Now summer slams and locks the sauna door, leaving us brain-baked and addled inside. The will melts away; good intentions are left stuck to car seats. Our productivity slides and the Japanese inch relentlessly ahead, despite our note on the refrigerator door. Monday: halt U.S. decline into second-rate power. Some thoughts in the torrid season:
For those who insist, despite much evidence to the contrary, that politics is worth the attention of serious people, it’s a shame that the political conventions are held during the summer. The weather conspires to make us torpid and indrawn, vacations beckon, and we worry more about the electric bill than the deficit. But the Democrats gathered in Atlanta in mid-July, to be followed in August by the Republicans in New Orleans, and as sure as the night follows the day, we will hear the quadrennial cry of the convention-bashers. Modern conventions, they sneer, are just gaudy, costly ghosts of their former selves. Time was, the scoffers say, when things got done at conventions. There was suspense, mystery, horse-trading. Now, the front-loaded primary system almost guarantees that the nominee will be a foregone conclusion long before the opening gavel fells. The networks don’t even go gavel to gavel anymore. So why continue these archaic coronations?
Of course, the good ol’ days the critics gild with nostalgia were the days of the party bosses and the smoke-filled room. Back then, a parlorful of ward heelers traded IOUs and scratched backs until they found a nominee sufficiently beholden to them. Then the new king was presented to his subjects, that they might ratify their betters’ choice. Yeah, those were the days.
THIS YEAR’S DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION, as we went to press, was scheduled to be ringmastered by Jim Wright-or, in media-talk, the embattled speaker of the House, the crafty pol with the caterpillar brows and oleaginous manner, etc. It already seems certain that the inquiry into the speaker’s activities will drag on into the November election, which could produce a Sleaze Factor Standoff between Wright and the three or four hundred Reagan administration officials who have been convicted or indicted or investigated; or who have resigned under pressure or out of disgust with Edwin Meese; or quit so they could write a book about their former boss’s hands-way-off management style. Still, three or four hundred wrongs don’t make a Wright. If the honey-toned speaker is guilty of anything beyond pulling the usual strings for constituents, he should have the grace-and the political smarts-to resign his post well before the election. That way, voters can focus clearly on George Bush as he tries to defend this corrupt, chaotic administration. Talk about Tension City.
SPEAKING OF WRIGHT, ONE THING GETS IN the way every time I sit down to stoke the flames of outrage and build up a nice load of loathing for the bushy-browed maker of memoirs: the books. I mean, he had his aides working on books. How touching and quaint. As a knee-jerk literate, I have an unconcealed bias for the printed and bound word. I doubt The Coming Water Famine ranks with the nature writings of Barry Lopez and Edward Hoagland, and Reflec-tions of a Public Man won’t have Norman Mailer looking over his shoulder. But they are books, and the aides who cobbled them together could have done much worse with their time. For instance, they might have gone out and lobbied against the provision of the trade bill that would have given workers decent notice before they lost their jobs. Just when you think you can’t be surprised by anything in politics, you find politicians making this incredible blunder. Maybe you’ve got to admire their courage: on the eve of an election, they’re ready to go to the voters and say, well, we don’t think you have the right to know when your livelihood is about to be taken from you. Amazing.
SPEAKING OF JOBS, HOW’D YOU LIKE TO BE Phil Dusenberry, chairman and “chief creative officer” of BBDO, the mammoth ad agency? Occasionally, PD likes to get away from BBDO and his famous Pepsi spots (with Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, et al.) and have a go at politics. According to Fortune, BBDO’s PD was one of those “advertising all-stars” who dreamed up the “Morning in America” puffers for Reagan in ’84. More recently, PD hired on with ex-quarterback Jack Kemp (“If he wins, we all win”). Of course, JK never led in the GOP race, but if he had, PD would never have let him respond to any nasty attack ads from Bush or the others. “Coke’s biggest mistake was responding to the Pepsi challenge,” PD says. “It legitimized Pepsi’s challenge.” Are you listening, Machiavelli? Almost as an aside, Fortune informs us that “Dusenberry doesn’t follow government much and votes infrequently.” He just does commercials. Just the sort of wise, responsible guide we need to help us make informed decisions,
FINALLY, SPEAKING OF DECISIONS, POLITI-cians, and conventions, I promise to read all282 pages of another Wright classic, You AndYour Congressman, if any pol at either convention makes a peep about the need to slowthe flood of handguns in this country. I don’tmean (for the umpteenth time) banningguns. Let Carl Rowan and other qualifiedadults buy them-registered, after a waitingperiod and a background check. Locally,some leaders and opinion molders are starting to wake up and smell the gunpowder.They’re seeing that backing the Blue meansmaking it harder for thieves and drug gangsto build their frightening arsenals. Let’s hearfrom council members like Al Gonzalez,Lori Palmer, and Jerry Rucker on this issue.How about local state representatives likeBill Hammond and David Cain and SteveWolens? How about Attorney General JimMattox, who’s also from Dallas? And surely Monica Smith, head of the Dallas PoliceAssociation, has heard from her membership on the subject. All Texans live in anarmed society where any junkie or jiltedlover can buy a gun within the hour, butthe police have to put on the bulletproofvests and knock on those doors at midnight.Our city leaders should urge our state leaders to go to Austin and tackle the problemthat is making Dallas the gun-running capitalof the nation. And when they do, let’s turnout and vote for them. Let’s tell the gun worshipers to back off: we’re backing the Blue,and making our long, hot summers a littleless hot.