JIM DODSON: I'm Not Your Average Candidate
I took my wife out to a steakhouse the other evening and broke the news to her that I still hadn't made up my mind whether to run for the presidency.
"At this point in time, I have not fully deter-mined whether I shall officially seek or will accept the presidential nomination of any major political party that may or may not decide to have me," is how I formally put it to her, brushing up on my exploratory presidential campaign lingo, artfully hedging my bets just in case I had second thoughts about running or not running for the nation's highest office.
One sign of a serious presidential contender, after all, is that you always keep your options open and any potential constituency officially guessing.
I heard Newt Gingrich say as much the other night on "Hardball With Chris Matthews." That was shortly before he opened a large can of worms by saying all illegal Mexicans should be required to wear festive sombreros from South of the Border and be ready to recite Shakespearean sonnets in original Elizabethan English in order to qualify for temporary worker status.
"If my opinion matters," my wife casually remarked, glancing over the menu the friendly waiter brought. "I definitely think you should run for president. It would be nice to get you out of the house a little more. You could use the exercise."
For some reason, our waiter found this highly amusing.
"You're running for president?" he asked, handing me a menu and stifling either a gut laugh or a gas pain.
"That's the beauty of this great country, young man," I informed him with an undeclared presidential gravitas worthy of William Bennett himself. "Anyone can run for president. My concern at this point, however, is that every Tom, Dick and Hillary has officially declared and is miles ahead in the fundraising racket, 16 months before the general election. They say this is going to be the first billion-dollar presidential campaign."
To illustrate the point, I asked for a rough show of hands from the floor of the restaurant from anyone who was either contemplating a run for the presidency or was already declared. As usual for a Friday night, the place was packed.
Everyone but my wife and the waiter raised their hands, including an entire table of rowdy young dudes who'd just come off the golf course but neglected to remove their golf caps.
"See what I mean?" I said. "Yesterday it was Tommy Thompson. Tomorrow it will be Fred Thompson. Pretty soon you'll need a phone book just to keep up with all the presidential contenders this year. Why, this morning I heard a rumor that the entire state of South Carolina is thinking of jumping into the race."
"Wow," said our waiter. "I had no idea."
"Between you and me, though," I confided to him quietly, "I'm still weighing my options and trying to decide if it's worth putting my family through the pain of close media scrutiny. Also, my Visa card is nearly maxed out."
"Whatever he decides, my husband is certainly not your average presidential candidate," my wife loyally put in, deciding on her usual glass of house cabernet. "He has some great ideas about how to get America back on track and working again. He's a real man of the people. Anyone can look at him and see that."
The waiter looked at me. To him, I'm sure, I appeared to be just your average red-meat steakhouse customer who likes his Angus strip steak medium-to-well done and should probably lay off the chips and bean dip on weekends -- not somebody, in other words, who was going to lead the Republic out of its current political quagmire and deep constitutional crisis of leadership to a promising new day.
"Let's start with the fried green tomatoes," said the wife.
Good Spouse Is Important
I thanked her for showing such timely public support at a critical juncture like this -- about both the appetizer and my current indecision about running for president.
Let's face it, the heavy burden of deciding whether to run or not to run for the nation's highest office really isn't just something one decides over the appetizer course at a steakhouse.
If I did decide to run for president, permit me pause here and state for the record, I would be mighty proud to have her serve the nation at my side. Unlike the spouses of certain other already declared presidential candidates leading in the polls who shall go unnamed but certainly know who they are, my wife doesn't have a history of multiple spouse abuse or slanderous White House interns lurking in the shady corners of her past. She just scrapbooks on weekends.
"Oh yeah?" our waiter said skeptically. "What makes your ideas any better than every other potential or declared presidential candidate in here tonight? I mean, we're hopelessly stuck in Iraq, health-care costs are skyrocketing, the Middle Class is vanishing, New Orleans still hasn't been fixed, gas is creeping back up to three bucks, and Barry Bonds is going to overtake Hank Aaron's home-run total while juiced up on steroids. If a foreigner wins the Masters on Sunday, we'll be a struggling Third World nation faster than you can say Nancy Pelosi thinks Bashar Assad has a cute moustache!"
