The Truth, Mainly - 11/07/1994

Sleepytime candidates and electroral espresso
by Leon Satterfield

I'm coked to the gills on No-Doze and coffee. I've told my wife to slap me around a little if I drop off. I've propped my eyelids open with toothpicks. I think I'm about ready.

I'm going to talk about the Nebraska gubernatorial race and I'm going to stay awake while I do it.

Why, a few may ask, should it be so difficult to stay alert while talking about candidates so vibrant, so scintillating, so wired as Gene Spence and Ben Nelson? Most of the people who ask that question work in mortuaries where any hint of vital signs produces wild excitement.

But for those of us daily in the company of the living, seeing one of the candidates is like mainlining Valium; seeing both of them together in what passes for political debate is like snorting chloroform.

To understand this—are you still awake?—we need to ask why last week's polls showed Mr. Spence behind by 52-31 percent among Republicans, thus leading him to estimate his chances of winning at "about 100 to l."

"I'm all the Republican Party has," Mr. Spence said, "and they better get used to it."

That's where he revealed himself to be the victim of a cruel deception.

Because Mr. Spence isn't all the Republican Party has. The Republican Party also has Gov. Nelson.

Wait a minute, you're saying. Isn't Gov. Nelson the Democrat?

That's what they want you to believe. But here's the awful truth:

Ben Nelson is a stealth Republican. He isn't a Democrat at all. Every Republican in the state except Gene Spence knows this.

We go to sleep when we watch these guys debate because there's nothing to debate about. It's a confessed Republican against a closet Republican. It's an intra-squad scrimmage. It's political self-titillation.

You're starting to wake up now, aren't you? Things are falling into place, aren't they?

Now we know why in four years Ben Nelson has done nothing that would cause any discomfort within the "opposition" party. He's not suggested, in the face of rising numbers of Nebraskans without health insurance, that the state have its own health care plan. He's not tried very hard to roll back Kay Orr's LB775 tax breaks for Con Agra. He agrees with the ambitiously Republican Mr. Stenberg on matters of life and death, and he makes Mr. Bereuter look like a Bolshevik.

If he were charged in court with having latent Democratic inclinations, there wouldn't be enough evidence to convict.

So how, you ask, did I figure this out?

I'll tell you. I'm afflicted with sudden epiphanies that give me insight into political motives. It's very unsettling.

I got this one a couple of weeks ago while I was reading a Denver Post columnist, Ed Quillan, who was explaining why Colorado Republicans keep re-electing a Democrat governor, Roy Romer.

Colorado Republicans, Quillan said, have only one plan: "their personal enrichment." So why, he asked, should they "bother electing Republicans to office if there are Democrats around who will pursue the plan? If things go well, you get what you really want. If they don't, as with Denver International Airport, then you can always blame someone else."

Shazam! It was suddenly clear why the Omaha World Herald would endorse Ben Nelson. And it was clear why Republicans would favor him by 52-31 percent over their own nominee.

But I don't think Ben got the idea from Romer. I think he picked it up from Danny Quayle.

As everyone knows by now, Danny is an undercover Democrat. His job is to make Republicans look dumb. He's the reason George Bush lives in Houston now.

"It's a dirty job, Danny," Bill Clinton must have told him, "but somebody has to do it. Get in there and play the Dumb Republican."

His success obviously inspired Ben.

"It's a dirty job, etc.," Bob Dole must have told him. "Get in there and be bland, Ben. Nebraskans will be so put off by a Bland Democrat, they'll vote for us."

But predictably, Dole was wrong again. Nebraskans like bland.

You'll never get either Danny or Ben to admit their undercover roles, of course. By now both of them have goals far beyond discrediting their new parties. Danny has played the Dumb Republican so well that he might be the GOP presidential nominee. And Ben discovered that coming across as a Bland Democrat is a key to election and re-election.

So if all this political intrigue is making you sleepy again, if you're yawning and thinking that it's not going to make a dime's worth of difference who you vote for tomorrow, what you need is a little electoral espresso.

Write in Chambers and Soto, the No-Doze duo. They'll keep you awake.


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

©Copyright Lincoln Journal Star