Wednesday, May 16, 2001

Art Linkletter hosted a vastly entertaining show on television four decades ago called “Kids say the Darndest Things.” He would invite on his show pre-school boys and girls and ask them questions about their friends, parents, or brothers and sisters. In their youthful innocence, the kids responses would induce knowing laughs from the adult audience.
tWe have similar shows on television these days, such as “Meet The Press,” “Face the Nation” and “The Sam and Cokie Show.” Of course, the guests are not children, but presidential hopefuls and other major politicians. They still say the darndest things. But you have to pay close attention if you want to get a good laugh, because the guests are no innocents.
The Washington Post reported earlier this week that the current crop of Democratic Party presidential hopefuls are particularly desperate to get plenty of camera time in order to gain a step on their potential competitors.
However, they dont want to admit they are thinking about the presidency. Sen. John Kerry, for instance, told The Post why he was doing more television. Saying that it was “a mistake” to think he might run for the presidency, Mr. Kerry explained that his increased appearances on television were really the result of having more opportunities because with Bill Clinton out of the White House Mr. Kerry no longer had to worry he may be “deviating from the White House line.” “In many ways were liberated,” he said. In other words, he may not have been expressing his true opinion over the last eight years, but now that he is speaking for himself he is getting invited on more shows.
Perhaps. But The Washington Post went on to report that more than one such aspirant has had his press aide “angle for invitations” by asking obsequiously: “What do you need us to say?”
When I read that quote I dashed to my dictionary to see if I could find a more contemptible word than “craven” with which to characterize that extraordinary confession. I considered: spineless, fearful, grovelling cowardly, unscrupulous, deceitful, unprincipled, underhanded, desperate, weaseling and ferret-faced — but no word seemed strong enough to fully fit the occasion.
Although The Post did not name which candidates were prepared to so accommodate themselves for the sake of 12 minutes of air time, they did name the Democrats they considered presidential hopefuls. The leading contenders were Sens. John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and John Edwards. The other names mentioned were: Sens. Tom Daschle, Evan Bayh, Joe Biden, Paul Wellstone, Russell Feingold and House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt. Out of those names, implied The Post, at least two were prepared to say whatever it took to get on television. One can barely imagine what they will say to actually win votes.
If they had had television news shows earlier in our history I couldnt help thinking how such a conversation might have gone:
Television producer: “Im afraid your material is pretty stale, I dont think we can use you right now.”
Candidate: “I need camera time, Bernie, what can I say that would be newsworthy?”
Producer: All you Northerners are so predictable. Now if you were for slavery, that might be different.”
Candidate: “But anti-slavery is very big in Illinois, it really energizes my base.”
Producer: “You cant win with just your base. Think about the Southern vote.”
Candidate: “Well, OK, if I come out for slavery can I get a little face time on the tube?”
Producer: “That will only get you one segment. If you want the full 12 minutes Ill need more.”
Candidate: “How about if I say that a house divided against itself can still stand?”
Producer: “Our viewers are simple farmers. They wont get any fancy metaphors. Look, Ill be honest with you. Were getting killed in the South. I need a 5 share or its back to my old job as a telegraph operator. If youll come out for secession Ill give you the whole show and a guarantee to return every third week right through the campaign.”
Candidate: “Jesus, Bernie, youre talking a Southern strategy. I dont know.”
Producer: “Im talking putting that ugly mug of yours in front of 5 million viewers a week.”
Candidate: “What the Hell. With a little luck I can fool all the people all the time.”
Producer: “Just one other thing. The Chyron under your name will have to be changed.”
Candidate: “Why? My pollster says its really working.”
Producer: “Weve got journalistic standards to consider. Im afraid ‘Honest Abe will have to go.”

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