Was it politics or was it entertainment disguised as wrestling? Was it a political meeting or was it a World Wrestling Federation "smackdown?" Those were the questions that ran through my mind last weekend as I watched Ross Perot's Reform Party self-destruct on national television in Nashville, Tenn.
Did any of you witness this lively form of political entertainment? If not, here's how the Associated Press described it: "At one point, a Perot ally who identified herself only as Melanie ... rushed to the front of the room and tried to unplug (party chairman Jack) Gargan's microphone because he wouldn't call the meeting to order. Gargan supporter Sue Harris de Bauche slapped and pushed Melanie to the floor, and police officers separated the two. An officer escorted Harris de Bauche from the room as it rang with members telling each other to 'shut up' ...."
After some semblance of order was restored, Gargan, who had been hand-picked as party chairman by Minnesota Gov. Jesse "The Body" Ventura, was ousted on a 109-31 vote. Pat Choate, who was Perot's vice presidential candidate in 1996, is the new chairman. "We don't tolerate self-promoters," sniffed Choate. Ah, democracy, American-style. Ain't it just grand?
To be brutally honest, the whole thing looked more like a Third World political scrum with participants screaming epithets at each other and struggling for control of the microphone. Where was The Body when we really needed him? Actually, he was in St. Paul, Minn., quitting the "hopelessly dysfunctional" Reform Party and insulting Perot lieutenant Russ Verney by calling him Russ "Vermin." Cute!
And that's how the Reform Party, which was supposed to provide a viable Third Party alternative to the tedious old Democrats and Republicans, self-destructed on national TV, leaving Ventura, Gargan and egocentric New York real estate developer Donald Trump out in the cold. Now the party's presidential sweepstakes comes down to a pair of oddballs: the terminally weird Perot and the ultra-conservative Pat Buchanan, both of whom are two-time losers.
Several nationally syndicated columnists lamented Trump's decision not to run for president. One of them, Gail Collins of the New York Times, wrote that "Mr. Trump slipped away so suddenly that we didn't even have time to discuss how his hair has come to resemble some sort of artificially flavored dessert topping." Of course The Donald would have given us the first supermodel First Companion, and we'll miss her too along with Education Secretary-designate Hugh Hefner.
For his part, Ellis Henican of Newsday noted that Trump's political campaign wasn't any more successful than his literary campaign since his latest book, "The America We Deserve," is the 8,420th best-selling book in the United States. Henican speculated that Trump's book agent - if not the candidate himself - had understood that "America really isn't clamoring right now for more (and cheesier) sex in the White House."
So unless the Reformers draft Ross Perot (which is still possible), they're stuck with Pat Buchanan and his so-called "pitchfork brigades," whatever that means. If elected, he promises to halt immigration and withdraw from the United Nations in a new version of the old Fortress America idea. Most political observers think he'll get 5 percent of the vote this time around, which sounds about right.
Meanwhile, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain of Arizona slugged it out last week prior to yesterday's GOP primary in South Carolina. In last Tuesday's televised debate, Bush really got mad when McCain compared him to Bill Clinton. Afterward, a Bush surrogate said McCain "is a few French fries short of a Happy Meal."
But if McCain made a strong showing in Bush Country yesterday, the GOP nomination is up for grabs even though the Republican establishment hates the senator. Just listen to Rush Limbaugh if you think I'm exaggerating. That's because McCain is the real reform candidate in this race.
On the Democratic side of things, Vice President Al Gore and former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley continue to play a tax-and-spend version of "Can You Top This?" The winner is the first one who can promise to spend a $4 trillion federal budget surplus. No program is unworthy of federal largess. Columnist Gail Collins captured the spirit of the contest when she wrote that "the new Al Gore, who by now is the old Al Gore, should soon have as much money as the new George Bush. Mr. Gore's opponent, the same old Bill Bradley, is coming closer and closer to running as the candidate who has been endorsed by Michael Jordan...." That pretty much sums it up.
If he's the Republican candidate, McCain has vowed to "beat Al Gore like a drum" over campaign fund-raising and White House honor and integrity. McCain, a genuine war hero, won't let voters forget that it was Gore who led that infamous Rose Garden pep rally, calling Bill Clinton "one of the greatest presidents in American history." And that's why I hope that John McCain is the GOP candidate in November. Run, John, run!
Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.