All presidential campaigns, like all federal agencies and all football announcers, develop their own jargon, their own dialogue. It they didn't, how would the rest of us ever learn that there is a difference between horizontal and vertical divestiture and that inflation, in addition to being a major problem in our daily lives, is also a "beast" that must be "tamed" and "put back into the cage"?
It is an axiom of our politics that the candidate who can dominate a campaign's dialogue will almost invariably be accepting congratulations, not condolences, on election night. But like so many things this year, that ancient rule is not being honored. The principal author of the 1980 dialogue is not simply trailing badly in the early balloting; his presidential campaign is reported to be on the verge of Chapter Eleven proceedings. We have in our midst a prophet without profit: California's Gov. Jerry Brown.
Brown, who has become the political-cultural equivalent of the NBC commissary in Johnny Carson's monologues, deserves some real credit for what he has been able to accomplish with limited cash and limited popular support. It was Jerry Brown, alone among national candidates, who first dared to suggest to American voters that small could be beautiful, that less might even be more.
All of us can see what has happened. After generations of believing that bigger is better, we are not hearing a battery of Jerry Brown clones tell us just the opposite. Kiwanis club luncheons and Eastern Star suppers, all over New Hampshire, are being informed that our common enemy is bigness. Big government. Big spenders. Big deficits. Big business. Big labor. And Big Brother.
Check your own records. When was the last time you heard any candidate, in a prepared text or on a Sunday talk show, attack or criticize any of the following: tiny defense contractors, little oil or puny multinationals? Thanks to Brown and his leadership, all 1980 candidates are thinking small: daily they pledge their allegiance to the small farmer, the small businessman, the small investor.
The other candidate who has dominated the 1980 campaign dialogue, almost as much as Brown, is his predecessor as governor of California: Ronald Reagan. Virtually all the 1980 Republican candidates sound remarkably similar to the 1976 Reagan. So thanks must also be paid to Ronald Reagan for his restraint in imposing limits on the dialogue. Up to now, in this admittedly conservative year, there has not been a single mention of purging the Social Security rolls of either chiselers or frauds. The first sign that the campaign dialogue is totally out of control will be when some candidate unveils his plan to go after the able-bodied 61-year-olds who are Social Security cheats.
Unasked and unanswered questions of this campaign:
When and where will William Kunstler, the attorney for the persecuted and the plaintive, announce that he is volunteering to represent the ex-shah before the international commission of investigation?
Does anybody have any idea what Chip Carter does to keep busy between his father's presidential campaigns?
Prior to all the flap about George Bush's membership in that group, did anyone else think that Trilateral was something Arnold Schwarzenegger flexed while pumping iron?
The endless dispute between Sen. Edward Kennedy and President Carter ("I did too suggest it first." "You did not; I was already doing it." "You said you'd call." "I tried to, but the line was busy.") is fast taking on all the charm and appeal of a weekend with the Bickersons.
And on the subject of Kennedy: New Hampshire voters are paying a dollar a gallon for home heating oil and the nation is facing an annual inflation rate of 21 percent -- two heavy liabilities for any incumbent. Why, then, does Kennedy insist on criticizing the president where he is least vulneralbe: in his new, and popular, role as command-in-chief and in his reputation for honesty, which nobody, other than Victor Lasky and Edward Kennedy, has previously questioned?
William Loeb, the ever-loathing publisher of the Manchester Union-Leader, has his own ideas about the effectiveness of our nation's intelligence capability. Loeb, a fervent Reagan partisan, explained recently to his New Hampshire readers that George Bush's upset victory in the Iowa caucuses had "all the smell of a covert CIA operation." Honest.
Most candidates draw voter and press criticism for changing or trimming their positions on issues, for not being consistent. Not Ronald Reagan. Reagan has been widely criticized for not changing his position. For being consistent. You figure it out.
A suitable substitute for "big" in certain campaign statements is the word "bloated," as in "bloated bureaucracy" or "bloated defense establishment." People who oppose a bloated defense establishment almost always support a lean, muscular and tough defense capability.
When you read that Textron, Inc., while Treasury Secretary William Miller was its chief executive, spent $600,000 on meals and drinks for Pentagon personnel, it's easier to understand how our defense establishment could end up bloated.