Bert Brilliant writes a column for The Daily Planet. Norman Naive is one of the young up-and-comers who sits a couple of desks away. Every few days, they go have Chinese food and good Dutch beer and figure ways to make the world a perfect place.
"(Chomp, gulp) So who do you like, Bert?"
"It's whom, youngster -- but I wouldn't expect a member of the baby-boomer crowd of journalists to know that. After all, you were raised on TV, not on Walter Lippmann, as I was."
"(Gurgle, glug) Begging your majesty's pardon. Let's try it again. Whooooo-o-o-o-m-m-m do you like?"
"Whom do I like for what, youngster? The question without context is meaningless. It is half a thought. It leaves me wondering what . . . . "
"Bert, if you will please shut up long enough, I'm trying to ask you who you think is going to win the presidency of the United States in 1988."
"Well, now we're making sense, Norman. As a matter of fact, I'm afraid I can't offer you the name of a person who will win. But I have an idea of the kind of person who ought to win."
"And that is?"
"And that is someone from outside political life. Not Bush. Not Kemp. Not Dole or Bradley or Hart or any of the predictables. I think the White House is ready for a proven producer from another field who hasn't necessarily apprenticed in a state house or the back benches of some legislature."
"You're describing Iacocca to a T, Bert."
"Perhaps, but he says he isn't interested. I'm talking about someone who hasn't even thought about it yet, whose name hasn't been floated on the talk shows, who is now doing a competent but unnoticed job in some important but unglamorous industry."
"You mean somebody like a university president, the way Woodrow Wilson was?"
"Waiter! Another beer for the gentleman. On me. I am so amazed that this schoolboy knows the name of Woodrow Wilson that I am willing to set aside my customary stinginess -- temporarily, anyway."
"Bert, even Wilson had a stopover in the governor's office in Trenton. Enlighten me, please, as to how you think some nameless, faceless university president without even that exposure to the political spotlight can win the nomination and win the election. He wouldn't have a campaign committee. He wouldn't have any money to speak of. He won't have spent the last three years rushing all over creation for every last delegate to every last precinct caucus. He won't have the blessing of either major party. I mean, Bert, baby, we're talking impossibility."
"Nonsense, Norman. We're talking difficult. But the beauty of the American system is that it's flexible. It's still a year and a half until the first primaries. Nothing's chiseled in stone yet. And the wrong person won't ever get chiseled in stone if the right person comes forward. Sure, he'll have to go on the road and make some speeches. But if he does them properly, if he's honest and doesn't sound like some political wind-up toy, he'll set himself apart from the pack."
"Are you saying the other candidates aren't honest?"
"Norman, I'm saying that the voters are sick of the way the barnstormers tailor their message at every stop. Let's take Gary Hart as one example, although he's far from the only one. He'll go into New Hampshire before the primary up there and he'll start talking about what he's going to do as President to save jobs at the big naval base. These New Hampshire people are going to look at each other and say, 'What in the world does Gary Hart know about Navy bases? He's from Colorado. The closest ocean to Colorado is 1,000 miles away. All he's doing is pandering to us.' "
"But wouldn't your university president have to do exactly the same thing?"
"No, youngster, not if he runs a national campaign, on national issues. People don't want a president who sits at his desk in the White House and thinks about New Hampshire's unemployment problems in the same way that New Hampshire's senators and representatives do. They want a president who's going to be a moral conscience on the big issues. They want a president who will be fair to everybody, not one who will tell New Hampshire one thing and New Mexico another. And most of all, they want proven administrative ability, not just a track record of having won a few elections."
"Man, oh man, Bert, what a difference a college president in the White House would make in this town. If anybody on the Hill didn't like what the guy did, they could march up to 1600 Pennsylvania and stage a sit-in in the Oval Office."
"Such a product of your times, Norman! Perhaps you haven't heard, but the '60s are over, sonny."
"So is the hour our revered editors give us in which to feed our faces."
"Next Thursday?" asked Bert.
"Next Thursday," said Norman.
And they shuffled back to the office.