Jewish World Review Aug. 31, 1999 /19 Elul 5759
The ultimate Have is not George W. Bush, the establishment scion. His campaign has plenty of dough but tends to spend it in a restrained manner, as befits someone with a long WASP lineage. Instead, it is Steve Forbes, whose campaign is spending money like a nouveau riche pool-installer on a Vegas spree.
Each of the campaigns at the Ames Straw Poll had a little hospitality area, and the atmosphere there said a lot about the campaign. Lamar Alexander's felt like the spring picnic for a prospering mid-size company. It was nice and genial, and kind of sedate. Pat Buchanan's felt like a truck stop. His Teamster supporters had parked their rigs all around, and there were more hefty tattooed men with biker beards than you see at the average Republican gathering. (If support at the straw poll had been measured by the pound, Buchanan would have won.) The Gary Bauer area felt like a Christian rock concert, and Alan Keyes"s tent was like a meeting of 12th century crusaders readying to go out and massacre some Saracens.
The Bush area was nice, but nothing fancy. There was a VIP tent nearby, perhaps because the handsome, polished Bush supporters are the kind of people who enter every event through a VIP tent. But Forbes's area stood out. As Jacob Weisberg of Slate remarked, it looked like a birthday party Richie Rich would throw for himself. There was the air conditioned tent with the French doors. There were the Moon bounce, hot air balloons, and climbing equipment for the kids. The Forbes supporters were each given a goody bag when they registered.
And the glitzy spending continued inside the arena, where the speeches and voting took place. Each candidate was given three minutes for a floor demonstration. Some campaigns just had their supporters stand up and cheer.
The Bush campaign brought in some teenagers to rush toward the stage and issue peppy but polite cheers of encouragement. But the Forbes campaign put on a light show that flashed the candidate's name around the hall. There were loud indoor fireworks. There were blasting horns. And there were hundreds of balloons that fell from the floor. Forbes claims to be an anti-politician, but there isn't a single tacky political cliché that his campaign has not adopted.
Somewhere it is written that a camel will sooner pass through the eye of a needle than a conspicuous consumer will enter the White House. And Forbes did suffer a form of divine retribution for his over-the-top production values. When his hundreds of balloons hit the floor his supporters began stomping on them. Nobody could hear the first part of his speech because of the popping balloons. Sensing this, the Bauer and Buchanan people started popping the balloons that had fallen at their feet. So the first half of his remarks were inaudible, and Forbes stood up there at the podium looking disconcerted.
"I could just imagine you media types sitting there with big smiles across your faces," one Forbes aide remarked after the balloon fiasco. Good guess. The media brigades enjoyed Forbes's comeuppance.
In years past, Republican voters haven't been too put off by big-spending campaigns. After all, in the Republican mindset people with money are victims more than oppressors. A reporter at NPR who makes $45,000 a year is member of the Washington elite, but a motel magnate worth $450 million is a member of an oppressed caste‹forever hassled by bureaucrats and the IRS. And Forbes plays along with that mindset; the zillionaire Princeton grad spends much of his speech railing against the elites.
But this year the gap between rich and poor candidates is so obvious one senses a growing resentment in GOP ranks against the Marie Antoinettes of the campaign trail. As the Iowa race proceeded, the underfunded candidates crusaded more vociferously against the way the campaign is run than against each other or the Democrats. "This campaign should not be about raising money. It should be about raising values," Dan Quayle declared to the Ames crowd. "Never again will we let big money or the Beltway elites tell us who we should nominate for president of the United States," Buchanan roared. Lamar Alexander was practically apoplectic before his classy withdrawal.
"The graveyards of Iowa are filled with favorites," Alexander exclaimed incoherently. The Republican party of the 1990s has a deep vein of populism running through it. There's a natural impulse to buck whoever seems rich and settled.
It can get kind of absurd. While striding across the Iowa State Fairgrounds, I listened to Orrin Hatch deliver a long tirade against the establishment. (Hatch, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has been in the Senate since about the 19th century.) One Army veteran pulled me aside at a rally and told me that he was a contrarian who was fed up with the whole GOP establishment. To register his protest he was going to vote for Elizabeth Dole!
(Dole"s is the most anodyne campaign in political history, having drawn her campaign theme‹"I say what I mean and I mean what I say"‹from Popeye.)
Already one sees the candidates falling into the rhetoric that the class war
has assigned them. The Have-Nots rail against the system that makes life so
cushy for the sons of wealth and privilege. The Haves look upon the
inequality as the benign arrangement set up by a benevolent G-d. Steve
Forbes's anti-elitist rhetoric dries up when it comes to discussing how this
campaign is being run. Bush's campaign is at least consistent. He's an
establishment candidate running as an establishment candidate. Forbes claims
to be an anti-establishment candidate, but he's running like he's Microsoft.
There's probably room in this race for two more candidates: an establishment
backup in case Bush falters and a Have-Not conservative who is
anti-establishment through and
08/26/99: America's Leading Conservative