IN AN AGE when "coming out parties" are thought to have something to do with sexuality and closets, not dance cards and white gloves, here comes George Bush with another of those quaint upper-classisms for which he has become famous, poor guy. In Iowa the other day, the vice president sought to explain his relatively poor showing in a recent straw poll there by observing that his supporters had been occupied elsewhere: "A lot of the people that support me, they were off at the air show, they were at their daughters' coming out parties, or teeing up at the golf course for that all-important last round, or turning up at their high school reunions."
Well, as you would guess, the debutante part stopped them cold. Is there any other candidate on the scene or in memory who would invoke such an image? It is a perhaps apocryphal part of the lore that some years back, candidate Sargent Shriver, taken to a working-class bar by campaign pals eager to show he was just one of the boys, obligingly gave everyone an appropriately hale, Archie Bunker-type greeting and then ordered a Courvoisier. Henry Cabot Lodge had a touch of this to him. So did Adlai Stevenson. Some professed candidates-of-the-people -- John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, to name but two -- have managed to pitch to the grievances and ambitions of working-class people while simultaneously living a life of elegance and luxury that somehow attracts rather than repels these constituents. But no, to answer our own question, we can't think of anyone else who would have said the coming-out-party thing.
We don't think it's necessarily fatal, however. It is true that Americans generally seem to like the process to work the other way around. They like their candidates, a` la Mayor Jimmy Walker of New York, to be artless in the opposite direction, speaking vulgarity to power -- Hi there, Queenie! And lots of candidates who are burdened with upper-class manners and a Newport frame of reference therefore try their darnedest to disguise both. But such efforts, in our opinion, are usually, if anything, even more ill-fated than the occasional lapse into Bootsie-told-Poopsie prep-schoolese on the part of a candidate who grew up in that world. Surely, thinking back to an earlier campaign, Mr. Bush's own forays into simulated hairy-chested, beer-swilling stuff were uncompelling, bordering on disastrous. The remedy for the deb reference is not a bunch of curative barnyard jokes or another summit conference with the stevedores.
On the contrary, we say it loud and clear: Let George Bush be George Bush. Don't forget, he won in Iowa in 1980, beating a fellow called Reagan. He was talking that same way then. ("We've got the Big Mo!") The vice president has a campaign "tone" problem. Everybody knows this. Somehow, when he gets out on the hustings he sounds different from his normal voice. Everyone then starts pounding on him for not sounding his real self, an accusation that, in the past, has not caused Mr. Bush to return to that self, but rather to get angry and plow further in the opposite direction. Our guess is that Mr. Bush will win the hearts and minds of the natives, if he is to win them at all in this campaign, as himself -- habits, eccentricities, accents, the works. Whether it's Boston Irish or Plains Georgian or whatever, every successful candidate seems to start out sounding marginal and peculiar, even freakish, and end up sounding like the guy who won. We say bring on the debs and the Yale beanies, and may the best gent win.