Past Elections

Boston Globe
Mike Barnicle
February 15, 1996

Pretty shocking news yesterday: Phil Gramm is gone. Phil is good people, a handsome devil, too, who seemed to be doing so well articulating the vision thing that it was a stunner to see him announce he was no longer a candidate for president.

Here’s old omelet-head on the tube yesterday: “Ahhhmm gon’ home. Ahhh got a graatte dooog and a graatte waahhff and mahhh haaarrt’s fiiild wit luuuv. Ahhh weessh ah don’ bettta in Ahhhowaaa but ahhhhm a happpee maaaan.”

Phil’s inexplicable decision is a definite loss to the process, but probably a huge lift for the producers of “Patti does the Primaries,” one of the porno flicks that make up Gramm’s investment portfolio. Ciao, Phil.

But we still have four-on-the-floor in Mensa Central — a k a New Hampshire — duking it out in a Republican primary held in a state where the main street of the largest city is a dead-end road. Check it out.

There is Son of Leather Man: Steve Forbes. His campaign is the classic midlife crisis of a filthy rich nitwit. If he had decided to buy himself a children’s TV show instead of a few primaries, he’d be on every morning and your kids would be calling him Flat-Bird.

He’s followed by The Outsider: Laverne, Lamar or Gomer Alexander, something like that, who has been around Washington longer than Strom Thurmond and is actually Clinton Lite or Clinton Right, depending on your point of view. Has real appeal on the tube and could stroll into Durham this evening carrying his own travel bag, munching peanuts.

Both guys are in the long, shaky shadow of Bob Dole. Despite the reviews, the Kansas senator is a terrific guy who gets things done but has a tough time talking about himself. His answers and speeches resemble an order of fries left under the warming light at McDonald’s for two weeks.

Then, coming on fast at the three-quarter pole, we have Pat Buchanan, the heavyweight champion of Wisconsin Avenue N.W., the man who would fight any comer at Clyde’s in Georgetown but was somewhat reluctant to lace ’em up against the North Vietnamese 111th Regiment. If Buchanan makes one more stop at a doughnut shop, voters from Derry to Lebanon will think Dom DeLuise is a candidate.

Give him this, though: The man has the issue.

Deep thinkers call it economic security. But a walk along Main Street in Nashua, Manchester, Concord or anywhere else in the country will tell you it is the simple fear that what we hold in our hands could disappear in a Wall Street minute.

Not much has been written about it, and not a lot of probing pieces have flown across the networks about it either, for a very simple reason: The majority of the media are clueless when it comes to measuring the invisible tremors of those who have worked for years at the phone company, the high-tech plant or the local mill down by the river yet who live in fear today that their jobs, their incomes and, thus, their families’ futures could be sold out, bought out, merged or buried by a variety of factors beyond their control.

It’s the fear, stupid. A fear so pervasive you can touch it and almost taste it. A fear that has many Americans thinking we are living in a land where “change” is actually an enemy. We change jobs, addresses, towns, wives, cars, stories, alibis and friends with such frequency that the concept of stability is some quaint notion out of the past.

People in Washington — an incestuous village built on the premise that phoniness can breed success — think a balanced budget is the big deal this election year. And the sophisticates with pens, notebooks, microphones, minicams and expense accounts fill their space and time creating a cocoon of cynicism, but calling it coverage.

Pat Buchanan, a glib combination of Huey Long, George Wallace and a beer hall filled with brown-shirts, is successfully working the body with a series of deft, devastating verbal lefts and rights. His rallies are a mix of Dusseldorf 1934, and Doomsday 1996, arousing alienated voters seething with mute resentment because their lives seem to be brokered by suspendered stock merchants in designer suits or disingenuous politicians who define their future off a primary election calendar rather than a tuition payment or a mortgage note due on the first.

Buchanan, at least, is a man who knows who he is and what his campaign is all about. His problem, and, more than likely, his demise revolve around the reality that, sooner or later, a lot more people will know the very same thing.

But for these few last days before New Hampshire votes, he has the heat, the message and more people than you think. Not because they are conservative; simply because they’re scared and living in an America too filled with fear.