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Jewish World Review Sept. 13, 1999 /3 Tishrei, 5760

Chris Matthews

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The man with the
sun on his face -- BILL BRADLEY, his presidential run now official, began the week walking the beaches of New Jersey. Newsweek offered its own smart photo of the former NBA star: a chat with some Iowa working stiffs, the sun casting a brilliant shine on the candidate's forehead. Make light of these images at your own peril, Al Gore. We Americans may vote indoors, but we elect to the White House candidates with the look, feel and freshness of the outdoors about them. Identify "the man with the sun in his face" and you've picked yourself the winner.

Whether it's horse sense or the behavior of baboons, this truism has held since the earliest days of modern communications, since the typical voter could sense -- from newspapers, newsreels and radio -- what a guy running for president was "really like."

Franklin Roosevelt. We can picture him even now riding in an open roadster, his cigarette holder poking jauntily at 45 degrees.

Harry Truman? Grinning and giving 'em hell from the back of a train car at some middle American whistle-stop.

Dwight Eisenhower? Back of an open car, his smile as wide as Kansas, his hand in a "V," the ticker-tape casting millions of slim shadows against the New York canyons.

Jack Kennedy? Again, the smile, the wistful glance into the middle distance, a latter-day Lucky Lindy with high hopes and the wind of the nation at his back.

Jimmy Carter? We discovered him first as a Georgia farmer tending his peanuts, the sun beating down: The perfect answer to the inner-office stench of Watergate.

Bill Clinton? Think of him as we first met him, the gung-ho boomer leaping full-grown from the heartland's political womb, eager to take on that elitist, out-of-touch "new world order."

These are the guys we elect as our presidents in this modern era. Forget the stiff Dewey, that "little man on the wedding cake"; Stevenson, who struck so many as an "egghead"; Dukakis, his head buried in that tank helmet; Dole, the eternal Senate insider.

Yes, we picked Nixon in '68, when the only option was Lyndon Johnson's vice president. But given the choice, the American voter has again and again rejected the white-shirted, red-tied desk jockey. We've had but one word for the defenders of office, the inside-the-Washington Beltway professionals, the indoor types: "NO!"

Instead, in election after election, we've gone with the guy who looks like he's just made it in from the countryside, the outsider seeking our trust, the guy running against the suits, the guy we can imagine without one.

Maybe this is something peculiarly American, some trait primordial to our rebellious, pioneer nature. Did any other country -- France or England or Canada? -- ever select a face in the crowd like Andy Jackson as its leader, a self-proclaimed "rail-splitter" to keep itself from being split in two?

Yes, you can find the rare case -- Barry Goldwater -- when this country rejected "the man with the sun in his face," but there were reasons, the most powerful being the recent death of the beloved JFK.

No, 1964 was the exception which proves the rule. I predict that the man who succeeds Bill Clinton will be the one who fills this historic bill: Not the insider defending the ways things are going, but the outsider offering optimism and fresh air. Whether it's Bush or McCain, Gore or Bradley, it will be the candidate voters see running with the sun in his face.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews, chief of the San Francisco Examiner's Washington Bureau, is host of "Hardball" on CNBC. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


09/08/99: W. vs. Jr. on dope and the draft
The FALN: Hillary's Willie Horton
08/26/99: Bill's guilt fuels Hill's race
08/25/99: The seemingly inexhaustible strength of America's free enterprise
08/23/99: GOP candidates are weak also-rans
08/16/99: Bubba on Bubba
08/11/99: Hillary's agonizing attempts to understand
08/09/99: With warm regards, Richard Nixon
08/04/99: Weicker: real third party is on the Left
08/02/99: Dubyah's last hangover
07/27/99: Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh; capitalism is gonna win

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