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Wake me when it starts



Well, I know you are still winding down from the Fourth of July celebrations of our victory in Kosovo. Marie Donigan, a city councilmember in Royal Oak, reports she is leading her town’s efforts to erect its own Yugoslav victory pylon on Washington at Woodward, which is altogether fitting and proper.

Other communities are sure to follow. Helping the tide of Albanian war brides who will come flooding home with the troops will be more challenging, though this newspaper’s generous offer of free copies will help them over the cultural hump.

Yet something even more exciting looms, an event so sacred and yet so alluring my downy cheeks tremble at the hint of it. I mean, of course, the quadrennial contest between middle-aged white guys in blue suits to get to be Defender of the Free World and the No. 1 Investigative Target in the Land, aka the president of the United States.

That doesn’t mean we are going to be rid of the present battered occupant anytime soon. Indeed, if my mommy were to become pregnant today, my new little brother or sis would be crawling long before Mr. Bill crawled out of the White House.

What is baffling and slightly annoying is Clinton occasionally still acts like he is a real president – proposing last week, for example, a major overhaul of Medicare to cover prescription drugs for the elderly.

Right. Nice idea. Not as good, however, as giant pies floating in the sky, so passengers stacked up over increasingly crowded aerodromes could bite off a hunk. Billy managed to utterly blow health care reform the first time he touched it, back in those ancient days (1993) when Democrats still controlled Congress.

Republicans now run the Capitol, and their idea of national health care, so far as I can tell, is two expired aspirin tablets for each inner-city school. They hate Clinton. Whatever possesses him to think he can get this passed?

"Pure election-year posturing," said John Hess, a former New York Times reporter. "There is no serious talk of Medicare reform even reaching Congress." Hess, an expert on the economics of aging, notes Clinton didn’t address "the central problem; the nonstop rise in the price of prescription medicines."

But hey – what the man did say sure felt good!

Next year we will get to choose who succeeds him. Well, actually, that has mostly been done for us. The Republicans essentially have nominated Son o’ Bush, who as governor of Texas looked forward to the next execution as eagerly as Bill did the next summer intern. Granted, there are 40 or 50 other GOP candidates, like Danny Quayle and Liddy Dole. But all are really running A) for vice president; B) in case somebody whacks Bush; C) to get a talk show in their local cable market.

Democrats have something resembling a race, though Vice President Al Gore has a huge advantage. Bill Bradley, a former basketball player and senator, has offered himself as a sort of alternative candidate, meaning he says mildly critical things about both parties.

There is a certain appeal to not having been dragged through the psychic muck with Blowjob Bill. Yet Bradley may be an even more wooden speaker than Gore. Asked for specifics, he offers few. At times, his style reminds me of the annoying, superior and distant aura Eugene McCarthy and Gary Hart used to project.

What all three have in common is that they are essentially aristocrats. Bradley was the only child of well-off parents. Had he not made it to the NBA, he told the New York Times recently, his fallback job would have been the State Department.

Officially from Tennessee, Al Gore really grew up in swank Washington hotels, son of a powerful U.S. senator named Al Gore. SOB was the son of the scion of a rich Connecticut family; his daddy came to Texas to dabble in oil before turning to politics. Granddaddy was also a U.S. senator, and food stamps were never an option. All this may not, in itself, be a bad thing. We have just had six years of Bubba, mind you. We could do with a prexy too snobby to paw the hatcheck girls.

Seriously, though, there is a difference, at least between the Democrats and the shrub. Once upon a time, I actually knew Gore, when I was politics editor of a newspaper in Tennessee. I found him an honorable and decent human being, far less stiff in private than in public. I thought in 1992 the Democrats had the ticket backward.

More on this later. What I wonder, though, is whether any president can be a "success," given reality and the media. Bob Woodward, the Washington Post editor and Watergate warrior, has just published Shadow, a book about the last five presidencies.

All failed to some degree. "They have become victims of the myth of the big-time president ... they expect to rule. But the modern presidency has been limited and diminished. Its inner workings and the behavior of the presidents are fully exposed."

Does this mean we, too, are doomed to dwindle? Or that we should grow up and stop expecting leaders to be a combination of God the Father and Warren Beatty? Or should we just close our eyes to their more human failings?

Next year, we get a new shot at an answer.

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