I first began to suspect the election was over about three days after the Republican National Convention.
The convention, you'll remember, was widely viewed as less than an incandescent success. It had been marked by the vice-presidential nomination of Dan Quayle. We, the experts who are paid to make penetrating judgments in such matters, waited for the voter fallout.We're still waiting. George Bush, who had begun to catch up to Mike Dukakis in the polls, continued to catch up. I took that as a bad sign for the Democrats.
In the speeches of Peggy Noonan (delivered haltingly by Mr. Bush), in the statements issued by spokesperson Mark Goodin (delivered in the name of Mr. Bush), and in the very symbolism of the campaign itself, we see the mark of people who know their way around John Donne.
Symbols, after all, are nothing more than a way of convincing you of something without stating it directly. The Republicans are masters at it. For example:
If I began to suspect the game was over after the Republican convention, I became convinced after the Quayle-Bentsen debate. Quayle, you'll recall, revealed himself to be a wild-eyed ninny on that occasion, unable to utter two consecutive sentences of his own making.
The Republican machine sought to put a brave face on it, but clearly the nation was concerned over the prospect of a Quayle presidency.
Two days after the debate, the photo opportunity of the day given the nation was the candidate doing stretching exercises before his morning jog. The unstated message was: "You don't have to worry about Dan Quayle. George Bush is healthy."
It was as brilliant as it was simple. The Democrats couldn't have thought up as good a response to a similar disaster if they'd had six months.
I think that my favorite statement of the campaign (which did not brim with favorite statements) was uttered by Goodin, the Bush spokesman. When Mr. Dukakis started his vigorous counter-attacks late in the campaign, hoping to "set the record straight," Goodin simply smiled and said:
"Michael Dukakis is trying to play his record backwards in the hopes that the American people will hear a bizarre and otherwise hidden message that would contradict a long and well-documented history of liberalism and excessive emphasis on criminal rights and the nuclear freeze movement. No matter how fast he spins the disk, nobody is going to hear him."
The other great beneficiaries of this election were the press. We had it right from the beginning. Remember when we called the Democratic candidates running in the primaries "the Seven Dwarfs." Remember how we were criticized for it?
We were right. Dwarfs they were and a dwarf it was who emerged from the pack. But why did it have to be Grumpy?
The Republicans had Happy and Dopey going for them. That was the difference.