The Truth, Mainly - 04/20/1992

Is Nation Ready Yet for Candid Candidates?
by Leon Satterfield

It's an irony of our language that while "candid" and "candidate" are cheek by jowl in the dictionary, hardly anyone would ever think to put the two words together in any other context. We've grown to expect our politicians to rank somewhere between used car salesmen and television evangelists in letting it all hang out.

They'd be a lot more appealing—and interesting—if they'd follow the example set by our national fountainhead of intuitive wisdom, Mark Twain, back in 1879 when he decided to run for president. But first he set out to "own up in advance to all the wickedness I have done" so that voters wouldn't be shocked when his opposition pointed it out.

He admitted that "I treed a rheumatic grandfather of mine in the winter of 1850. He was old and inexpert in climbing trees, but with the heartless brutality that is characteristic of me, I ran him out of the front door in his nightshirt at the point of a shotgun, and caused him to bowl up a maple tree, where he remained all night….I will do it again if I ever have another grandfather."

And there was more:

"I ran away at the battle of Gettysburg…because I was scared. I wanted my country saved, but I preferred to have someone else save it. I entertain that preference yet."

And still more:

"The rumor that I buried a dead aunt under my grapevine was correct. The vine needed fertilizing, my aunt had to be buried, and I dedicated her to this high purpose."

A few more admissions and Twain sat back to await the call of the people. It didn't come in his lifetime, but his tactic might have more appeal today. If we're serious when we say we've had enough of what we've got, we might vote for the absolutely candid candidate just because he'd be such a novelty.

Bill Clinton's history is pretty well known by now, thanks to the gumshoes who've been out raking his muck. Think how much more attractive his wicked past would be had he been the first to tell us about it.

"I'm Bill Clinton," we can imagine him saying back in December, "and I avoided the draft, smoked pot, appointed friends to high office, and played a little hanky-panky. I'd like your vote."

Could you resist that?

It's probably too late for Clinton to get full benefit from his wickedness—unless there's something the gumshoes haven't revealed yet. If there is, he should come out with it quick.

"I'm Bill Clinton," he could say, "and you already know about the draft, the pot, the favoritism, and the hanky-panky. But did you know I wear a wig? Did you know when Hillary's not home, I watch 'Hee Haw' reruns? I need your help."

Quick study that he is, George Bush would see voters being turned on by such revelations and he'd jump right in. There'd be a competitive frenzy of self-incrimination.

"Me?" the president might say conspiratorially. "Total depravity."

Sensing voter approval, he'd get into serious confession.

"No new taxes? Always knew there would be. Changed stance on abortion? Wherever the votes are. No center. No core. Sons rich by own merit? Own effort? Not old dad's position? Reality check."

Barbara would be giving him a look by now, but he wouldn't notice.

"Panama? Iraq? Freedom? Democracy?" he'd ask, sticking out his chin and shifting into his no-wimp voice. "Vendetta! Personal! Noriega, Saddam—big doublecross! Big payback!"

Marlin Fitzwater would edge toward the President. Secretary of State Baker would look concerned. Danny Quayle would stop grinning. The President would flail on, his voice loud and shrill now.

"Candor? Honesty? Hate it! Can't stand it! Whatever's needed for re-election! Anything! Even truth!"

The Secret Service agents would close in.

"One more thing!" he'd yell just before they grabbed him. "Clinton's wig bad? Hair dye, face lift here!"

One of them would put his hand over the President's mouth. But not before he got it all out: "Girdle! Fanny tuck!"

They'd take him away then. Just in time too. Maybe, on second thought, the nation isn't ready for George Bush to let it all hang out. Too scary. Too many secrets. Too few verbs.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.

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