Sunday, January 30, 2000

Presidential candidates persevere in bizarre ways




BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Every four years there is a week between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary when this country's presidential race is certain to start reeling out of control.

        Candidates are at their frenetic best; the events become more bizarre; the rhetoric ratchets up to insane levels.

        It is happening again, and if you don't believe it, consider this:

        I want my MTV: The cultural high point of the campaign so far came this past week when MTV aired a special on what the presidential candidates were doing when they were 22 years old.

        Discretion being the better part of valor, George W. Bush opted out of appearing in person, but the show had Pat Buchanan gleefully recounting the time he punched out a cop on a traffic stop and Al Gore admitting that he smoked the loco weed as a youth. And, boy, did he inhale.

        But the best part was when Republican John McCain, who has already taken grief from his more conservative colleagues for joking that his favorite band is Nine Inch Nails, said that when he went to the MTV awards with his daughter, a record company execu tive, he noticed that rapper Busta Rhymes was wearing a dress.

        “I'd like to know if I can borrow that for the swearing-in ceremony,” Mr. McCain said.

        The Campaign Humor Police issued a warrant for his immediate arrest.

        Big words: Dana Carvey made a nice living from the fact that George W. Bush's father often spoke in sentence fragments. The son, on the other hand, seems to have a grasp of personal pronouns.

        But when the Texas governor went to an elementary school in Nashua, N.H., last week and found that the kids were celebrating Perseverance Month, the Republican front-runner kept going on about how much he values “preservation.”

        Maybe he'll campaign in New Orleans sometime soon and drop in on that Perseverance Hall Jazz Band.

        What are friends for?: If you doubted for a minute that Steve Forbes' personally financed campaign for the GOP nomination is going nowhere despite a strong second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, you might want to consider that Mr. Forbes' best friend in politics endorsed Mr. Bush last week.

        Four years ago, Jack Kemp endorsed Mr. Forbes in the primaries. The eventual nominee, Bob Dole, picked Mr. Kemp as his running mate anyway.

        This year, Mr. Kemp gave his blessing to Mr. Bush.

        This had to hurt, because, without Mr. Kemp's influence, there wouldn't be much of a Forbes campaign in the first place.

        The two are old pals, and nearly everybody who is anybody in the Forbes campaign used to work for Mr. Kemp. Cincinnati's J. Kenneth Blackwell is national chairman of the Forbes campaign and worked for Mr. Kemp when he was secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The same goes for Bill Dal Col, the top strategist in the Forbes campaign.

        What are the good people of New Hampshire to make of that?

        Sideshow: In a New Hampshire debate Wednesday night, Newport's own Gary Bauer, desperately trying to hold on to his self-anointed title as the champion of conservative moral values, lit into the other moral values crusader in the GOP field, Alan Keyes, for jumping into a mosh pit before the Iowa caucuses and letting himself be passed around by 100 college students while devil music played in the background.

        This came about a week or so after the Bauer campaign asked supporters to pony up $250 to go to the Carlisle, Iowa, home of Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey and gawk at the famous McCaughey septuplets.

        The question is whether this says more about the parents, whose children were lent as campaign props to a candidate the parents like, or Mr. Bauer, who was desperate enough to use them.

        Too bad for Mr. Bauer that Lobster Boy is dead.

        E-mail hwilkinson@enquirer.com.

       



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