People are constantly reassuring me that one presidential candidate or the other is not the sort of person I might think he is. Not only that: I find myself craving this reassurance. When George W. Bush assumed a slim lead over Al Gore, for instance, I felt the need to make another call to a friend I refer to as the Republican Reassurer--someone who spent a lot of his spring reassuring people that George W. Bush is not a dimwit.
Yes, I also have a friend I call the Democratic Reassurer--the person who used to tell me how delightful Gore is in small groups. "Why don't you ever talk about Gore and small groups anymore?" I asked recently. "You always made him sound like Billy Crystal."
There was a pause. Then the Democratic Reassurer said, "Actually, I'd now say that even in small groups he's sort of irritating. But Bush is a dimwit."
I had first phoned the Republican Reassurer last winter after reading an article about Bush as a fraternity boy at Yale. "Listen, R.R.," I said. "I knew people who were Dekes at Yale--perfectly nice people who may have thought of breaking furniture on weekends as their extracurricular activity. I've got no problem with that. But president of Deke! Isn't that an indication that he took it seriously?"
"Even then he was a person who brought people together," R.R. said. "He could work with the guys who liked to throw lamps and the guys who liked to smash tables."
"And those grades!" I said. "Please name just one person who did worse academically at Yale than George W. Bush."
"Dick Cheney must have done worse," the Republican Reassurer said. "He flunked out of Yale."
"If you could come up with somebody who isn't on the same ticket, I think I'd feel better about the whole thing," I said.
"Al Gore was a wonk at Harvard," the Republican Reassurer said, and hung up.
This time I called the Republican Reassurer to ask if he had any evidence that George W. Bush's grasp of international affairs extends much past World Cup soccer.
"He'll surround himself with knowledgeable advisers," the Republican Reassurer said.
"What if they give conflicting advice?" I asked.
"That's not how it works," he said. "The advisers on executions in Texas agreed that every defendant had been proved guilty, even the one whose lawyer slept through the trial. That's how Bush can be so cheerfully confident that he offed the right guys."
"Schulz and Weinberger gave conflicting advice on Iran-contra," I said. "How's W. going to decide who's right if two advisers disagree and neither is a Deke?"
"I'll get back to you on that one."
A couple of days later, the telephone rang, but it was the Democratic Reassurer. He said he had checked with people high up in the campaign and could say with absolute certainty that Al Gore is not a body shell inhabited by a human-speaking alien.
"I didn't ask you about that," I said.
"Oh," the Democratic Reassurer said. "Well, I just thought I'd mention it. To reassure you."