Jewish World Review Feb. 7, 2000/ 1 Adar I, 5760
GEORGE W. flips a pancake high in the air and successfully catches it on his spatula. Gary Bauer falls off the podium, flipping out looking for his pancake. Alan Keyes jumps into a mosh pit. John McCain schmoozes reporters on the bus, telling colorful (sometimes off-color stories) and sometimes dreadfully corny anecdotes to show he's "one of the guys.''
Al Gore wears tight jeans and tucked-in sport shirts in feminist-approved "earth tones'' to show he's one of the sexy guys, and Bill Bradley sets a trap for himself calling for the high ground and then he bottoms out at sea level, giving Al a few elbows but sparing the voter some of his sanctimony.
Thank heaven for Steve Forbes. He's the straight man who throws himself into comic relief simply by being himself.
It's all part of the fun. For all the discussion of halting George W.'s march to a coronation, there's nothing regal for anybody in all of this. Regal is not the American way. Only George Washington could have had a coronation and he turned it down.
At the dawn of the republic, Americans didn't know what to call their leader and bounced around titles like "His Excellency,'' "His Serene Highness,'' and "Elective Majesty.'' "His Superfluous Excellency'' was suggested as the title of vice president, but John Adams preferred "Daddy Vice.'' We don't know what they were smoking.
At a dinner party just before his inauguration, George Washington asked a guest what he thought of the title "High Mightiness.'' The guest replied that if the office was held by men as large as General Washington, that would be OK. But when he looked across the table to another guest, he suggested that a man of small measure would render the term "High Mightiness'' ridiculous.
Since then we've had men of both large and small measure to inhabit the White House. (William Howard Taft weighed 400 pounds.) But no one ever again joked of himself as "High Mightiness.'' It's just not that kind of office.
For all of the many shortcomings of the New Hampshire primary, it demonstrates democracy in action with all of its faults and virtues. The small state assumes an importance that it doesn't have in the long campaign, but it's rather like a new show that's winding its way to Broadway. Those behind the scenes can see what's right and what's wrong with the script. The provincial audience helps the candidates work out their kinks before it hits the Great White Way.
The Founding Fathers never anticipated political parties. They arose entirely out of necessity. Polarities, arguments that compare and contrast emerged naturally in the political process.
So did spin. Paul Boller, in his wonderful book, "Presidential Campaigns,'' writes that spin was what propelled parties when George Washington was leaving office. The Hamiltonian Federalists described the first president's valedictory address as a "reservoir of wisdom'' and they used it in their campaign literature for John Adams. Benjamin Franklin's son, writing in Aurora, a Republican paper in Pennsylvania, said "the American nation had been debauched by Washington.'' (He couldn't know then what real Oval Office debauchery would be.)
In 1796, John Adams ran against Thomas Jefferson, in the first real presidential campaign. It imprinted itself in the American consciousness as articles in opposing party newspapers engaged in venomous denigration. Adams was capsulized in the most scurrilous terms as an "avowed friend of the monarchy.'' There was nothing lower than a monarchist in the New World. Jefferson was accused of lesser evils: atheist, anarchist, demagogue, coward, mountebank, trickster, and Franco-maniac. After that both sides got mean.
What wouldn't surprise post-modernist pundits is that despite the vitriolic attacks, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson appeared to like each other, at least during the campaign. Neither saw himself as the other's extreme opposite. Jefferson cheerfully accepted the vice presidency when Adams won his slim three-vote margin in the Electoral College.
Though these two men were of different parties, linking them together was a little like George W. taking John McCain as his vice president, Al Gore taking Bill Bradley as his or JFK taking Lyndon Johnson. Would such a thing be possible in the year 2000?
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories