Nurse Ratched for president


WASHINGTON -- In politics, as in romance, you often crave the complete opposite of your last relationship.

President Clinton is undisciplined, unruly and untoward. His bawdy appetites and reckless indulgences have been sloshing over into our lives for what seems like an eternity.

So once our tortured involvement with this president ends -- once all those confessions and apologies and late arrivals and extra toppings and all-night cramming sessions are no longer our concern -- what sort of president will we want next?

A control freak, of course. Someone who is all discipline and no spontaneity. All trust and no lust. Someone who knows how to dot the i's, go by the letter, follow the script, keep every hair in place and every button buttoned. After President McMurphy, we will want Nurse Ratched.

And now she wants us. We have been without adult supervision for too long.

Elizabeth Dole is turning in her crisp Red Cross uniform to give us our meds.

She is perfect. Not only because she would bring along Bob Dole, the first first lady to be a Viagra spokesman. Not only because the election may now feature, in a bit of perverse nostalgia, a Bush-Dole ticket. Not only because her aides ironed the Magnolia's skirts to perfection before she stepped in front of the cameras.

'A Stepford wife'

She is perfect because she has not said or done anything off-the-cuff in several decades. Those who traveled with her in 1996, when her husband was the monosyllabic candidate and she was the smiling spouse, said she delivered the same stump speech several times a day, pause for pause and chuckle for chuckle. "It was eerie," said one Bob Dole supporter. "She was just like a Stepford wife at the podium. You expected a spring to jump out of her mouth any minute."

She prepares and rehearses and memorizes exhaustively from Yellow Pages-sized briefing books, so that she can drop the name of the local mayor or ball team in a deceptively breezy way. She is so fastidious that a prized possession is a ballpoint pen with a flashlight on the end so that, when she wakes up in the night with organizational inspirations, she can jot them down.

One of the first women to graduate from Harvard Law School, Mrs. Dole drives herself hard, and her staff crazy. She is a tree, rather than a forest, kind of gal, who obsesses on details and brooks no imperfections.

During the 1996 campaign, when I asked an aide to Mr. Dole whether husband or wife got more upset by bad press coverage, the aide replied wife. "Bob thinks in terms of a one-day gaffe in the newspaper," he said. "Elizabeth thinks in terms of Nexis."

No nicknames

Even the informality of her nickname ruffles her. When Lesley Stahl called Mrs. Dole "Liddy" during an interview in 1996, the Republican nominee's wife icily corrected, "Elizabeth, Lesley."

She has never been elected to office. One of her big accomplishments is the Liddy light. Not the one on her pen, but the brake light in cars' back windows -- where those wobbly-headed dolls used to sit -- a safety feature instituted when she was President Reagan's transportation secretary.

But she is the un-Clinton, the perfect antidote to the most undisciplined president in history. She proved that in two memorable appearances during her husband's last presidential campaign.

There was that scary performance at the Republican Convention in San Diego when she played an Oprah dominatrix, striding into the audience with a seamless smile and wireless microphone, which she tended to snatch back whenever any of the people giving tribute to Mr. Dole threatened to make an unscripted comment.

She was so tightly wound when she appeared with her husband on the Larry King show, you could almost hear her teeth grinding. As her husband rambled, with not much to say and not many syllables to say it, she jumped in with that good old Nancy Reagan ventriloquist flair.

She patted her husband's arm firmly, interrupted him to answer questions, finished sentences for him, reminded him of his message, expanded on his comments, cut him off mid-thought with "That's it!" She was so robotically on message that she actually referred to her husband as Bob Dole.

Nurse Ratched for president. It's about time our cuckoo's nest got a good tidying up.

Maureen Dowd is a New York Times columnist.

Pub Date: 1/13/99

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