The verbal talents of commentator George F. Will are so bountiful that they have made their possessor the envy of just about everybody with a press pass and more modest talents, which would include just about everybody with a press pass. Now, it is reported that George Will is being urged to run as a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Maryland.
Prior to my becoming both a sage and a pundit, I helped run political campaigns in which I may very well have established a Free World record for the drafting of concession statements. But I did spend enough time in union halls and at fund-raising "galas" to become aware of some of the larger differences between politics and political journalism. Because I frankly admire the brave people who dare to run for public office and thereby run the risk of public rejection, I would not try to talk anyone out of becoming a candidate. But I feel I owe it to George Will and any other columnist who is contemplating a campaign to send the following memo:
1.The Good News: As a citizen- candidate, you have no voting record to explain or defend. The Bad News: you have years of pronouncements and positions in print -- your columns -- on which you will be attacked.
The rookie candidate with no past voting record to be exhumed can differentiate himself from the "politicians." But a columnist has a record available for viewing at the local library: years of viewing with alarm, pointing with pride, and dismissing with disdain. The columnist-turned- candidate lives with the disturbing certainty that an irresistible throwaway line he directed at some forgotten appointee in the Ford or Carter administration is totally recalled by the target's family, whose members are, at the very minute, rabidly organizing 13 precincts for the columnist's principal opponents.
2.The columnist must be prepared to persuade voters that, at some time in his life, he or she had a real job that required honest toil.
Frank Mankiewicz, who has at various times been a candidate, a commentator and a campaign manager, had a smart brother who said there are three things a lot of Americans believe they could do as well as the people who are paid to do them, all of which are not really work. Those three things are: a) managing a big-league baseball team; b) producing movies; and c) writing a newspaper column. He's right. The columnist would do well to locate immediately photographic evidence of his having been employed at or near minimum wage at a place where he had to pack a lunch and punch a time-clock.
3.Writing a column is solitudinous work; running for office almost always is being the main part of a crowded, noisy crusade.
The columnist is generally a sole practitioner, taking blame or kudos for his product. That is not the way campaigns work. The candidate must be able to inspire confidence in and to delegate authority to others upon whose efforts victory probably depends.
People in campaigns work long hours under crisis conditions at near-total dislocation of their personal, professional and social lives. To agree to do this, most nonpracticing masochists must first be convinced that they will be an important part of a Great Cause. In any campaign, that convincing is most effectively done by the candidate.
Every candidate soon confronts humility in the form of the political truth that the only way to raise money is for the candidate to ask people to contribute. Along the way, the candidate can easily turn into an anti-Calvinist, persuaded (as he listens to some millionaire's prattle about left-handed taxidermists' taking over the world) that the Almightly gives money to the least interesting and appealing of Her creatures. But there is a payroll to be met and campaign people who need psychic income just as much.
4.Your strength has been your ability to take unpopular positions, to express them lucidly and defend them vigorously. Don't change now.
That's no homily; that's practical advice. Just a little more than the political press likes to cover campaigns does it like to uncover candidates. Any candidate's statement that represents a switch in a previous position is guaranteed prominent press coverage. "Backs down," "flip flops," "retreats" and "disavows" are some favorite headline verbs. Do not seek to explain your line about Americans' being "undertaxed." If you question this advice, please call President Mondale.
But do tell us candidly why you want to be senator. Candor does work. Remember William J. Bular, who won the governorship of South Dakota in 1926 by announcing: "There are no issues. My opponent has a job, and I want it. That's what this election is all about."