Enemy of the Week

Failures to Communicate

Campaign 2002 concludes on an appropriate note.

11.1.02

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We live in confused times. We're not connecting. Too much is left unsaid. And much of what is said is a lie. Either that, or we're talking to ourselves. If we can face ourselves.

Say you live in Texas, and your name is Rick Perry, which makes you the Republican governor, and your opponent in this year's election, one Tony Sanchez, a Democrat, calls you "by far the most disgusting human being I have ever known." What should be your response? Hide in the Alamo? Demand a list of all the people Sanchez has met in his life and hope there's someone more disgusting on it? Allow dueling on Election Day? Or stay out of the guy's way?

More than one candidate this year has chosen to sit out a scheduled debate, which allowed the empty chair that stood in his place to win points on good posture alone. Thinking ahead, one has to hope George W. Bush decides to be a no-show at the next presidential debates. That way Al Gore can entertain us by walking up to the empty chair and breathing heavily at it, maybe even bumping its back with his chest. The clincher will come when he then sits down on it and, assuming its legs can absorb the unexpected heft, declares he's running on both tickets.

Or better yet, he can follow the example of Indiana Rep. Julia Carson, who walked out of the debate with her Republican challenger this week, implying his very presence on the stage gave final confirmation to his negative campaigning style. "I don't feel comfortable being in the same room with him," she complained. By some oversight, she'd failed to obtain a restraining order. To do her one better, only inventive Al will have the imagination to walk out of a debate his opponent had already boycotted.

Al's bigger half continues to dominate the political conversation. Big Bill stood front and center at the Wellstone Woodstock Memorial last Tuesday night, highlighted by the knowing smiles and embraces he exchanged with Democratic comer Walter Mondale. Which led to this angry note from Enemy Central agent of our the northern Midwest division, Jack Hughes: "I'm mad at the Minnesota Democrats. I was hoping they would nominate Eleanor Mondale -- and if she won, we could all sit back and watch the cat fight between Eleanor and the junior senator from New York." Good taste and various privacy zoning laws keep us from elaborating. But let us, just for the historical record, posit that Ms. Mondale was a much better friend to President Clinton than the much berated Ms. Monica.

In his squinty-eyed way, Mr. Clinton continues to dominate politics even in a place called Arkansas. Naturally, it's the Republicans who end up without hope. There's Gov. Mike Huckabee, whose wife has become his ruination because she thought she could get herself elected Razorback secretary of state. Being co-governor wasn't enough for her? Then there's Sen. Tim Hutchinson, who'll end up costing the GOP the Senate, all because he dumped his Hillary to marry his mistress. Note how Bill never made that mistake, if only because polygamy isn't allowed under Arkansas law.

In further miscommunications, Haitian Democratic voters came ashore in Florida last Tuesday, ready to vote in person rather than via absentee ballot. Only problem was, they arrived a week early, and the Florida Democratic Party had neglected to set up housing for its guest voters. And it's not clear if their temporary voter visas remain valid. They were issued eight years ago, during the Clinton administration's restoration of democracy to Haiti, another of its crowning achievements suddenly paying huge dividends.

In more banana politics, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bill Simon is being criticized for radio ads alleging that Democrats teach children that "homosexual practice is okay." Does that mean that those criticizing Simon would argue that such practice is not okay? Could they make up their frigging minds? Surely a Democrat who ran such an ad would be accused of tolerance and braggadocio. If that's not confusing enough, what is one to make of claims that the late Paul Wellstone was "grossly, openly homophobic" because of his support for the Defense of Marriage Act? Or by contrast, the insistence by a letter writer in Friday's New York Times that speakers at the Wellstone memorial "talked about the senator's legacy in terms of racial, sexual and economic justice"?

For resolution of this controversy we'd normally turn to a seasoned political veteran who is now positioned to continue Wellstone's work, assuming he has resigned from the dozen or two or ten corporate boards on which he most recently served. But our worry is that this referee of ours has other conflicts that could permanently disqualify him.

From what we can tell, this is a man who has known what it's like to be jilted, or almost jilted, by another man. As the Atlantic Monthly put it in a 1983 profile of our guy, it was another case of shaky communications. "In a suite in New York's Carlyle Hotel on the morning when Carter was supposed to announce his choice, Mondale, who had no idea what Carter would do, kept picking up the phone to make sure it was working. Afterward, friends say, he resolved never to be in this subservient position again." (Kind of reminds you of Vickie Carr, in "It Must Be Him," singing, "he'll never hurt me anymore.")

If it's any consolation, today's selection of Walter Mondale as Enemy of the Week went a lot more smoothly than his selection as Jimmy Carter's veep. Indeed, it was in keeping with his knack for being in the right place at the right time. Tuesday will confirm that being named EOW was the last honorary appointment of Walter's distinguished career.

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