SOMEWHERE ABOVE ME, 41 floors actually, I imagine I hear the sound of pacing. It is Ronald Reagan, in slippers, walking the floor of his hotel suite, trying to decide whom to choose for the vice presidential nomination. He has had two months to make this decision. There is no reason to rush now.
People come to give advice. Henry Kissinger has been there and Phil Crane and, of course, Gerald Ford and George Bush. Aides move in and out. The subject at hand is the vice presidential nomination. Do any of them ask what Reagan has been doing all this time?
There is, of course, a show-biz quality to what is going on. The media reporting on the media say that there are 6,000 of what one person called "medias" here. The number is a whopping exaggeration when it comes to actual working reporters, but there are a lot of them anyway, and most of them are chasing one story -- the vice presidential nomination. They need something to do.
Granted that we are all being manipulated and granted, too, that Reagan might be pulling our leg, still it also seems true that Ronald Reagan does not yet, know who he is going to pick. He does not know in the sense that he has decided for sure, firmly, for all time -- that he has the name written down and put into an envelope marked "To be opened in the event of my death." That, after all, is what this vice presidency is all about. A 69-year-old man must know that he should have acted accordingly -- simply said he had the name, it was in an envelope and he would open it before the entire convention.
Yet Reagan insists he has not yet made up his mind. The convention takes him at his word. The little delegations of Republican pooh-bahs come to his room, which is somewhere on the 69th floor of the Detroit Plaza Hotel. They come and confer and press their points. On the convention floor, Jesse Helms says he just doesn't know who the vice presidential nominee will be and he threatens that if the man is not pure, Helms will have himself nominated and do battle.
It is a remarkable performance and within this little island of hotels, convention halls, bars, vendors, and the smiling blond ladies who for me typify the Republican Party, it does not seem to be questioned. It should be. Someone should ask Reagan what in God's name he is doing.
Someone should ask, "What do you mean, you don't yet know? What have you been doing the last two months? How is it possible that with almost nothing else to do you could not make this one, very basic and very important decision?" The questions are not easily brushed aside. This is the one thing Ronald Reagan has had to do since effectively winning the nomination and by his own admission he has not been able to do it.
Instead, we are witnessing something similar to the last-minute turmoil that producted the nomination in 1972 of Sen. Thomas Eagleton, the Missouri Democrat who turned out to have, as the euphemism goes, a history of mental problems. What is going on now smacks of the sort of hotel room panic-hours that produced the vast majority of vice presidential nominees, most of whom came from oblivion and used the nomination to go right back.
So the circus continues. Above me, I imagine Ronald Reagan pacing, and if you think about how in two months the vice presidential decision has not been made, you would pace too.