He was right about this, no question about it. It gave a diner pause to consider.
I ordered a Diet Coke and calmly advised him, on the other hand, that I see plenty of reason for good old fabled American optimism -- that I've had a lot of time to think about other equally important stuff that the better-known candidates may have overlooked simply because they've all been too busy chasing the big bucks, wooing Hollywood endorsements, hiring media consultants, and hogging the face time with Tim Russert.
Most of my good ideas, I confessed, come to me while I'm mowing the lawn or taking out the trash for my wife, doing ordinary household jobs that prove I am a real man of the people unlike, say, Hillary Clinton.
"Would you care to pull up a chair and join us?" my wife suddenly asked our waiter. Between you and me, she can't abide an overfriendly waiter who hovers. I think she'd hoped for a much quieter kind of dinner last Friday night.
"No thanks, lady," he told her. "I'm working."
"Really?" she came back pleasantly. "How can we tell?"
Giving her a look that rivaled Dick Cheney watching George Bush from back in the White House shrubbery, he went off to fetch our appetizer and drinks.
"If I do decide to run for president," I informed her. "You'd probably make an excellent secretary of defense."
"Make it CIA and throw in my own parking space," she said, "and you've got a deal."
So-Called Great Ideas
Our waiter took his own sweet time coming back. I can't say I blame him.
Given all the officially declared or potential presidential candidates crowded into the restaurant that night, pressing the flesh and fattening their campaign war chests, including the golf dudes who forgot to take off their caps, it felt like I might have to make up my mind about running for the Oval Office pretty quick, possibly before the dessert course arrived.
"So let's hear some of these so-called great ideas of yours," the waiter demanded after jotting down our entre orders.
My wife was having her usual petite fillet. My first thought was the medium-sized ribeye. But knowing how every public nuance gets widely interpreted during a long, tough political season, I chose the classic hamburger and pickle simply to confirm what a true man of the people I am.
"Well, to begin with," I said, "I would ask the national media to place strict voluntary restraints on certain highly inflammatory entertainment and news content. I mean, honestly, enough's enough."
"What does that mean?" he wondered, ignoring rowdy calls from the Golf Cap candidates for another round of drinks. I think, like the Clinton and Obama crowds, the Golf Caps had just topped the $25 million mark in campaign contributions.
"Please, no more Anna Nicole Smith stories," I said, "and while you're at it, knock off all those depressing ads for ghastly teen horror flicks and those creepy male enhancement commercials at suppertime. Children are watching. So are people like me. The nation has reached the breaking point."
"So you're advocating media censorship!" he said. "That's the first step toward creeping corporate fascism!"
"I am most certainly not," I calmly countered, suddenly unable to eat my hamburger in peace. "I'm simply advocating a return to good taste and constructive thoughts about how we approach the future. We're still a can-do nation," I gave him a bit more of my backyard thinking. "So I plan to promote the idea of being better neighbors, helping those down on their luck, ending greenhouse gases and performing random acts of kindness whenever possible. We're all in this thing together, you know."
Burden Finally Lifted
As potential campaign ideas go, mine didn't particularly seem to grab him.
"You sound like that broken-down basketball player Bill Bradley," he said, shaking his head. "The only difference is, he's better looking and has a lot more money than you. So what'll it be for dessert, Mac?"
I thought for a moment and decided our waiter was probably right. It was time to finally let my dream of being president go, like a great burden being lifted from my shoulders. Besides, we still had a couple of thousand decent candidates to choose from. I'd go with the broken-down basketball player -- even if he hasn't made up his mind to declare yet.
"I'll take a double hot fudge sundae with extra whipped cream," I said, making a firm post-presidential campaign decision. "And make that with two cherries on top!"
My wife smiled and patted my hand.
"I still love you even if the parking space is out," she said. "But next time, could we please go someplace a little public?"
Jim Dodson, The Pilot's writer in residence, can be reached at jasdodson@ earthink.net.
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