Elio, my barber, has been one of my best sources of political wisdom for the last 25 years. Devoid of partisanship, he can still get tears in his eyes remembering the Reagan presidency, which he viewed with skepticism at its outset: "A great President." He also does not want to hear criticism of Bill Clinton from any of the GOP contenders in 2000: "Give him credit." When I asked last week who he liked in the big field of contenders in the three parties: "None of the above." Not even Bill Bradley, who had been his Senator for 18 years: "Too many of my customers complained they could never get through to him when they had a problem." Ah yes, it always took 20 phone calls to get an answer from Bill, but at least I knew bigfoot journalists would complain of the same problem. He would just take his phone off the hook. I told Elio I agreed completely with his "none of the above" comment and said if I were Dr. Frankenstein, I might be able to stitch together a decent President out of the various good parts of each of the candidates, discarding the non-presidential remains. For the only Superpower on earth, there should be a long list of powerhouse contenders for the Oval Office, but there is not. On "Hardball" last week, Chris Matthews asked Jack Kemp why the Republican "first team" -- meaning Jack -- is not playing this year. Kemp, who should be ashamed of himself for retiring from politics for the megabucks of the private sector, just blushed. Kemp is on the list at George magazine, which asked its readers which of several retired politicians they would like to see come back to run for President. The results will be presented in the next issue.
Conventional wisdom has been that Texas Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Albert Gore will duke it out for the major parties. My guess is that Bush will be the GOP nominee, but that Bradley will prove the better candidate and win a three-way race with Pat Buchanan doing better than expected for the Reform Party. Having said that, I also point out that there are almost twelve months left before my barber and the rest of the electorate have to choose from the available options. The basic personalities of the three men will not change in that period, but their approach to governance will be hammered and refined in the process that history has thrown at us for the millennial election. Just as Bradley decided to change his position from passionate opposition against ethanol subsidies to shameless support, all of the candidates will find themselves being shaped in one direction or another, taking ideas from each other and dropping those that do not work. In the end, this extremely messy process is not unlike the creation of something new and living out of something old and dead. When I asked my barber what he thought of the Reform Party and Pat Buchanan, he answered immediately: "We should look at them for some new ideas." He isn't even thinking of the possibility a Reform candidate could win the presidency, but knows that if the ticket is attracting support in the polls, the other candidates will attempt to move in that direction, and in the end, it will be good for the country. Reagan's campaign in 1980 would have been a disaster if not for the upbeat dynamics of the supply-siders, which Reagan grafted onto the campaign at almost the last possible minute.
GORE AND BRADLEY: Of all the candidates in the field, Gore is the only one with the experience of governing, one-step removed from Bill Clinton. As a result, the Democratic organization knows him well enough to know he would be "safe" and it is not at all sure what to expect from Bradley, an "alpha male" to Gore's "beta." In a CNN interview Sunday, Bradley was asked how he and Gore were different, and he said he likes to take big risks for big ideas while Gore prefers to play it safe. This is not necessarily a criticism, because Bradley's "risks" may prove to be unacceptable to the primary voters once they are presented and mulled over. Of all the candidates, Bradley is most comfortable with minority voters as a matter of style. In the end, there has to be more from him than rhetoric if he is to undermine Gore's organizational support among African-Americans and persuade those who normally do not bother to vote, especially in primaries, that he will make a difference for them. Bradley's views on the international economy are certainly more in line with mine than with Gore's, who would shove global warming down our throats. I am surprised Bradley still is in the zero-sum game on domestic economic policy, telling Wolf Blitzer on Sunday that he does not want to cut tax rates that benefit the rich. It was that stance that almost cost him his Senate seat in 1990, although he seems to be in denial.
BUSH, MCCAIN, AND FORBES: Steve Forbes is NOT going to run negative tv advertising to pull down Bush, but Bush is already falling of his own weight. Arizona Sen. John McCain has been climbing so fast in the New Hampshire polls that the Bush folk worry he will soon overtake their supposedly invincible candidate. For my President Frankenstein, I would take McCain's straight talk and discard the rest, as he really does not have much to say about how he would govern. He knows the system has become corrupt and says so, but campaign finance reform is not the answer. Tax reform is part of it, but McCain does not understand any of that. McCain can not really parley his straight talk into the nomination, I do not think, given Bush's money and organizational strength. And he really is disliked by his colleagues, because he is blunt. Steve Forbes thinks his money will be able to overtake McCain and he will wind up the conservative alternative to a deflated Bush. Steve's only contribution to President Frankenstein would be his grasp of economics, taxation and money. He walked the plank on social policy when he let himself be talked into saying ending abortion is at the top of his things-to-do list. He has been hard-lining on foreign policy and now has decided he has to kick China around to woo the China-kickers away from Bush and Gary Bauer. (In stitching together Frankie, I have not yet found a Gary Bauer part that works for me.)
BUCHANAN: The likely candidates for the two major parties are going to be so weak by the time they get to the finish line that the Reform candidate, almost certainly Buchanan, actually has a chance to come from way, way behind and win it all. The political establishment is going to have a hard time keeping up the charade that he is a bigoted anti-Semite, since he is not. Bringing Lenora Fulani, a black Marxist woman who has run for statewide office in New York, into his campaign as co-chair is step one in a strategy designed to eventually break the black vote wide open. My kind of Marxist, Fulani is easily the smartest black woman I have ever seen in politics, articulate and attractive as well. She would be an enormous asset to him on the talk shows as she becomes known to the national audience. The two appeared together on FoxNewsSunday and she came off the better of the two, with Pat launching into a tirade against China, obviously thinking it would help to kick it around to show he is not going soft on Marxists. He has a long way to go in order to stop scaring the voters with his pitchfork approach. To me, it was great news that Clinton cut a deal with China on its entry to the World Trade Organization. Pat will probably foam at the mouth when he should be welcoming China into a club that is supposed to play by the rules. There is a lot that I like about Buchanan -- especially his grasp of history, philosophy and world affairs. These attributes I would install in my assembled President. It is not necessary, though, for our President to come across like Boris Karloff. In the end, it is Pat's tendency to play Crossfire instead of politics that would keep him in single digits. on its entry to the World Trade Organization. Pat will probably foam at the mouth when he should be welcoming China into a club that is supposed to play by the rules. There is a lot that I like about Buchanan -- especially his grasp of history, philosophy and world affairs. These attributes I would install in my assembled President. It is not necessary, though, for our President to come across like Boris Karloff. In the end, it is Pat's tendency to play Crossfire instead of politics that would keep him in single digits.