There Was Once A Lobbyist with the nick-name of Sweets, so called because in the political world in which he operated he brought the candy -- the graft. What Sweets had going for him, besides a sort of savoir-faire, was a disease that kept him awake for days at a time. Sweets, in fact, almost never slept. In the old days, this made him a formidable lobbyist. Nowadays, he could be president.
This ability to keep your eyes open when all those around you are closing has, it seems, become the prime requirement for the presidency. Jimmy Carter had it. His incredible energy and indomitable ambition brought him what he has today. And now, once again, someone else is proving that the American political system responds to nothing more than sheer energy. Excellence is passe.
The latest example of political hyperactivity is George Bush. From Iowa and then Maine and then Puerto Rico and now New Hampshire come tales of Bush's abilities as a campaigner. He can get up earlier than anyone and run his two miles and then shake a million hands and make a thousand speeches, although just exactly what he says in all those speeches is not exactly stirring.
No matter. He never sleeps. He never eats. He loves both his wife and his country, maybe in that order, maybe not. He gives a lot of interviews and he has met a payroll and he is a self-made man -- about as self-made as you can be when your father was a millionaire United States senator. Sometimes fate cheats a politician of a log cabin background.
The thing you want to say about Bush is not "Holy Moley!" but "here we go again." It is Jimmy Carter all over again. Carter spent 260 days campaigning in 1975; For Bush the 1979 figure is an astounding 328. Once again we have a man who can campaign and campaign and campaign as if that was all there is to a campaign. It very well may be.
It is very hard to figure out what Bush has besides lots of energy. He says nothing the other candidates don't. He even says some things most of them would never say -- stuff about limited nuclear war, for instance. He may or may not have taken some hot money from Mr. and Mrs. Richard Nixon, but he sure was one of the last people in Washington to catch on to the fact that the president was winking when he said he was not a crook.
It can't be the resume. It is long. It is impressive. George Bush has been a congressman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, the ambassador to the United Nations, envoy to China, and director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He has also been a businessman in Texas, where he made a fortune with the fortune his family already had. It is, all in all, a very nice record.
But there is almost no one who can tell you what terrific things George Bush did at the various jobs he's had. He served n Congress without much notice. He went to the GOP national committee and went down the line for Nixon. He served in the United Nations but certainly not with the elan of a Daniel Moynihan or an Andy Young and then went to China where everything is inscrutable and then to the CIA where it's all so secret. All you can say about him is that he is very, very conservative (thought the 1964 Civil Rights Act a bad idea) and may, in fact, be a redundancy in a party that already has Elliot Richardson. Nothing he has ever done takes your breath away.
No, what George Bush is at the moment, is nothing more than a consummate campaigner. He is as Carter was in 1976, and so his job is campaigning. It takes some memory to remember that there was a time in this country when you got elected president from another job and that, in many cases, you got elected because someone -- even political bosses -- thought you had done a good job. Franklin Roosevelt ran for president by being a first-rate governor of New York. George Bush might in fact have done a good job at one or another of his various positions. But that is not why he's the front-runner. In fact, few ever heard of him until he started to run like the dickens.
The idea of judging a man by the job he has done seems to be passe.There's no future in it. Howard Baker decided to be a good minority leader in the Senate. That, he thought, would prove something. It proved only that he doesn't understand how the system works. Even Jerry Brown has all but had to abdicate as governor of California so he could campaign in the manner the people have become accustomed to.
Maybe all this results from electoral reforms -- the plethora of primaries, for example. Maybe it has to do with the difficulty of evaluating a public servant nowadays -- is Jerry Brown, for instance, a good or a bad governor? Maybe it has to do with the post-Watergate obession with character and the need to see the candidate close up -- look him in the eye and see, by gum, if he's honest.
Whatever the reason, the thing has gotten out of hand. The system tends to reward those who spend the most time campaigning and whose abilities, in fact, may be limited to campaigning. In such a system, a lobbyist of old like Sweets could be the ultimate candidate, so dazzling everyone with his energy that it would not be until after the election that someone would ask the basic question: Why is that man called Sweets?