About this time every four years, articles bemoaning the early start of the upcoming presidential campaign begin peppering the editorial pages. Never mind that this writing actually serves to launch the orgy of militant moderation that passes for electioneering in this country.
This year we can dispense with all that. The 1996 campaign has ended before it began.
We already know that the Republican nominee, and probable victor, will be Bob Dole. The legendary meanness and nasty disposition of the man from Kansas hasn’t escaped the notice of even the most moronic American voters, but his third attempt at the Oval Office is sufficiently well-funded to succeed.
Nonetheless, there’s always been something creepy about Bob Dole. He’s like your best friend’s mean father, or Humphrey Bogart’s evil twin. He’s even got Dick Nixon’s five o’clock shadow.
Clinton may be able to put up some resistance. After all, he is the President. He could have the CIA reveal that Dole once rented “The Sorrow and the Pity” and “Carnosaur 2” on the same night. But the man from the Ozarks isn’t likely to break his impressive run of political ineptitude. After all, his buffoonery made him President, even if history students will have trouble remembering him in another twenty years.
Because we’ve been stuck with him a long time, Dole enjoys the advantage of familiarity. Granted, his early career is mysterious because his contemporaries are all dead of old age. What is known is that Dole became Kansas’ first senator after statehood. Although he first made his mark as Gerry Ford’s vice-presidential running mate in 1976, it’s unlikely that those jowls did Ford any good.
In 1980, Dole overcame his image as a has-been and ran for president. He was defeated in the Republican primaries after his involvement in Shea’s Rebellion came to light. The Federalist, a newspaper of the period, called him “a meane guye.” In 1988, by then a has-has been, Dole ran again, but lost due to accusations of conflict of interest relating to the Social Security Administration. Now geared up for ’96, Dole looks not like the has-has-has-been that he is, but rather a shoo-in.
Generational demographics ensure that Dole will become our oldest president ever when he takes office at the age of 73, according to the Gregorian calendar.
His secret? He’s surfing a wave of 70’s retro.
Lava lamps and platform shoes are back. Clogs, disco, hip-huggers, Aerosmith and Earth Day have again taken America by storm. The logical next step is to embrace a politician who first came to prominence during the era of gas lines and disco fever.
Dole’s politics are vintage Nixon-Ford. His alternating hawk-and-dove Bosnia policy mirrors Nixon on Vietnam. Like Ford, he’s obsessed with preventing inflation, but has no idea what to do about it. Maybe he’ll recycle some of those old “WIN” buttons. Dole’s transparently opportunistic anti-Hollywood rant recalls Nixon’s finest moments. Don’t be surprised if historians catch Dole tossing expletive-deleteds around on his tapes while criticizing films he hasn’t seen and songs he hasn’t heard.
But most importantly, Dole’s got the look of the 70’s politician–wide, loud ties, greased-back hair and $200 polyester suits. He could take the part of the Silent Majority-style vice cop in any blaxploitation film.
In short, Bob Dole is the Man.
Perhaps most telling of all, Dole seeks the presidency as his due rather than as the greatest favor the American people can bestow on a fellow citizen. That’s why, like Freddy Krueger, he keeps coming back–he refuses to die until he gets to the launch codes. He undoubtedly hopes to relive a Nixonian imperial presidency (but without the tacky finale).
Bill Clinton has flirted with the Me Decade in some respects–his hair and affection for Fleetwood Mac come to mind–but overall he’s still a 60’s kind of guy. In the final analysis, he lacks Dole’s super-action boogie-down credentials.
The requirement that candidates be at least 35 to run tends to generate presidents who are anachronisms. When white guys come to power, we have to relive their ancient youth. It is a happy coincidence that we live in a place where everything is always getting worse, so we’re always feeling nostalgia for some period when things were lousy, but still better than they are now. The cleverest politicians manage to tap into our obsessive nostalgia at election-time.
In 1980, we craved the quaint boredom and genteel racism of the segregated 50’s. Reagan capitalized on this Happy Days mentality. Clinton, a man who ran as JFK reincarnate, dragged us into the Sixties. Draft-dodging, extracurricular sex and pot became pressing issues as The Wonder Years generation seized control of the White House. Now we have The Brady Bunch Movie. After Bob Dole is elected, the ascendancy of the Seventies will be complete. At the current rate, we’re gaining one decade every eight years; our presidents should catch up with us around 2064.
“Hello? Mr. Frampton? This is your President. How would you like to perform at my inaugural?”