Sadly, Our Next President Is Going to Be a Boy

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With each week that passes, it becomes clearer that neither George W. Bush nor Al Gore is a satisfactory candidate for President of the United States.

Bush does not possess the brains, the knowledge, or the experience to do the job. Gore does not possess the stability or depth of character that the American people have a right to expect in their president.

The first presidential debate on Tuesday made that clear. The vice presidential debate two nights later, between Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman, cast an interesting light upon the depressing dilemma in which Americans find themselves.

In a smarter country, the tickets would be flipped. Gore and Bush are posturing, disappointing sons who need a lot more time in the role of understudy. Whether either of them should ever occupy the White House would remain an open question. On the evidence, I would say no.

Cheney and Lieberman are grown men, stable and experienced. There are many Americans more qualified than they, but Cheney and Lieberman at least come to the people not as sons, but as fathers. It's an important distinction. Age has little to do with it. Some men remain sons all of their lives. No man should become president until he has crossed the psychological and moral line into the responsibility of fatherhood. The same distinction will apply to mothers and daughters as women become regulars in presidential politics.

I know, Cheney and Lieberman looked and sounded about as exciting as a school board meeting — low-keyed and matter-of-fact. That is what was attractive about the encounter: It seemed like the best of the American system — civic-minded, without the idiocies of ego and hype that have contaminated the battle of the inadequate sons.

Fathers and Sons: In neither Lieberman nor Cheney does one detect the frantic inner neediness of Al Gore (so much in evidence in his silly behavior in the Boston debate, his puffing and childish distortions of the truth) or the dangerous vacuity of George W. Bush, who has failed for most of his life to exhibit the seriousness or the intellectual curiosity a citizen should expect in a candidate aspiring to move into the house where Jefferson, Lincoln and the Roosevelts lived.

We hurtle on into October, heading for November, with a sense that a terrible mistake has been made. Thank God we have peace and a good economy. Would we want either of these men, Gore or Bush, to be in charge if the nation were in danger? It happens. Think of the eighteen-fifties, when the United States was drifting toward civil war, and the political system came up with Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, mediocrities of the kind we are asked to choose between now.

We cannot rescind the primaries and the political conventions. We cannot rewind the tape and start over again, rewriting the scenario, removing Bush and Gore and replacing them with ... whom? John McCain and Bill Bradley? That, in my view, would be a vast improvement in both parties. McCain and Bradley are both grownups, not the unseasoned, uncentered ones we have leading the tickets.

But we cannot have a better choice now. It's a disgusting situation. If the Constitution permitted Bill Clinton to run for a third term, he would, sullied as he is, win the election — maybe in a landslide. The stupid thing is that he would deserve it, and so would we.