Emergency! Scott McConnell has been drafted to North Carolina, along with most of Pat Buchanan's D.C. staff, for a last-minute drive to gather enough signatures to get on the November ballot. He left this diary before leaving:
May 7, 2000
The week began with a call from Votesmart, or Voter.com or another one of the well-funded political web sites devoted to disseminating information about candidates' stands on "the issues." What is X or Y's position on prescription drug prices; on a scale of 1-5, what does he feel about regulation xyz on air pollution, right-to-work laws etc. With enough time and staff, these questionnaires are a piece of cake, and even without that, we've given them a try. In his columns and speeches Pat has addressed hundreds of issues, and the ones he hasn't my colleague Kara and I can usually draft a position and ask him whether he will sign off on it.
Late last year, we took a couple of days to answer about fifty or sixty issue questions, giving answers on a scale of 1-4 (Do you support, strongly support, oppose, strongly oppose) when required, and ferried the big pile over to PJB's house for approval. He took one look at documents and said no, he in fact had no interest in having his answers to complicated questions - some of which he hasn't had time to fully ruminate about - answered in that way. We never submitted our answers to the survey.
Bill Bradley apparently made the same choice. And because this was a moment in the campaign - before his heart began racing too fast - when Bradley was widely considered as intellectual and as having a good chance of overtaking Al Gore, it was easy to defend.
Well now Bradley is off the charts. But the political websites are still calling — "We'll give you one more chance," they say — to fill out our sixty-page questionnaire. And one feels, I'll admit it, a bit of guilt in not replying.
Anyway, on Monday, in addition to one of these calls, I found on my desk a FedEx from some outfit called the California Commonwealth Club which asked for five or six lengthy and detailed answers about health care. What a way to start a week — not only must one draft press releases, collect material for speeches, field innumerable phone calls, try to schedule the candidate for the next few weeks, but also, in a spare moment, write some essays on the very complicated questions of health care policy.
But the moment I begin to feel too guilty about not having a fully fleshed health-care position, I just remind myself about the Bradley experience: his position - hailed when it came out by the high-minded East Coast media - just became a punching bag for the Gore attack machine.
Of course, it's very difficult to frame the issues one wants to discuss, and get them discussed. On Thursday, Pat met for an hour with a California press group at a restaurant on Capitol Hill, where he was grilled on the record on a whole host of national questions.
Laurie Kellman, the AP reporter, is for some reason always on the lookout for any quote that will get Pat's foes stirred up. In this case, someone asked him whether he would have a gay person as his running mate. Pat said no, and proceeded to roll out his generally nuanced view of the issue – he's had people who he "thought were gay" working for him before; they were excellent, he welcomed their support; he doesn't ask and isn't interested in peoples' private life, so long as they can pass the FBI security check, but no, he wouldn't have someone who was an open advocate of gay rights in a prominent position. He added that he thought homosexuality was a "disorder" — which was the position of mainstream psychology until about a minute and a half ago, and more or less conforms with religious and moral teachings through the ages.
But Miss Kelman went to work. Before you know it, the one headline to come from this wide-ranging exchange was "Buchanan calls homosexuality a disorder." The other story, from the presumably more gay-sensitive San Francisco Examiner was rather better at conveying the nuances of Pat's position.
At week's end, Pat went to Ottawa, Ohio, and spoke to union members at a plant where Philips is closing down a factory and sending the jobs to Mexico. You would think that one national news outlet, or one cable TV political talk show, would think the loss of 1500 jobs, a presidential candidate's interest in the workers, worthy of some comment. Nope, not a chance; it's not nearly as newsworthy as the "gay running mate" issue.
Ever wonder how the press sets the national agenda, and what that agenda is?