"He thinks for himself," David Keene, a senior adviser to the Dole campaign, said in explaining Bob Dole's statement that the "declaration of tolerance" should be in the abortion plank and not just in the preamble of the Republican Party platform.
But thinking for oneself, and especially thinking aloud, is increasingly regarded as a terrible predilection to be stamped out. Campaign professionals are reacting to candidates speaking their mind with the kind of indignation a director might feel if an actor diverged from the script and began ad-libbing in the middle of an expensive shoot.
Major campaigns, like major movies, have become multimillion-dollar productions. At the end of each political event, we should roll the credits. Not only the main act -- the speech -- should have credits, but there should also be credits for wardrobe, makeup, backdrop, music, extras, casting. In the case of Lamar Alexander, there were moments when the entire campaign was reduced to his red flannel shirt. For Dole, taking his necktie off and switching from white shirts to blue suddenly moved the "wardrobe" question to the center stage of the political debate.
As for backdrop, what President Clinton said on his visit to San Francisco last Sunday was less important than the fact that he delivered his message with the Golden Gate Bridge behind him.
But the Republicans are striking back with Mike Deaver, the king of backdrops, in charge of all visuals at their convention in San Diego. In our post-literary culture, the look of a convention can compensate for the weaknesses in the script -- and top-notch special effects can make up for real action.
In the end, however, everything is a backdrop to the Speech. Walter Lippmann said that "writing an authentic speech for another man ... is as impossible as writing his love letters for him or saying his prayers for him." But as far back as Warren Harding, the first president to have a speech writer, politicians have had professional help crafting their message.
There is, though, rarely one speech writer anymore for a key address. Just as a screenplay is "punched up" for sharpness and laughs, a speech passes through different hands for humor and sound bites.
If the credits had rolled, for example, at the end of Dole's welfare speech in Wisconsin, top billing would have gone to former Reagan speech writers Clark Judge and Josh Gilder of the White House Writers Group (no, not this White House).
But the humor and many of the sound bites were provided by Doug Gamble, who wrote some of Reagan's best lines and most memorable self-deprecating humor. "With so many trouble spots around the world," he wrote for Reagan, "I've told my aides that if they hear of any crises, they should wake me up immediately. Even when I'm in a Cabinet meeting."
In Wisconsin, he gave Dole his most quoted sound bite: "If Bill Clinton keeps this up, he won't have to give speeches anymore. All he'll have to do is find out my stand on an issue and say, 'Me too.'"
In the 1988 presidential campaign, Gamble crossed swords with the man who is now Clinton's chief joke writer, Mark Katz. "I remember 'feeling his pain' back then," Gamble told me, "because he was writing for Mike Dukakis, who did for humor what Susan Thomases has done for total recall. Never have so many great jokes met such an awful fate."
Of course, speech writers, like screenwriters, are always lamenting the way that candidates, like directors, are mangling their brilliant locutions. In fact, to hear the professionals in losing campaigns tell it, candidates are an embarrassment. If only they could find a way to run campaigns without them, nothing would interfere with their brilliant scripts.
It's been a long, bumpy road from the founding fathers to the "Making of the President," to the "Selling of the President," to today's politics as show business.
The conventional wisdom among campaign consultants is that Dole cannot carry this production alone. If his campaign is going to go from sleeper to blockbuster, the veteran character actor who finally won the starring role for the GOP must be disciplined and stay on message -- the message to be determined by the crew of writers, directors, production designers and special-effects coordinators without whom he is going down in flames.
Or so they threaten.
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