The Redundant-Component Campaign

Vote for Gore, vote for Bush -- what's the difference?

Gore 2000 buttons were being marked down on Market Street after the vice president's speech Monday. "It's one for $3, two for $5," a hawker told a potential customer. "Or we can strike a deal," the political opportunist said, glancing over his shoulder in a conspiratorial manner. "I have to make sure my boss ain't around."

Al Gore's boss wasn't around on Monday, either, and Gore was ready to strike a deal with anyone who could vote. You want an economic boom? You got it. You want rhetoric that would please the old Moral Majority? You got it. The point man on the morality front is Gore's running mate, Joe Lieberman (yes, yes, we've heard -- he's Jewish and Orthodox). Lieberman is saying things that President Bill Clinton, or maybe even Gore, cannot say with a straight face.

"Long before it was popular, Al and Tipper were leading a fight for a more moral culture in America," Lieberman told the faithful at Kiener Plaza, referring back to the Dark Ages when Tipper was hot to crack down on naughty lyrics. Oh, if only prostate cancer hadn't done in Frank Zappa. But the prospect of the Tipster as first lady might be enough to resurrect him.

The Gore-Lieberman rally was about as spontaneous as a dress rehearsal for a trade show at a corporate convention. These two weren't preaching to the choir, they were speaking to the sanctuary. Nobody was let inside the barriers who didn't have a ticket. Whether you had a white, blue or red ticket determined how close you could get to the dynamic duo who plan to lead us over, or off, that bridge to the 21st century. Of course, the VIP section was even closer to the candidates. No signs were allowed, save for the Gore-Lieberman 2000 placards handed out to the crowd -- none of those messy aborted-fetus signs or pro-choice signs got past the sidewalk.

Lieberman started off with an awkward "joke" that involved a small boy and a minister, with the punch lines being "I'll be damned" and "Praise the Lord." Of course, there was political hyperbole to be made and running-mate sucking-up to be done. Speaking of Gore, Lieberman offered: "He has been, without question, the most successful and most effective vice president in the history of the United States." Gee, that's like saying Gore was the sexiest eunuch at the orgy. And what assistant professor of history is working on that book The Vice Presidents: What You Don't Know About Aaron Burr, Schuyler Colfax, Hannibal Hamlin and Spiro Agnew.

Gore again proved he's not the total android he sometimes appears to be. He can sweat. In fact, after their short political riffs -- let's not call them speeches -- Gore and Lieberman and their wives turned to the risers, where the national-media video and still photographers were poised for a shot of them, hands joined, with the Old Court House and the Arch in the background. As they raised their arms, the two candidates appeared human after all, sweaty armpits and all.

At the Republican National Convention, George W. Bush talked about "tearing down the wall" between the rich and poor in America, deftly co-opting the Ronald Reagan-to-Mikhail Gorbachev line about the Berlin Wall but putting a Democratic, egalitarian twist on it -- however fraudulent the promise might be. Then Gore picked Lieberman, a Bill Bennett in Democratic drag. If the two parties were soft drinks, blindfolded voters couldn't distinguish between them on a taste test. If they were corporate competitors, they'd merge, either through a buyout or a hostile takeover.

Looking at Bush and Gore puts one in mind of a certain NASA concept. On space missions, near-duplicate parts are included so that if one fails, the other one functions in its place. The virtually interchangeable parts are called redundant components. In an election where both candidates support the death penalty and mouth similar lines about crime, the economy and education, how are these two bozos not redundant components? The difference, maybe, is abortion rights and gun control. Roe vs. Wade survived 12 years of Reagan and George Bush the elder, and gun control is not significantly more stringent after eight years of Clinton-Gore, so what's the diff? And let's face it -- neither one of these guys could lead a charge up San Juan Hill. Who would follow them if they yelled "Charge"?

