POINT ONE: We think fights among the men now running for president and attempts to compare themselves to each other are a good thing. Point Two: The latest fight to break out among them -- Dole v. Bush -- was not a good fight at all. It was neither informative nor productive nor even much fun in the ringside-seat-at-the-match sense. It was whiny and demeaning. The two prime contenders for the Republican nomination just keep saying how wonderful they are and what great leaders. The exchange was an embarrassment.
Candidates should contend over something other than their own stellar virtue. They should show you they are brave, brilliant, skillful and all those other things they say they are, as distinct from boasting about these characteristics endlessly and shamelessly. Mr. Bush speaks again and again of his heroism in World War II, and now of his great accomplishments in the executive branch; Sen. Dole tells you that he is the one who gets things done for the president. "I'm a leader." "No, I'm a leader." "You are not." "I am too." And so forth.
Surely there is a line between self-confidence and a capacity to show why you should be president, on the one hand, and this mindless, unpersuasive tooting of one's own horn, on the other. Let others talk about a candidate's virtues. Let the candidates themselves reveal them. Surely leadership is not conveyed by a schoolyard-type bragging match such as Messrs. Dole and Bush put on the other day.
They are, of course, not alone in this undignified inclination. If you're as long in the tooth as we are you may remember the advice the late Murray Chotiner was once famous for giving a young Republican politician, Richard Nixon, and some of Mr. Nixon's colleagues in a "how to" manual on winning elections. It was terribly useful, Mr. Chotiner explained, to assert that you had been advised by wise heads not to take some stand you were taking, but that -- politics and self-interest be damned -- you were going to do the brave and right thing anyway . . . that's the kind of guy you were . . . blah, blah, blah. Over time this became shorthanded into Mr. Nixon's classic and much parodied "Of course, I could do the easy, politically popular thing . . ."
Now comes Sen. Paul Simon, whose stock campaign '88 speech was reprinted in The New York Times the other day. One passage especially caught our eye: "You want somebody who's going to stand up. Let me just give you one example . . . I was one of three to vote against the tax bill that passed last year in the United States Senate . . . One of my colleagues in the Senate came up to me just before the vote and said: 'Paul, I know you said you're going to vote against this and I don't care about this tax bill one way or another, but,' he said, 'this thing is so popular if you vote against it this is going to be the end of your political career.' I said to him, I have to live with myself . . ." Richard Nixon, call your lawyer.
Come on, fellows. Cut it out. Or at least have the grace to leave the testimonials to your relatives and supporters. Stop telling us how good you are -- as Eliza Doolittle more or less would put it -- show us.