The Truth, Mainly - 09/09/1996

Give me a candidate who owns up to past wickedness
by Leon Satterfield

I don't know about you, but the conventions left me a little queasy from all that political self-congratulation. I felt like Dorothy Parker: any more of it and I might fwow up.

I yearn for candidates who own up to their weaknesses, candidates who follow Hawthorne's moral in The Scarlet Letter: "Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!"

The exclamation points show strong Hawthorne really means it.

I yearn for a candidate like Mark Twain, who in 1879 considered running for President but decided first to "own up in advance to all the wickedness I have done" so that his enemies would "be unable to rake up anything" new.

So he admitted treeing "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…and caused him to bowl up a maple tree, where he remained all night….I did this because he snored. I will do it again if I ever have another grandfather."

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

And "the rumor that I bured 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. Does that unfit me for the Presidency? The Constitution of our country does not say so. No other citizen was ever considered unworthy of this office because he enriched his grapevines with his dead relatives. Why should I be selected as the first victim of an absurd prejudice?"

What voter could resist such an appeal?

The only current politician coming close to Twain's example is Al Gurule. I wish I could vote for Al Gurule.

Al is running for Colorado's third district congressional seat against the incumbant, Rep. Scott McInnis. Al has a spotty past. At a festival in Glenwood Springs, Al said, Rep. McInnis "got right in my face and said he had his staff investigating everything about me and that he was going to use it."

So what do you think Al did?

Deliver an anticipatory denial before the findings were made public? No. Drop out of the race before the scandal hit? No. Come up with countercharges about McInnis' own spotty past, the old You're-One-Too-Buddy defense? No.

Other politicians might have done those things, but Al isn't like other politicians.

I'll tell you what Al did because, unless you've been reading Twain, you couldn't guess in a thousand years.

Al filled a big box with old press clippings and court documents reflecting his past indiscretions. He took the box over to McInnis headquarters and give it to the staff—along with a letter offering to help them rake through the muck.

"So I've been arrested twice," Al said. "I've never been convicted of anything. A lot of people tried, but I didn't do anything wrong."

Except run for governor as the candidate of a third party called La Raza Unida. And organize a campaign to try to recall a district attorney.

"I've made a lot of enemies in the establishment," Al said.

The box of records and Al's offer to help sift through them seemed to discombobulate McInnis' staff. Here's what his campaign manager said:

"Based on his radical past, it does not surprise me that our opponent would pull a typical political stunt like this."


What could be a more typical political stunt than to give your opponent a boxful of records documenting your spotty past?

Imagine Dole and Clinton exchanging such boxes.

"Here's mine," the President might say, handing over evidence by which the worst might be inferred. "You'll find all my private Whitewater records, a photo of me giving the peace sign while standing next to a three-foot bong, a packet of perfumed letters from that saucy little serving wench at Oxford, and, most damning of all, a closely-argued case for why I find Dole's ideas so attractive."

"And here's mine," Dole might reply, owning up in advance to all the wickedness he done. "There's a list of all the donations from tobacco companies, the letters they wrote me scientifically proving that tobacco is less addictive than milk, the inside scoop on who paid for those nasty ads when I defeated Dr. Bill Roy in '74, and the tuition receipts from the Sunny Countenance Grinning Academy."

You say you can't imagine them exchanging such boxes. Neither can I.

Instead, we can expect increasingly large tidal waves of self-congratulation between now and November. The kindest thing we can do is avert our eyes, stop our ears, hold our noses, and reach for the Pepto-Bismal.

Ah, Al! O, Mark!


Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes to salvage meaning from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays.

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