Campaign fundamentals

With the primaries only six months away, this may not be the best time for me to be deserting my journalistic post. But let me at least leave behind some nonpartisan advice for the presidential candidates.

First, about money. If you've got it, like Gov. George W. Bush with a $37 million campaign kitty, or Steve Forbes with a bottomless pocket, flaunt it.

Otherwise, flaunt your poverty. Point out that you can't afford to spend $400 per vote, as Mr. Forbes did in the Iowa straw poll. Americans, in general, don't like being bought and paid for. Poverty could become an asset if you can afford time on TV to talk about it.

Second, interviews. Be careful what you say to a reporter, especially one who seems sympathetic. Mr. Bush dug himself into a hole by the frequent use of profanity in an interview for Talk magazine. His plea that it wasn't a "sit-down interview" was unconvincing. Maybe it's better to resurrect the Nixon practice of using "expletive deleted."

Third, dealing with sensitive issues. Before sounding off on matters like abortion, an especially tricky issue, be sure you know what you're talking about. Both Elizabeth Dole and Vice President Al Gore seemed not to know that the federal government pays for abortions in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the mother's health. If you're not sure of the facts, fudge them. One all-purpose response to a question would be, "I'm OK on that."

Fourth, youthful indiscretions. I may be already too late for advice to Bush on the cocaine issue, which would have been to let it all hang out, or to stonewall it, but don't chip away at your own stone wall. Which is what Bush has done by saying that he's been drug free for seven years ... make that 17 ... no, make that 25. And counting. At this point, he'd better start working on some version of "I didn't inhale."

Finally, about bowing out - what I call "design for leaving." When you're short of money and short of support, it's OK to play Don Quixote for a while, but not until it begins to look silly. Nothing became Lamar Alexander more than the manner of his leaving the day after the Iowa straw poll, saying that after six years of trying, he saw "no realistic way to go on." No endorsement of another candidate, no angling for running mate. Just goodbye, it's been a lot of fun.

Any other political problems that arise requiring my advice will have to wait, I'm afraid, until after Labor Day.

Let it all

hang out or stonewall, but don't chip away at your own stone wall.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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