Different vocations have distinctive vocabularies. Dan Quisenberry, Kansas City Royals' relief pitcher and linguist, once said of a former teammate: "He didn't sound like a baseball player. He said things like 'Nevertheless' and 'If, in fact.' " Howard Baker, former senator and future presidential candidate, talks like a politician.
For example? Okay, he says that because he carried so much water for President Reagan as majority leader throughout the first term, he, Baker, has got well after a political illness concerning the canal and now he just has to "get out amongst the people and get it done."
Antecedentless pronouns and other mysterious references are apt to be a part of a politician's patois. The "it" Baker intends to get done is the capture of the Republican nomination. The canal . . . well, you remember the unpleasantness concerning the "giveaway."
Recently Baker spent several days among southern Republicans and was gratified, to put it mildly, that no one -- not even some fellow in a flannel shirt and a CAT cap -- mentioned the Panama Canal. You may think: "Gosh, at our house we go for days without mentioning it." But not long ago (absolutes are perishable these days), it was all conservatives talked about.
In 1976 Ronald Reagan, campaigning against President Ford for the Republican nomination, mentioned the canal negotiations and got a throaty roar from a crowd. Soon, opposition to the canal treaties became a test of conservative purity. (Never mind that some conspicuous conservatives, such as Bill Buckley, supported the treaties.) Baker supported the treaties.
In the late 1970s, before conservatism came of age, many conservatives defined themselves by their animosities. In 1980 that petty habit, acquired in long years in the political wilderness, made Baker its victim. He, even more than George Bush, was the "moderate" that some conservatives loved to hate. In additioofessional just cited assesses Baker's chances by quoting the baseball man in the novel "Bang the Drum Slowly," who says of weak pitchers that they could win a few games "if God drops everything else."
Baker is going to put lots of eggs in the conventional basket, New Hampshire, where his campaign is being sponsored by Sen. Warren Rudman, who is co-author of the Gramm-Rudman law but is otherwise a good citizen. Baker is unemployed (like the winner of the 1976 Democratic and 1980 Republican and 1984 Democratic nominations), so he will be able to do the "retail politics" that New Hampshire expects.
If he runs well there, and then runs off straight into a southern regional primary, he could quickly become, in the argot of his vocation, "a player." Stranger things have happened. Stranger, but not more pleasing.