Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Popularity Contest 2004

Things could be worse – you could be running for president.

And it doesn’t quite matter who you are – Howard Dean, John Kerry or

John Edwards – any of the Democratic presidential candidates who

seriously competed in the Iowa caucus earlier this week. Not because of

who won – Kerry – or who lost – Gephardt – and by how much – a lot

– but because of what they had to do in order to be competitive. And

it’s not just in Iowa: for those candidates who wish to stay in the race,

this exercise in democracy is just beginning, but I’m already sore.

Watching recent news of these presidential aspirants, one integral part of

the presidential primary kabuki dance started to irk me: endorsements.

Have you ever based your vote on an endorsement? Probably not, polls

show that endorsements alone don’t sway large blocs of voters. In fact,

after then-Governor George W. Bush lost the New Hampshire primary to

Senator John McCain, he axed the effusive endorsements he was picking

up at each campaign stop. He realized that people cared more about who

he was than what Dan Quayle thought of him.

It must take a very healthy ego to endorse a presidential candidate and

expect it to mean something. Look at Michael Moore’s recent

endorsement of retired General Wesley Clark. Does Moore really believe

that “As I go, so goes a sizeable chunk of the nation”? In Moore’s case,

that might be right, but paranoid, hippie street-dwellers are terribly

unpredictable on Election Day, and they usually don’t donate much.

Indeed, Clark has been racking up the wacky endorsements lately. Last

week, he proudly accepted the endorsement of one of the biggest losers

in Democratic history – former South Dakota Senator George cGovern.

Isn’t he someone the candidates should go out of their way not to get

endorsed by?

Receiving the support of a political pariah is an old fear, but one

seemingly lost on Clark. “Walter Mondale got some good news today

about a Jimmy Carter endorsement,” former President Reagan

deadpanned during his reelection campaign. “He won’t be getting it.”

Yet, Howard Dean has gone out of his way to get the Carter

endorsement, only to be met with a stinging “I’m not endorsing him” by

Carter himself. Dean traveled to Georgia last Sunday to worship with the

former president, all the while contending that Carter had invited him.

According to Carter, Dean invited himself, which made Dean look more

opportunist than statesman.

Which is not to say that the rest of the Democrats aren’t opportunists

when it comes to endorsing. Only a few days before she decided to drop

out, former Senator and Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun was actively

pummeling Dean and the rest of her Democratic competitors. When she

dropped out, she enthusiastically endorsed Dean, and promptly joined

his campaign earning $20,000 a month as a “traveling aide.” Can you

take such payoffs masquerading as endorsements seriously? They aren’t

anything more than the realization that “I know that I can’t win, and I

hope that you don’t win, but in case you do, I want to be on your

Christmas card list.” It probably wasn’t very easy for Dean to make nice

with Mosely Braun, either – but at least it looked convincing on stage.

The same cannot be said for Sen. Ted Kennedy’s endorsement of Sen.

John Kerry. Any shred of credibility was lost earlier this week in Iowa

after Kerry thanked Kennedy for his support, calling him “the conscience

of the United States Senate.” That doesn’t say much for the state of

moral rectitude in the Senate if Ted Kennedy is the standard-bearer of all

things good and just. If Kerry can’t get endorsements without effusively

stroking the egos of his endorsers, what’s the point?

And that’s my issue with endorsements: What is the point? Nearly every

Republican in the United States endorsed Bush during the 2000 GOP

Primaries, and I still voted for McCain. If anything, I thought less of the

endorsers, not more of the endorsee.

Let’s drop the focus on endorsements. At a time when America needs

serious leadership, the last thing I want to hear is Madonna extolling the

virtues of Wes Clark, or Al Gore pretending he’s a real person with

Howard Dean. If these men want to lead our country, they need to pull a

play from John McCain: focus more on who you are and less on what

others think of you.

Of course, McCain did this because, as he would admit, few prominent

politicos really liked him. But his strategy was effective: hold as many

town hall meetings as you can, hear the stories of as many people as are

willing to tell them and don’t waste time with the political flatulence of

self-interested supporters. McCain’s determination that voters know

him, and not some image constructed by prominent well-wishers, added

meaning to the primaries. And if the Democrats hope to knock off Bush

in November, they will need that kind of substance.

As you can imagine, it’s the presidential candidates themselves who

suffer most in this whole ordeal. They surround themselves with political

hacks and try to build a winning coalition of self-interested sycophants.

It’s like high school class elections run amok.

Maybe Gephardt won after all.

Adam Jones is a senior in the College and can be reached at POINT OF ORDER appears every other Friday.

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