part V
Not content to take money from Clinton's Hollywood friends, Democratic fund-raiser John Huang searches the world over. He finds some money in Indonesia. Some in Taiwan. Some more from the great-grand-nephew of Gandhi, or as Dole calls him, "that Gandhi fella," who was apparently bankrupt before giving the Democrats $250,000.
The Dems fire Huang and send him into hiding.
Dole says, "Where's Huang?" He also asks, "Where's the outrage?" Clinton asks, "Is it wrong to save the American people from having to finance my entire campaign?"
America applauds his honesty.
Shouting "Wake up America!" Dole says he will spend the last 96 hours of the campaign in nonstop campaigning. This is the kind of idea that comes only to people who have already been up 96 consecutive hours. This is what happens when you've pulled an all-nighter in college and it seems perfectly normal when your roommate says, "Let's road trip."
Clinton remains ahead by double figures. His endgame strategy: First, do no harm. The Great Empathizer may be on the verge of becoming the first Democrat to be elected to consecutive terms since FDR. He doesn't want to blow it.
Wake up America?
Somebody's gotta talk to the exit pollsters.
Pub Date: 11/04/96