'The Next Bruce Babbit'


NATURAL history tells the story of a rare insect that lays eggs in a single cocoon; the young, emerging from their shells, eat one another until, like a Democratic presidential candidate emerging after the primaries, only one of the murderous brood is left to see the light of day.

This story seemed to give little pleasure to Senator Joseph Dontknow when I related it to him over the phone last night. Senator Dontknow, a little-noticed runner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, was forced to end his campaign recently due to rumors of scandal.

Since Joe and I go way back--we ran a mail-fraud scheme together in high school--I took an opportunity to conduct a exclusive personal interview with the man one astute observer described as "the next Bruce Babbit."

ME: Senator, what went wrong?

Him: Hello?

Me: Senator, this is your old pal, Rutger Fury. I want to talk to you about your recent withdrawal from the presidential race.

Him: Fury? You weasal, if you don't cough up that $2000...

Me: Senator, I'm riding real close to deadline so I'm going to have to print everything you say verbatim.

Him: I see. Well, a number of factors contributed to my decision. One of them was the question of my crying in public.

Me: I see. Because you showed too much emotion in public, the public took you for a woosie?

Him: I am not a woosie. I have actually beaten up Abu Nidal several times, and once called Ollie North a "faggot" to his face.

Me: Were people concerned, then, that you didn't cry enough?

Him: I guess a lot of us candidates felt outclassed when Pat Schroeder came out and cried for absolutely no reason whatsoever. I think a lot of us realized that the ante had been upped. But when a reporter caught me slicing onions backstage, everyone took it wrong. Honestly, I was just going to make a hamburger.

Me: That's all well and fine, Senator, but isn't it true that the next day the Miami Herald uncovered a document which effectively denied the truth of your claim?

Him: I assume you are referring to the fingerpainting I did in Mrs. Fogbottom's fourth-grade class denouncing hamburgers.

Me: Exactly.

Him: Well, the thing you have to remember is that at that time my desk was right next to Suzy Blick's, and she was a well-known disliker of hamburgers. I probably just plagiarized from her. I am, and have always been, a fond admirer of hamburgers.

Me: But deeper questions have plagued your campaign: how much did you know, and when?

Him: At first, I didn't know a thing. By the time I was 18, however, I knew enough to earn myself a high school diploma.

Me: Well done. But to move along, Senator, what was the scandal that broke the camel's back?

Him: Around late August a rumor began circulating around Washington that a terrible scandal was being talked about by people in the know. Furthermore, my name was mentioned.

Me: What happened next?

Him: Well, up to this time, the main focus of Democratic debate had been whether Mike Dukakis was going to think of something to argue about or not. But when rumors of a scandal rumor started circulating, the debate shifted. My fellow Democratic candidates turned against me. Some began saying that a rumor of a scandal was not a mere rumor, but a scandal in itself. Others accused me of having sex with a woman to whom I was married.

Me: Did you deny these things?

Him: No. Rather than grace these rumors with an official reply, I secretly issued counter-rumors of my own: that Joe Biden was a big fat Doofus.

Me: How terrible.

Him: The dark underbelly of politics, I'm afraid. But to show my honesty I secretly leaked the fact of our involvement in the rumor, and then fired my campaign manager as a show of remorse and desire for fair play.

Me: I see. Not only would that maneuver focus attention on you, but it would demonstrate your capacity for dealing with crisis in a decisive and respectable way. Did it work?

Him: Not as well as I had hoped. First, my ex-campaign manager slashed my tires. Second, Mike Dukakis pulled the exact same stunt the same day, and so the press ignored me. By that time public interest in my campaign was at such a low point that I called a press conference to announce my withdrawal.

Me: What was the reaction at the press conference?

Him: I don't know. I slept through it myself.

Me: Now that you're out of the race, which candidate will you support?

Him: That's a tough call. My wife would be a good president, but I'm thinking of backing my son.

Me: Both long shots, aren't they?

Him: Of course. But in this race, if even your postman knows your name, you're as good as finished.

Rutger Fury, SWM with fondness for pina coladas and pets, is a close personal friend of Jeffrey J. Wise.