mood The Unremarkable Suspects

by Daryl Lease

Published in Issue No. 22 ~ March, 1999

I don’t know about you, but I was so disconsolate at the conclusion of the impeachment trial that I could barely lift my remote control to flip the channel to the Cartoon Network.

What kind of ending was that anyway? The Senate gave William Rehnquist a crummy plaque, like he’d just finished serving as chairman of a Shriners parade? For crying out loud, if they had to cheapen the already tawdry proceedings further, couldn’t they at least have sent Strom Thurmond up to the dais with a wicked grin and a box of cigars?

My gloominess didn’t have anything at all to do with the trial’s results, though. By the time it was over, I couldn’t have cared less if Clinton got ousted, or if he and Monica Lewinsky had held a press conference in a hotel bed and sang, “All we are saying is he can’t keep up his pants.”

What really depressed me, I think, was the knowledge that we would now have to return to the real world, or what passed for it on TV, and take a gander at the people who’ve been lining up to become our next president while we weren’t paying attention.

It ain’t pretty.

Some of the names are all too familiar, folks we’ve told “no” at least once before.

There’s Lamar Alexander, whose last presidential campaign was highlighted by the unveiling of – I kid you not – a line of red flannel shirts called “Lamar!” Any man who allows his name to be punctuated that way cannot be trusted. I shudder to think of him affixing smiley faces to important presidential proclamations for things like “National Flannel Week.”

Then there’s Steve Forbes, who is easy to envision playing “Punch Bug” with Bill Gates in the back of the presidential limo. But running the country? Please. Instead of running for president, he ought to find a nice expensive hobby like his father did. Old Man Malcolm had the good sense to invest his money and his hot air in cross-country ballooning.

And, of course, there’s Dan “A Mind Is A Terrible Thing” Quayle, who is actually telling people that Richard Nixon encouraged him to run for president. (And Nixon was always such a good judge of people – half of them didn’t end up in jail or disgraced.)

In addition to these also-rans, the field is filled with people whose names sound vaguely familiar but whose faces are difficult to recall.

There are Bob Smith and Howard Dean. Or maybe it’s Bob Dean and Howard Smith. Or Dean Smith and Bob Howard. I dunno.

Then there’s that fellow who doesn’t seem to like bright lights. I had the damnedest time identifying him at first. “That one,” I said to my wife when he popped up on the TV screen. “That one, right there – isn’t that Eddie Munster?”

It turns out his name is Gary Bauer, and he’s president of something called the Family Research Council.

This sounded pleasant enough – some sort of think-tank that helps people locate lost relatives, maybe. But, alas, he’s actually a hack for James Dobson, a fellow traveler of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. In fact, Bauer’s Family Research Council wasted no time in allying itself with Falwell in his queer battle against the allegedly gay Teletubby, Tinky Winky. Gary will be an entertaining candidate, no doubt, but I suspect most Republicans will say “Eh-oh” and dump him quickly if he gets anywhere close to the nomination.

Among the front-runners in the race is Elizabeth Hansford Dole. I kind of like her. She and hubby Bob just may have the proper sense of bathos necessary to succeed Clinton in the White House. Of late, Bob has been seen on TV hawking Viagra. The Doles also have been discussing buying the condo next to theirs in the Watergate. It happens to be Monica’s place. Is this a great country, or what?

Another early favorite is George W. Bush, a self-described “compassionate conservative.” He’s appealing if only for his ability to make fellow Republicans twitch and gurgle.

Forbes, who apparently has been watching Falwell or the Teletubbies or both a bit too much, is attacking Bush’s manhood. “Mealy-mouthed rhetoric and poll-tested clich├ęs are no substitute for a muscular, substantive agenda,” he says.

Bauer portrays him as a wimp, too, saying, “the last Bush [who ran for President] talked about ‘kinder and gentler,’ and that resulted in an election loss.” And good old Dan Quayle works himself into a sputtering rage on the subject of Bush’s compassionate conservatism: “It is an attack and a criticism on conservatives, and conservatives are compassionate and that is my criticism.” Well put, Dan. Well put.

On the Democratic side, the heir apparent is, of course, Al Gore. He apparently intends to run as “pragmatic idealist.” I’m not sure what that means, exactly. A little bit pregnant with ideals, maybe?

For now, I think I’ll return to the Cartoon Network and the adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle in Frostbite Falls.

In a few months, as Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp and Trent Lott and Kenneth Starr fade into the distance, maybe I’ll have the stomach to tune back in and see who’s still in the race.

Please give me a holler, though, if the real Eddie Munster throws his hat into the ring before then.

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Daryl Lease is a columnist for The Free Lance-Star newspaper in Fredericksburg, Virginia.