Cancel the Campaign! Let's Play 'Who Wants to Be a President'!

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Ever since Super Tuesday, when the parties' candidates were pretty much decided, Al Gore and George W. Bush have been comparatively quiescent. We know, however, that this is a fool's paradise. We are enjoying, so to speak, the summer of 1939, an eerie calm before the inevitable hideousness begins.

I have conducted an informal poll: No one wants this campaign to happen. No decent person looked forward to World War II either. This promises to be one of the least elevating championship bouts ever held in the lightweight division of American politics. But I believe the campaign need not happen — at least not in the way we dread.

I have thought of a way to honor history while at the same time carrying the art form of presidential campaigning into the post-Clinton era. In the 19th Century, many presidential candidates thought it unseemly to do actual campaigning for the office, the thought being that to do so would be not only immodest but also a kind of irrelevant intrusion upon the public's deliberations. Besides, the party was taking care of business. Thus Ulysses S. Grant in 1868 retired to Galena, Illinois, and demurely waited for November. William McKinley withdrew to his front porch in Ohio and ran the race in a rocking chair. The practice was popular with many of the whiskered forgettables nominated for the office between Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt.

This is a tradition that cries out for reinstatement. Let Al Gore and George W. Bush go home and remain there in decorous silence until November. No, critics will say: That would only make things worse. The campaign would be taken over by gaudily negative advertising and spinmeister surrogates far more vicious and irresponsible than the actual candidates. This is where New Age politics joins hands with nineteenth century precedent. I propose that the candidates get out of their rocking chairs one night a week and participate in a kind of post-Clinton presidential Olympics, an event that might, in the TV listings, be called "Who Wants to Be a President." The game would consist of a series of challenges, exemplary events that would test the candidates while sparing the public their self-serving improvisations.

Among the challenges:

  • Take charge at the scene of an accident before the police arrive. Perform CPR.

  • Diaper a baby. (A real mess, please).

  • Tie a (real) bow tie.

  • Do fifty pushups.

  • Attempt simultaneous translation of a half-hour speech by Strom Thurmond.

  • Prepare a dinner for eight at two hours' notice, using only what food is available in the house.

  • Boxers or briefs? Choose one. Explain.

  • List — and briefly interpret — the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

  • Complete the following joke: A priest and a rabbi meet while they are out walking their dogs. They are old friends. The priest is walking a Golden Retriever, the rabbi a Chihuahua. They decide to go to a nearby restaurant for lunch.....

  • Fire an expendable employee, whose mother needs an operation, in such a way that the employee leaves the building saying, "Bless you, Mr. Gore!" (Or "Bless you, Mr. Bush!")

  • Joint weekend field project: Gore and Bush collaborate on a remake of "The Blair Witch Project." Each brings his own compass. Who makes it home? One? Both? Neither?

  • In September, write an essay on the subject, What I Did Last Summer to Prepare for the Presidency of the United States.

  • Take home exam: Draw a freehand map of the world. Fill in national boundaries, capitals, heads of state, principal industries and crops.

  • Grand finale: Define the word "is."

    Ideas for other challenges will surface. My son Justin suggests that each candidate be asked to demonstrate a proficiency in dancing the Lambada, the forbidden dance of love. I reject the idea. It does not comport with the dignity of the office.