John Anderson is Robert Redford, and David Garth, his chief strategist, is Paul Newman. The name of their movies is "The Political Sting."
This nonparty or no-party candidacy is your frontier-town movie set - the facades of stores, blacksmith shops and churches, on the reverse side of which are a few lumber struts and steel guy wires holding the make-believe street upright. So also with the Anderson campaign.
He is a media-mirage candidate; a man nobody ever heard of, without a following or organization, winless in the primaries. A man who cut a respectable but not highly distinguishedcareer in the House, he was thrown, as though popped from the end of a teeter-totter, into national attention by virtue of publicity alone.
The Anderson question isn't whether or not he can win, but how in Sam Hill he has gotten as far as he has. Some people do come out of nowhere because they represent something new or at least they con the rest of us into thinking they represent something new. Ten years ago, we newspaper persons were writing tracts about "the new politics." Probably not one of us can any longer tell you how it differed from the old politics, but at the time it seemed to shimmer or shimmy with the allure of bold, new tomorrows.
Anderson doesn't pretend to be a new anything. As to the hard policy questions, he says that he'll think about them or he's going to collect the very best minds to think about them. So as president, he's going to function as a talent scout or convener of highlevel meetings. Humble it may be, but novel it isn't.
The Anderson candidacy complicates an age-old question in American politics: How many politicians can stand on the same spot in the middle of the road? Heretofore the number was always thought to be two, but like angels on the head of the scholastic theologian's pin, Anderson has demonstrated that the true number is a sideways eight. . . infinity.
Up till now it has been the majorparty candidates who've specialized in fuzzing, fudging and fogging over their stands on topics that could cost them votes if they indulged themselves in clarity of response. It's been the role of third-party types to run for clear-cut principle, so Anderson, that admixture of Reagan and Carter, is a unique animal in the political bestiary. a
The much-talked-of "Anderson Difference" is his nimbleness at looking different while remaining the same. His best claim to office is that, of the three, he has the quality tailor. Reagan has that tatty 1950-ish sport jacket look; Carter droops at the knees and droops in the pants like the irremediable ruralist that he is. Only Anderson wears a suit coat that doesn't have a slight wrinkle in the shoulder, but he's still political junk food. Empty calories.
Until a short time ago, he was a conventional Midwestern Republican of conventional views. For him to turn up as the liberal we now read he's demands that he recant the public acts and utterances of 20 years in Congress. d
However, puppy love in adult politics may be no more sensible than it is with teen-agers. For most of the 1950s American liberals were smitten with Adlai Stevenson, a rather conservative borderline bigot who was a former governor of Illinois. There was no accounting for it.
The same thing may be happening with the Brie and chablis crowd in regard to Anderson. He's Charlie, the good-taste-tuna candidate. "If there is a crisis I'll feel safer with Anderson in the White House," says Stanley Sheinbaum, an extremely wealthy Southern California left-liberal now touting for Anderson. How one can celebrate the good public-policy judgement of a man who must abjure the legislative record of a lifetime hasn't been explained. mNevertheless, Anderson has got himself a bunch of rich libs and fuzzy-headed celebrities who could be talked into doing benefit fund-raisers for Kermit the Frog.
Why the media have created this candidacy may never be explained. It could be the contagion of fashion. If you are given to impugning others with malevolent thought, he was concocted as the safe, sane candidate who looks different, a candidate to keep the public, angry over the Carter-Reagan choice, from looking for someone who truly is different . . . Ed Clark, the Libertarian, for example. In the end, unless separated from their offspring, the media devour their own. Having first made Anderson, watch now while the same people and publications destroy him.