‘When I was a boy‘, wrote H L Mencken. having covered every convention from 1900 to 1948, ‘presidential campaigns were characterized by a high serious purpose. But now all that is happily past.‘ He‘d be hysterical now. The process is becoming a bad joke - a carnival ofpublic pleading, pledging and confessing that deters the really able and raises serious doubts about personalities of the contenders.
On Monday, the great travelling circus of ‘88 — primaries. conventions and general election — gets under way with the Iowa caucus gatherings, from which will emerge the surviving Democratic and Republican candidacies, carried along on their wave ofwhat in 1980 George Bush called ‘big mo‘ (until New Hampshire gave him big No). A quick start is vital this time and whoever can win the hog-state balloon debate, take New Hampshire, and sweep Super Tuesday in the South will tie it up before the conventions.
For the Republicans, the art will be in knowing how much to invoke or reject Reaganism. For the Democrats, although strategy and tactics are everything, the ‘new ideas‘, the appeal to special interest groups and the critique of American society that can carry Democratic primary campaign are as likely to lose the election proper.
Each of this year‘s starters is telling the world he (there are no women) has the right stuff, and that every rival is uniquely flawed. Who‘s right? They all are. If party managers wanted to construct an ideal candidate with impeccable credentials and an ideal opponent. all Achilles heel, the class of 88 have all the raw material.
A white, wealthy (self-made). Protestant, heterosexual and faithfully married man with a heroic war record. a commitment to upholding civil rights for minorities and women, links with more than one region, conservative fiscal policy and doubts about arms control. Good on television.
A dishonest draft-dodging member of a racial or ethnic minority, with sexual. drug-taking and/or financial skeletons, a reformist (as opposed to reactionary) vision of America, liberal views on welfare and abortion. Sweats on television.
Republican nomination — Jack
E MAKIN 3
Illustration trom Ralph Steadman’s Scar Strangler! Banger (Hanap £15.95).
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OF A PRESIDENT
Mark Ellis considers how the presidential candidates shape up to the American Dream president.
Kemp. Democratic nomination — Michael Dukakis (Cuomo if he runs). Next president — Kemp: the quarter-back to follow the actor.
Virtues: War hero (USAF); top job experience: CIA, Peking Embassy, V-P; oil-rich Texan New Englander. Frailties: Persistent ‘wimp‘ factor; Irangate; front-runner too long.
Virtues: War-hero/invalid (Army); politico wife; rated 80 (out of 100) by American Conservative Union; small town Kansas (like Dorothy); knows Congress and the party owes him for holding it together during Watergate.
Frailties: Shady finances; nasty ‘hatchet man‘ repute; lost Senate majority leadership in 1986.
Pierre du Pont IV
Virtues: Millionaire, from chemical clan; tax-cutter; former governor. Frailties: Tendency to call the voter ‘Joe Sixpack’; from Dela-where?
Virtues: Pro-NATO; generally butch approach: gained D C experience under Nixon and Reagan; strong on foreign policy Frailties: Little grace under pressure, e g when Reagan was shot;
Virtues: Former Buffalo Bills quarter-back (son is also a pro player); led players‘ union, just as Ron led the actors; rated 100 by ACU; hard campaigner and party’s sharpest economic theorist. Frailties: Rumours oflocker-room gayness; chiefcheerleader for supply-side Reaganomics (passé?); still only a Rep from NY.
Virtues: Telegenic; massive potential TV audience; emphasis on the family; anti-secular message. Frailties: Political prestige ofTV evangelism largely collapsed, thanks to antics ofJim, Tammy and Oral; avoided war in Korea, thanks to congressman father.
Virtues: Pro-death penalty; anti-welfare; former gov ofArizona, whose Pontiac-dealer successor makes him look good; played big part
economic revival of Southwest. Frailties: Catholic; short-tempered; too tied to one region.
Virtues: Governor of boom-state Massachusetts; fought Korea;
frontman on national TV show, ‘The Advocates‘; good campaigner Frailties: Greek Orthodox — too many people remember Spiro T Agnew.
Virtues: House rival of Kemp on economics; wants controls on health costs; described as ‘personification of a new age Democrat‘; virtually moved house from St Louis to campaign in Iowa through 1987 Frailties: Protectionism is a risky fix-it slogan; sneaked on Joe Biden when staff spotted video carbon of that Kinnock speech.
Virtues: Tennessee is border South; wife (‘Tipper‘) leads rock censorship campaign; Vietnam vet; former reporter; environmentalist; expert
on arms control (and organ transplants).
Frailties: Boring; Clark Kent lookalike sans specs; too young (40); has confessed to smoking dope.
Gary Hart (pence)
Virtues: Trend Democrat — liberal (very) on cultural issues, conservative on economic; crowd puller; military strategy expert; joined Naval Reserve aged 44; ‘the tribune of the baby-boom‘ Frailties: Donna Rice and other monkey business; name and age changes; has claimed to have ‘new ideas‘ since 1984; no civil rights record, but rated () by ACU; a Jay Gatsby figure, self-created & flawed.
Virtues: Mobiliser of Black vote — took 21% of primary votes in ‘84; has policy interventions, made real strides in linking all poor Americans, inc farmers; is a Southerner with a Northern base; alliterative speaker with Algerist credentials
Frailties: Black; his foreign policy interventions though successful, are unpopular; D C rumour mill claims private life messier than Hart‘s; lied about King dying in his arms; Jewish vote has yet to forget his ‘Hymietown‘ refto NY
Virtues: Traditional Democrat, Senator
from pivotal Illinois; has honest,independent reputation of the small-town newspaper editor he was; pro-arts, education, labour. Frailties: Too quaint: bow-tied, types own newsletters on old portable; too liberal: rated 0 by ACU
48 The List 5 — 18 February 1988