Shadows on Groundhog Day 

"When I was coming up, it was a dangerous world and you knew exactly who they were. It was us vs. them and it was clear who them was. Today we are not so sure who the they are, but we know they’re there."

–George "Dubya" Bush, El Presidente-in-waiting, January 2000

They certainly is. Now that you’ve got your thems and us-es straight, likely you won’t need little old me so much to explain things, especially once and if this fine Texas twig off the old battered shrub is transplanted into the mansion of democracy.

Well, maybe not so fast. Thanks to the first presidential selection process devised entirely by Dexedrine addicts, both parties (as of last weekend) seemed very close – the Democrats especially – to having gotten their men.

That’s right. By last weekend, Bill Bradley, woes compounded by a troubled ticker, seemed to be close to fouling out, even though he still had $20 million in the bank, and the only votes cast were from a tiny fraction of Iowans.

By the time you read this, New Hampshire will also have voted. Think of an eccentric, Oakland County-sized mass of people, slightly poorer, and almost entirely without blacks. New Hampshire, indeed, is pretty well cleansed of any ethnics, except for a few Alphonses and Gastons up near the northern border.

Iowa isn’t much better; you could put every black person in the state in the Silverdome and still have room for a few thousand Bosnians. This is worth dwelling on, if only because African-Americans are the Democrats’ most reliable voting bloc. Having figured out the GOP in the 1960s, blacks have voted overwhelmingly Democratic since.

They deserve a say in the process. Yet they won’t have much of one if Bradley is effectively eliminated before the March 7 "National Primary" in which many states, including Ohio, New York and California, vote.

Outrageous? Damn right. But don’t look for change, unless voters pressure what Mark Twain called our only native criminal class, the Congress, to do something about it, and about campaign finance reform.

Well, if it is to be Bush and Gore, what’s the most likely fall scenario?

Conventional wisdom and decorum requires one to say "that’s too far in the future." But I think unless one of the principals turns up in bed with an ocelot or turns out to be in the pay of former Bulgarian dictator Todor Zhivkov, the basic plot lines are clear.

This is apt to be a close, hard-fought election. Presidential politics actually is a sort of board game; the pieces (states) all have points (electoral votes) and the winner is whoever can assemble a combination totaling at least 270 on election night.

The system has an inherent bias in favor of Republicans. Bob Dole did a little worse in the popular vote than Mike Dukakis, for example, but got 159 electoral votes to what would now equal 106 for Forgotten Mike. Today, it is hard to imagine Bush losing any of the Viagra-pusher’s states. Indeed, he should be able to add Nevada (4), Florida (25) New Hampshire (4) and Arizona (8), for a total of 200.

Yet that isn’t enough. Ohio (21) is the most Republican of the big Midwestern states. Our own Michigan (18) may lean to Bush, once the GOP goes to work on some honest, if politically risky things Gore has written about the future of the automobile.

For a time I believed Bradley would be the vice-presidential nominee, but nothing, except cancer, scares voters like a fluttering heart. Without him on the ticket, New Jersey (15) may go Republican. But all those states still leave Quayle Light short of a majority. Most disagree, but I think the final odds slightly favor Al Gore.

That’s right. Why? The economy, stupid; a recent poll shows that by a 71-17 margin Americans think they are better off than they were when the older Bush was mangling the language from the presidential podium. Yes, the current president is a disgusting lech. But all seem to agree that Gore is monogamous.

What Al does need to do, eventually, is a) smile once a day or so and b) speak short, punchy sentences at least once every couple days, saying something along the lines of "with me you get to keep the prosperity we built, without the sleaze."

This will delight and surprise audiences (aka the media) who will then, sometime this fall, proclaim the discovery of a new Al Gore. Meanwhile, they will eventually start asking George real questions. Something else will hurt Bush too. If the major nominees are decided so early, the media will pay more attention to the Reform Party dogfight between The Don Trump and Oberhauptmannsfuhrer Pat Buchanan.

The more attention paid to Ross Perot’s sandbox, the more votes the eventual nominee (probably Pat the bunny or Perot himself) will get. The vast majority of these will be votes that otherwise would go to Bush.

Naturally, you can forget all this if the economy goes down the drain, Gore’s Tennessee farm turns out to be a secret Chinese military base or Clinton gets indicted yet again on something, or is discovered on somebody, new.

Otherwise, you’ll see ... unless, of course, it turns out that the management made an enormous mistake editing this column. TTFN; next week, we’ll explain why Regis Philbin should replace Alan Greenspan at the Federal Reserve Board.

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