NO LONGER A PRIMARY CONCERN: One of the best post-primary quotes, in terms of sheer lunacy, was uttered by Russ Carnahan after his defeat of Jeanette Mott Oxford by 64 votes in the 59th District race for state representative. Carnahan was quoted in the South Side Journal saying, "I've always said that the name is not what's going to get you elected, you have to go out and meet people and talk about the issues." Oh, that's easy to believe. Say he had changed his name to Russ Lipschitz -- wouldn't have made a bit a difference. These second-generation inheritors should face it: Whether you're Joe Buck, John Carney, Jay Randolph Jr. or Lacy Clay, your surname gets you in the front door. If your progenitor is prominent, that helps you in politics, media and other forms of unwarranted celebrity.

As for Clay, let's thank the gods that that race is over. What a mess, on both sides: Clay won the election, with 61 percent of the vote to Charlie Dooley's 27 percent. The race featured all manner of vitriol, with former state Rep. Fran Brady taking -- and passing, for what it's worth -- a polygraph test in an effort to verify the assertion that Clay cussed him out in Jefferson City when Brady said he was backing Dooley. The words uttered, Brady maintains, were something like "motherfuck this" and "motherfuck that." Sounds like a campaign slogan: "If elected, I'll ..."

Then Clay's camp sued Dooley, alleging the illegal formation of a soft-money slush fund. Clay backers moaned about the white folks behind Dooley, specifically mentioning campaign manager Lee Brotherton. Did anyone check out the pigmentation on Clay's "media contact," Steve Engelhardt? The best commercial, from a perverse perspective, was the Clay ad aired during Lizz Brown's show on WGNU-AM. It featured the one, the only, the Rev. Cleo Willis speaking in support of Clay, and the ad was paid for by Laidlaw Transportation, the school-bus company. Clay made much of his role in the school-desegregation settlement, often known less charitably as "busing."

ONLY 201 DAYS UNTIL THE MAYORAL PRIMARY:The Post-Dispatch traveled all the way to Pasadena, Calif., to learn that former Mayor Vince Schoemehl has decided against running for mayor in the March 2001 primary. Seems he wants to devote his time to the passage of the Missouri public-campaign-finance proposal. The former mayor admits that some cogs in the old Schoemehl money machine are already spitting out cash to other candidates. Meanwhile, on the editorial page of the P-D, an odd piece titled "Portrait of a Successful Mayor" appeared, begging for a mayor who is a "tireless, energetic and dynamic leader." Stating that leadership is part "salesmanship and cheerleading," the editorial says the next mayor needs "to be the visible master of ceremonies at the area's festivities and feel-good celebrations." Who the hell is this talking about? Was it a love letter to Schoemehl? Does the P-Dwant Freeman Bosley Jr. back? Do they want current Room 200 occupant Clarence Harmon to work longer hours and appear more peppy? Or do they want a different 'tude from the challenger, Aldermanic President Francis Slay, who, admittedly, is a hard worker and thorough but doesn't exactly light up a room?

FLOTSAM AND JETSAM:Apparently Rush Limbaugh can make time stand still. Gentry Trotter, who admits to always having been a Republican, was helping out Lacy Clay on primary night, pro bono, but he couldn't tell what time it was. Trotter says that during Limbaugh's recent charity appearance at the Ritz-Carlton, he shook hands with Limbaugh, and that at that moment, Trotter's English-made Simon Carter watch ceased to work. Trotter tried replacing the battery of the $550 watch, purchased from Bergdorf-Goodman in New York City, but that wasn't the problem. Trotter says that during his brief moment of face time with Rush, he tried to convince him to show respect for the office of the president by using terms like "Mr. President" and "President Clinton." Oh, that'll work.... A taped interview with Mayor Harmon is scheduled to air at 7 p.m. Friday on KDHX (88.1 FM). The show, called The Wire, is hosted by Thomas Crone and produced by Steve Smith. Aldermanic President Slay appeared previously on the program. Can't wait to hear Bill Haas.... Thanks to the attentive reader of "Short Cuts" who called in with this: Whoever thought up that billboard on I-44, the one about getting rid of your lemon in the Post classifieds, didn't think the concept all the way through. Is the daily paper of record soliciting ads from people selling defective equipment? So much for truth in advertising.

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