View from Lodi, CA: Bush Victory Aftermath: Will Democrats Return to Roots in Run for Rose Garden?
November 15, 2002, 04:00 AM
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I simply cannot get a handle on George W. Bush.

Is Bush the most brilliant politician of the modern era? Or is Bush an overgrown adolescent who dances to the carefully choreographed script of White House strategist Karl Rove?

And whether Bush is a genius or a simpleton, what will the 2002 results mean two years hence?

I've spent a considerable amount of time since November 5th pondering those very questions. I've developed some interesting theories, if I do say so myself.

For those who followed Election Night 2002, you have to stand in awe of the remarkable outcome. The Republicans recaptured the Senate and won pivotal gubernatorial races going away. And the astonishing ease with which it was done can be traced directly to Bush's nonstop campaigning in Minnesota, Missouri, Georgia, South Dakota, Colorado and Florida.

But if you have access to H.B.O. and saw "Journeys with George" on that same night, then by the evening's end you might have wondered how anyone so sophomoric could possibly be the leader of the free world.

In "Journeys with George," Alexandra Pelosi, a N.B.C. reporter and the daughter of Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi, followed Bush for 18 months as he stumped across the nation in quest of the Republican presidential nomination.

We see Bush rolling oranges down airplane aisles, stuff Cheetos into his mouth and give interviews while still chewing. In a moment of great candor Bush confesses to Pelosi that he likes nothing better than a good bologna sandwich.

Let me inject at this point that I am not a Bush fan. But shortly after watching "Journeys with George" I developed the most intense hankering for a bologna on white.

Is it possible that Bush is so persuasive that he sold me on the merits of bologna? Or was it that since childhood, I too have been a fan of a well-constructed bologna sandwich. Should our common fondness for bologna bond us?

The answers to those questions are elusive and certainly not as important as the earlier questions about the deeper meaning of the Democratic rout.

How Bush and the Republicans steamrolled the Democrats is fairly easy to figure out. When your opponents are represented by the likes of Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt, Hillary Clinton and Al Gore, you can only look good.

The current crop of Democrats is a stiff and colorless bunch. Outshining them is child's play.

But equally key to the Republican's success is that voters demand so little. In the days leading up to Election Tuesday, I watched Bush on CSPAN give the same empty and meaningless speech everywhere he went.

Sonny Perdue, now Georgia's governor-elect "doesn't need a focus group to tell him what to think." Neither did Minnesota's Norm Coleman, New Hampshire's John Sununu or Texas governor Rick Perry.

Amazingly, all Republicans, "recognize that education is the key." Homeland security is vital but so are jobs and the economic stimulus that small businesses provide.

Corporate scandals, on the other hand, are bad and will not be tolerated in any Republican administration.

Thunderous applause followed every Bush platitude.

As invincible as Bush may look today, the Democrats can rally if they map out a sound game plan.

First, send Daschle, Gephardt, Clinton and Gore home. Do not let them show their face until November 3, 2004.

Then, pick a solid candidate with a good hook of some kind. Humorist Andy Borowitz in his New York Times column " 'Bush' in 2004" wrote that the Democrats should fight fire with fire by nominating a Bush. Borowitz suggests Nancy Bush, a knitting expert with no political baggage, Bush, the British rock quartet or Busch Light beer. All, according to Borowitz, poll higher against Bush, George W. than any Democrat.

Borowitz's concept is clever but not very practical.

A better idea is to nominate someone well known within political circles. I like John Kerry. He has two of the things politicians need: money and hair. You may have noticed that the U.S. has had very few bald presidents. Dwight Eisenhower and Martin Van Buren are about it. And Eisenhower was a war hero.

Then Kerry must rent and study "Being There," the 1979 Peter Sellers comedy. By modeling himself after the simpleton Chance the Gardener (aka Chauncey Gardiner), Kerry could give the people more drivel than George W.

For example, when questioned about our economic woes, Kerry can quote one of Gardiner's most famous lines.

Gardiner advises, "As long as the roots are not severed, all is well and all will be well in the garden."

Or this gem: "First come spring and summer, then fall and winter. Then spring and summer come again."

In Washington's most powerful inner circles, Gardiner was considered a deep intellect.

The Democrats might learn from Chance the Gardener: to get further, say less.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.