ONE PUNDIT'S ADVICE: LESS DICK MORRIS, MORE LEADERSHIP

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I know we need yet another column about the election like Seattle needs another Starbucks. Anyway:

About 6 a.m. tomorrow I'll go up to East Hampton's Guild Hall and cast a vote and then drive into Manhattan to write and do some TV and that night watch the returns.

I'll vote for a second term for Bill Clinton and expect him to win pretty easily.

I covered the Republican Convention in San Diego, a much more spirited, cheerful, positive kind of affair than that dreadful, dreary business in Houston in '92. And I really thought Kemp was going to energize Dole and that the Liddy Dole act might spill over and the Republicans could make a race of it.

Oh, boy, was that wrong. The tipoff may have come when they changed ad agencies just about weekly. Maybe commercials don't win elections, but the Chinese-fire-drill confusion of the entire Dole campaign was never more evident than in its relationship with Madison Avenue. This was a campaign without coherence, a message or a charismatic standard bearer. If Campbell sold soup this way, it'd be in Chapter 11.

I've seen dirtier campaigns. But few that paid less attention to the issues. Bill Clinton's a terrific campaigner, an appealing fellow and, if the measure of first terms is, "Are you better off today than four years ago?" then the answer is "yes."

The economy is pretty good, inflation is flat, the Dow passed 6,000, the labor unions are quiescent, a move from welfare to workfare has at least begun, we aren't at war, and for all the excursions and alarms, neither the president or the first lady is under indictment.

At the same time, race relations in this country are rotten. Immigration is out of control. Drugs are as bad as ever. Too many public school systems stink. Nothing wrong with our national health-care; plenty wrong with our national healthcare insurance. No one, including the CPAs, understands the tax system. Are those troops really going to be out of Bosnia by spring? How do we handle China? Does anyone remember . . . "the deficit?" Is the Religious Right right? Balance of payments? Don't laugh.

Dole's one-note answer to all of the above was, "We'll cut taxes 15%."

Clinton's answer? "Hey, fella, feel good about yourself." It's a line stolen from the Ronald Reagan playbook.

That last debate, the one where Dole finally was going to score? His exit lines: We need constitutional amendments to balance the budget, protect the flag, permit prayer in schools. Just what guys are talking about every night over a beer, right? Hoover ran on a more urgent set of national priorities.

But what about the character issue? Recent polls indicate more people trust Clinton than Dole. I'm voting for Clinton but that astonishes even me. You want presidents with character? The president with the finest character in recent years was Jimmy Carter. A truly good man.

Terrible president.

Everything wrong with the American political system can be summed up in two words: "Dick Morris."

This was the bum with a full run of the Clinton White House? Yessir. And the same guy the Republicans hire in alternate years? Yessir, again. Once upon a time, we had Lincoln-Douglas debates. Now both sides hire the same sleazebag. Is there any shame? Do both parties hold the electorate in total contempt?

Well, yeah.

I think that's why so many Americans tomorrow will vote Clinton for president and vote Republican for Congress. We figure some checks and balances might not be a bad idea over the next four years because we don't fully trust either of them.

If I had Bill Clinton's ear right now, with his final race run, and, presumably, won, I'd say, look, this is the last campaign, the last election. You don't have to make promises anymore, don't have to wheel and deal, don't have to buy political favors, don't have to impress the voters.

Just run the damned country and run it right. Stop playing small state down-home ward heeler. Dump the cronies and the hustlers. Stop the aw, shucks! trimming and tap-dancing. Do the right thing, not what polls tell you is the popular thing. When you blow one, admit it, and don't blame the clerk-typist. A pretty good administration for achievement has a wretched rap sheet for ethical behavior. You've been an able president, now be one we can trust. It's a grand country; it deserves better.

You owe us. We're the people about to give you another four-year contract.

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