Patrick Buchanan, Donald Trump and others who have shown interest in the Reform Party nomination for president have the right idea, but the wrong party.
For a third party to have a shot at the presidency, it must represent a constituency large enough to threaten the first two. The Reform Party does not do that. Based on these potential candidates as well as its most prominent members--Ross Perot and Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura--the Reform Party seems to represent (and I mean no disrespect here) fruitcakes and meatheads.
I propose the formation of a third party that would instantly be a factor in any national election, a party that from the moment of its birth would have within its tent more people than either the Democrats or Republicans: the Non-Voters Party (NVP).
I know, I know. But bear with me for a minute.
According to a July 1998 Census Bureau report, 45.8 percent of the voting-age population did not cast ballots in the 1996 general election. Had the NVP existed in 1996, it would have had the numbers to trounce Bill Clinton, winning all 538 electoral votes in the single greatest presidential landslide in American history. The NVP would have done better than Saddam did in Baghdad.
When queried by the census takers, 1996's nonvoters enumerated their reasons for avoiding the polls. Some of the most common were "too busy," "not interested" and my favorite, "forgot."
This is a recruiter's dream: people who might be embarrassed by their apathy but are too apathetic to do anything about it. All we'd have to do is make a pitch that would restore their pride while simultaneously validating their values. The party slogan would be:
Slouching proudly beside the donkey and the elephant would be the three-toed sloth.
But who would be the party's standard-bearer? Buchanan is too opinionated; he rants too much to represent a party founded on an ideology of lassitude. Perot is too rich. Trump is too rich and too swanky. I don't want to make unfair class distinctions here, but extrapolating from the census's sociological breakdown, the typical nonvoter owns five TVs, no computer and thinks Proust is a beer.
To appeal to these people, we need someone who does not vote and who would appeal to other people who do not vote. I nominate one of those 1,000-pound guys who keep getting stuck in their houses and have to be removed through a picture window by a forklift. (Reason for not voting: "Stuck in house.")
And his running mate?
Every national ticket needs a counterbalance; when Franklin Roosevelt needed someone to offset his image as a snotty aristocrat, he chose humble old Harry S. Truman. And it worked out swell for America.
The 1,000-pound guy would have the requisite slacker feel and would appeal to the ordinary Joe, but he is not, alas, beloved. He needs to run with someone who is.
I suggest . . . Harry S. Truman.
He qualifies. Truman has not voted in, what, nearly 30 years? (The Constitution says that only someone born in the United States and at least 35 years old is eligible to be president. I see nothing specifically requiring that person to be alive.)
My Fat Guy/Truman ticket would have a simple platform with broad appeal. It would combine the Republicans' call for "less government" with the Democrats' call for "election reform." We'd call for "less elections." How can people be expected to remember to forget to vote for president every four years?
Also, there are too many states. It is hard to keep them straight, and there are too many governors to not vote for. The NVP would propose consolidating existing states so there are only five: Yankeeland, Dixie, Flat Stuff, Square Stuff and Texas.
Also, my party would endorse a "voucher" system allowing a head of a household to assess the needs of his family and then exercise his right to obtain, should he so desire, a federally funded certificate redeemable for the Barcalounger of his choice.
Now, I know what you are thinking: There's a giant flaw with this whole concept, a major logical problem. This has been in the back of your mind since I first proposed the idea, and it is why you think the NVP would never garner a single vote:
Listen, this is no biggie. Nonvoters aren't stingy. It's just that the existing parties raise money in all the wrong places, and that's why they aren't reaching nonvoters. We would not send out direct mail; we would put plastic containers on the counters at McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts and 7-Eleven. We would solicit funds on the flaps of matchbooks and in ads on the back pages of comic books, where you used to order X-ray specs, sea monkeys and secret decoder rings.
Sure, the individual donations would be small. But our strength is in our numbers.
Let the word go forth, from this day forward: The NVP is ready to pay any price, bear any burden--so long as we're home in time to watch "World Wrestling Federation SmackDown!"
Gene Weingarten, a writer and editor for The Post's Style section, votes in all elections, even the dinky races at the bottom of the ballot, where he's never heard of the candidates. In those cases, he generally chooses the name with the most vowels.