{Michael Keenan} Jones was wearing a blue-and-white striped seersucker jacket, white flannel trousers rolled up at the cuffs . . . a necktie with a picture of Uncle Sam saying 'We Want You,' and two buttons on his lapel, one of which read 'Nixon in 1980,' and the other with a picture of a B-52 bomber, under which was written 'DROP IT.' His cheeks were red, as if he had just done something completely irresponsible. He was pulling behind him, on a leash, a baby blue foam-rubber shark. The shark's name, I learned, was Chesterton.

-- from "Poisoned Ivy" by Benjamin Hart

Last month I joined forces with a young conservatives group, the Conservative Action Foundation, to protest Teddy Kennedy's sneak attack on press lord Rupert Murdoch, and I must confess that I expected and, yes, hoped that my comrades would be a team of Joneses. They weren't. Not only did they not have on the lively crackpot duds of this legendary Dartmouth student, they also didn't have the high waxy foreheads, bulging cranial veins, nasal wheedle- tones, cheap suits and bowl haircuts that I normally associate with young conservatives. No, they looked alarmingly normal -- like me, only much healthier and better dressed. At a lunch there was one nasally delivered joke about having the food "ionized" to "deactivate the fluoride," but, unfortunately, I delivered it, and silence ensued.

All of which may mean that I'll have to reevaluate my bedrock stereotypes. Granted, our temporary peace might not have held up if I'd floated a question like, "Hey, what do you guys think about offering merit-pay incentives to recruit pushy Marxist fems as nursery school teachers?" But I didn't, and overall it was an interlude of solidarity brought about by our shared opposition to one man. In December, as you may know, Sen. Kennedy pushed through legislation that, if it survives challenges in Congress and the courts, would void the Federal Communications Commission waiver that allows Murdoch to own both a television station and a newspaper in Boston and New York. The papers in question are the New York Post and the Boston Herald -- conservative tabloids that sometimes label Kennedy with fun shorthand monikers like "the Fat Kid" -- and the Kennedy maneuver may force Murdoch to sell or close both papers. The CAF concluded that Kennedy was trying to trample on Murdoch's First Amendment rights for his own mean- spirited ends. In response, the group decided to hold a demonstration on the Hill in which people dressed as notorious free-press quashers -- Nazis, Soviets, South Africans -- dragged a reporter (me) around with a rope while chanting their support of Kennedy's position. My reasons for being there were more visceral: I just don't like anybody beating up on the New York Post. If this paper gets shut down (or, shudder, upscaled by some high- minded meddler), next year at this time I won't be reading about the Polar Bears for Jesus -- the God-fearing, cold-water- loving New Yorkers who take an annual "sacred dip" in the heart of January. "B-r-r-r-r," began this year's dispatch, which included a photo of a bald guy treading water and a caption beginning: "Intrepid Polar Bear Mark Switzer holds up the golden crucifix he retrieved from the chilly waters off Battery Park . . ."

Obviously, this would be journalism's loss. Thus, while my CAF buddies yelled, "Teddy, Teddy, he's our man, he put the First Amendment in a garbage can!," I went with the more direct and metrically powerful: "New York Post Fans to Beefy Massachusetts Pol: Drop Dead!" Very dramatic. Too bad nobody heard us. You see, the protest took place on January 25 -- the day of the big cold wet snowstorm -- and we were pretty much left alone on our "protest turf" at the corner of Constitution and Delaware avenues. I had a fantasy that Teddy was watching us, pressing his face against a window inside the Russell Senate Office Building and muttering "Why, youse bums, I'llll . . ." as he got hotter and hotter, and that he would boil over and charge down the steps bellowing and swinging beefy fists. It never happened. Oh, sure, there were occasional flashes of excitement. At one point a jogger came by and . . . looked at us funny. Then a car went by and a guy rolled down his window and yelled, "Jerks!" There was also a camera crew from the Independent News Network, and as CAF president Lee Bellinger expressed it to me, "It's electric when the cameras are rolling." I'll bet. Too bad that when the cameras rolled, another kid was playing the reporter and I was on the sidelines under an umbrella.

Still, it wasn't a total loss. During my research for the assignment, I learned a lot about the emerging field of "conservative political action theater." This exciting new genre seems to date back to the late-'70s stunts of then-Rep. George Hansen of Idaho, who, during the height of the Panama Canal debate, had a logging truck loaded with replica gold bars driven from Idaho to Capitol Hill by way of Denver and Fort Knox -- all to symbolize the "giveaway of revenues" that would result from signing the treaty. Great, huh? Too often, left-wing political theater bogs down in humorlessness -- throwing blood at vivisectionists, trying to "levitate" the Pentagon -- but here we see refreshing, unabashed corniness.

Unfortunately, Hansen's career was derailed for several months when he was jailed for filing a false financial disclosure statement. Fortunately, other people -- mostly college students or recent graduates -- were already carrying the cornstalk torch, and recent years have seen several great stunts. Some, I'll admit, are a bit much. For example, I'm not too high on all these shanty bust-ups or passion plays showing Commandante Ortega slaying Freedom of Speech. But some I like. In 1984 a group of George Washington University students protesting Walter Mondale's alleged boringness held a "snooze-in" outside a campus auditorium in which he was speaking. They had sleeping bags, black coffee, pajamas and signs that read "Insomniacs for Mondale." Two years ago at the University of Colorado, students celebrating Grenada Liberation Day set up huge dominoes, each labeled with the name of a communist bloc country. Then a burly student dressed as "Russia" knocked over the dominoes one by one, but when he got to "Grenada," a student dressed as "Uncle Sam" stepped in and thwarted him. In December 1986 the CAF sent "elves" to the Hill to deliver toy lawn mowers to 11 Republican senators and representatives who were "hiding in the tall grass" during the Iran-contra crisis. At a Republican presidential debate in Hanover, N.H., last month, two young Kemp supporters wearing clown suits and signs that read "Bush" and "Dole" ran around chanting: "We are the Tax Twins!"

And finally, when I recently spoke with the Young Americans for Freedom, they were hard at work planning a protest against Kennedy that, a YAF spokesman told me, "will, heh heh, feature a car stuffed with New York Posts and Boston Heralds and covered with seaweed." Jeeeez. Maybe there's hope for my bedrock stereotypes after all. ::