Do not include me as a supporter of the effort to draft Chrysler's Lee Iacocca for president. It's nothing personal. It's just that the presidency is this nation's most important political job. Our better presidents have first been really good politicians; a really good politician is one who is able to forge a consensus, to fashion a compromise and to lead. I have a bias in favor of choosing our presidents from among the generally uncrowded ranks of really good politicians, of whom Iacocca is not one.
But you can list me as an admirer of the Draft Iacocca initiative. It's a lot shrewder and more imaginative than are the Washington Wise Guys, full of their unearned cynicism, who have been knocking it. Take this analytical gem from one Sunday network news show: ''I think the people who started the Draft Iacocca Committee are . . . hoping they can get something going partly to get campaign contributions and provide themselves with employment, frankly.'' That statement is both unfair and untrue. The Washington organizers of the draft, Democratic political consultants Greg Schneiders and Terry O'Connell, are both prospering professionally, thank you, and nobody is making or taking a dime for his time or efforts in the all-volunteer draft.
The case for Iacocca is a good one. Performance and leadership are what American voters find most lacking in the Democrats. Since 1980, the only American who can match Ronald Reagan's public record of performance and leadership is Lee Iacocca, at Chrysler and with the Statue of Liberty. By proving that a bold action of the federal government -- rescuing Chrysler -- could work, Iacocca alienated all those people whose careers and reputations relied upon government's always failing.
A presidential campaign without a candidate enjoys significant advantages over traditional campaigns with candidates. Who hurts a campaign by getting cranky, tired and irritable and committing some dreadful gaffe in front of the press? The candidate, that's who. With no candidate the chances of such a gaffe are dramatically reduced.
How do campaigns spend too much of their time, energy and good will? Wrangling endlessly over the candidate's public campaign schedule, which invitations to regret and which must be accepted. With no candidate, there is no candidate schedule. With no schedule, the campaign staff can worry about more worthwhile tasks than arranging crucial meetings with an Important Labor-Jewish-Hispanic Leader. The draft strategists would skip all those 1987-1988 pre-primary straw ballots and party caucuses, the kind featuring organized constituencies with narrow nonnegotiable agendas. They would seek their first test of Iacocca's appeal in a full-fledged primary such as New Hampshire's, where a second-place finish would dramatically make their case and force Iacocca to answer the people's call.
Undoubtedly the drafters would be criticized for ducking those other contests by their real live opponents. But here again, the draft campaign has the edge. How does a real live presidential candidate look strong and fair-minded while criticizing the strategy of Iacocca, who isn't even in the race?
Traditional campaign staffs often waste productive hours writing memos to the candidate, seeking the candidate's notice and approval, and scheming to convince the press how close they are personally to the candidate. With no candidate, the draft campaign could be the appealing exception: fun and happy with lots of cheerful volunteers, hand-painted signs, pizza parties and no unread position papers. This further would confound the opposition by attracting positive press coverage.
Once again the Washington Wise Guys are wrong. The Iacocca draft campaign could be an initiative of unmatched political shrewdness. Look for Draft Jack Kemp, Draft Gary Hart and Draft Phil Donahue committees to follow shortly.