Masters Of The Universe

* Voters need a good fight between Kennedy and Romney.

I must confess to being partial to both millionaire venture capitalists (and others who feed from the investment banking trough) and liberal scions of political dynasties. Thus have the two candidates for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy '54-56 and his Republican rival, W. Mitt Romney, been characterized.

It has been obscenely easy to caricature both men. Romney with his pedigree, family dog McKenzie and attractive if vacuous wife ("You've got to incent [sic] people to behave in a more appropriate pattern to break the cycle of really inappropriate...and life is so precious you just don't want to cheat these children out of their potential...") provides much fodder for commentators.

Kennedy, too, has been a fertile source of material for commentators who, ignoring his record, have taken aim at his personal foibles. Romney and his handlers have cleverly used Kennedy's girth as representative of a bloated, spent bureaucracy.

It has however been interesting to look at Kennedy's carefully reconstituted image during the past few years, from that of an aging Lothario to that of a penitent, committed family man (and certainly the statute of limitations on caddish behavior must have expired by now.)

The Kennedy-Romney match-up has all the elements of an Oedipal drama--Clinton-Bush redux, only writ small and with party affiliation reversed.

The media has changed the race into a tight one, but to anyone with a passing acquaintance of Massachusetts political history, there is in truth no real contest.

The untested Romney, in taking on a figure who is lodged so firmly in Massachusetts iconography, is simply out of his league.

He also offers a questionable platform. While not stridently anti-government, he has said that "we need to get that 500-pound gorilla off the back of our employers." A claim which should not particularly resonate for Massachusetts at this economic moment where a more than three percent statewide lowering of the unemployment rate has occurred.

He urges a balanced budget by 1998 (1)--achieved while limiting spending to four percent during that time--as well as a favored, if ineffective, Republican nostrum: eliminating the federal capital gains tax.

Kennedy's platform, by contrast, reads like a dream for anyone who believes in the power of government to enhance people's lives.

His clout in the Senate has enabled much important social legislation to be passed. He has backed the Clean Air Act, co-sponsored the Freedom Of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, sponsored the Family and Medical Leave Act, as well as last week's $60 billion Elementary and Secondary School Education Act.

Kennedy should embrace and run on his impressive record, unapologetic about his liberal agenda, stressing the huge losses which the state would incur if it were to lose its influential senior senator.

Tonight's debate, though, is a win-win proposition for the telegenic Romney. Look for him to be to be solicitous of, almost defeat to Kennedy, as a means of emphasizing the difference in their ages and physical statures.

Because of widespread low expectations for Kennedy, he only needs to be coherent for it to be received as a triumph.

I hope the debates will offer the chance to look beyond the advising campaigns. Whatever the specific outcome of tonight's debates, if it spawns 8 complex, sustained engagement about the issues which affect our lives, if it engages the electorate in debates, then we will all to winners.

Let the games begin.

Larains A. Lezama's column appears on alternate Tuesdays.