Here's a quick quiz: Which Maryland candidates for the Senate were able to name the prime minister of Israel and the head of the African National Congress? Answer: the whole event was a politician's nightmare. Seventeen candidates turned up at a Baltimore television station, WJZ-TV, for -- they thought -- routine campaign interviews. Instead they were confronted with a snappy five-question quiz, on camera.
Speak gently, in a low voice, when you next see Rep. Michael Barnes. Avoid all references to television, or tests, or Israel. Also South Africa. The bruises will be a long time healing, poor fellow. There he was, the chairman of one of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittees, running hard for the Senate as an authority on international relations, and he couldn't quite bring to mind the name of Israel's prime minister. Or the head of the ANC.
Rep Barbara Mikulski got the question about the prime minister -- it's Shimon Peres -- but then had the misfortune, no doubt through a slip of the tongue, to offer the opinion that the head of the ANC is Jonas Savimbi. That would not be taken as a compliment by Mr. Savimbi, who runs an Angolan guerrilla movement backed by the South African government.
Linda Chavez, the quick-witted Republican who will probably be nominated in September, was the high scorer with four correct answers out of five. Perhaps that constitutes a modest warning that Mrs. Chavez may not be quite so easy to handle in the general election as all the Democrats seem to assume.
Among the Democrats, the highest number of correct answers (three) came from Debra Freeman. She is a supporter of Lyndon LaRouche, which ought to strengthen your doubts about the usefulness of current events quizzes in measuring political candidates.
In the interest of full disclosure, we note that the writer of these lines got either 2 1/2 answers right or 3 1/2, depending on the outcome of a dispute over whether he was illegally coached in naming Nelson Mandela as head of the ANC. That's better than Rep. Barnes's score or Rep. Mikulski's or, for that matter, Gov. Harry Hughes's. But your writer acknowledges not having to perform under the glassy, implacable eye of a television camera.
To anticipate the usual letters to the editor, we wish to add that we do not think it would be desirable to require editorial writers to take current events quizzes in public. That would not, in our view, improve either the quality of their writing or their morale. We respectfully suggest that the whole idea threatens grave damage to a large variety of sacred principles, the names and nature of which we can't remember at the moment.