Commentary

Political fatigue

by Philip Lentz

Much has been written in recent months about "Clinton fatigue" - our weariness with Bill and Hillary and all their troubles and tribulations and house hunting. More recently, there has been talk of "Rudy fatigue" - as my colleague Jonathan Capehart of the Daily News coined the phrase on a recent edition of New York 1's Inside City Hall. He detected weariness with our fine mayor, who, as the Brooklyn museum flap showed, can't seem to keep his mouth out of our faces.

But what I really think is going on is "political fatigue." We're just tired of Rudy and Hillary and Al and Bill and George being so much a part of our lives. Hey guys - 1999 is not an election year. The next real election is not until November, 2000 - 13 months away. Give it a rest. Give us a break. Can we just sorta tune you folks out for 12 months and then come in for the last episode in October, 2000? It would make our lives so much simpler - and save you a whole bunch of money. Most of us aren't paying attention anyway.

Seriously, the issue of overexposure is a real one in next year's Senate race. The fact is, either Rudy or Hillary is going to be our senator for the next six years, whether we like it or not. Maybe, perhaps, we'd be more inclined to vote for one or the other if he or she just disappeared for awhile, giving us a political vacation. We, the public, would be so indebted for the silence that we would welcome you back as our next senator.

Crazy? Maybe not. Early on in Bill Clinton's administration, he was getting knocked around pretty hard, what with gays in the military and the trouble finding a woman attorney general. Then someone had the bright idea that the president should relax and stay out of the news for a few days, maybe a few weeks. Don't be on the front page every morning or the evening news every night. He was not in a campaign anymore, so there was no need to control every news cycle. The American people aren't going to forget who their president is. The president agreed and, guess what, Clinton's poll numbers went up. Yup, sometimes absence does make the heart grow fonder, even in politics.

There's a lesson here for the current political chattering classes. Maybe we don't want to know yet where you all stand on Medicare or East Timor or nuclear proliferation. Hey, the Donald's running for president. Let him get all the ink for awhile. Maybe it will help him sell his next autobiography. If Donald and Warren Beatty and Pat Buchanan and Jesse Ventura and, my God, Cybill Shepherd want to turn politics into pure entertainment, well, maybe it's time for the pros to retreat to the sidelines for now. Give the amateurs a chance to show why they are amateurs. Oprah for veep? Why not? How 'bout Jerry Springer for Secretary of State. There's a diplomatic guy for you.

My point is, if actors and developers want to treat politics as a circus, then maybe the people who do it for a living should take a time out. Why do we need more than a year to pick a president, or even a senator? Push the New Hampshire primary back from February to, say, May. Condense the primaries into two months, then have the political conventions and a fall campaign.

In the Senate race, maybe we should forbid either Rudy or Hillary from raising money before the year of the election. That would level the playing field. I know, I know, politicians would complain that such a rule would mean they would spend all their time in an election year raising money, not campaigning. But that's what they do now anyway. This way, they could raise less money, so there would be fewer political ads and maybe more debates. Not a bad outcome. Then we could have candidates talking to each other, rather than at each other.

As for those political junkies who can't get enough of politics and want campaigns 24/7 (that's 24 hours a day, 7 days a week), I have a suggestion. Turn on "The West Wing," the new TV drama about the inner workings of the White House. It's as realistic as any real life political drama. It has a beginning, a middle and an end every night. There are even heroes to root for and villains to root against. (Hint: the veep makes Dan Quayle look like a Rhodes Scholar.) And it will feed your political fix until the real political wars begin. Tomorrow, unfortunately.

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Philip Lentz is the political reporter for Crain's New York Business.

Also by Phillip Lentz:
Gotham Gazette Commentary: Race For Gracie Mansion
Gotham Gazette Commentary: Hillary's Dilemma

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