Monday, October 1, 2007

Three's Definitely A Party

We hear that conservative Christians have met in Texas (where else?) to consider putting a third party candidate into play. It seems they aren't happy with GOP front-runner Rudy Giuliani (what, just because he's thrice-married, hated by his kids, and not steadfast as the rock of ages on abortion?)
The Democrats would love this to happen, of course, and so would yours truly. There's nothing like a third party candidacy to really let the wild rumpus begin. The last good one was in 1992, when Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot declared his candidacy on the "Larry King Live" show. Ross called his campaign organization United We Stand America and crusaded mainly on the issue of reducing the national debt--anybody remember him on television with his pie charts? With his jug-handle ears and squeaky drawl he was like everybody's old high school math teacher and even began to lead Bill Clinton and the first George Bush in the polls.
But then, of course, he went a little crazy, abruptly withdrawing from the campaign in the summer of '92, claiming that Republican dirty tricksters had wiretapped his office and threatened to publish nude pictures of his daughter before her wedding. This may in fact have been quite true, but sort of beside the point -- that's what dirty tricksters of all stripes do. By the time Perot jumped back into the race in September, his momentum was lost. Even so, he pulled 19 million votes, the most of any third party candidates since Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose run in 1912.
And, oh for another Bull Moose right now. In 1912, TR, challenging both his former vice-president, Republican William Howard Taft and Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson, created his own third party and ran the most wildly anarchic third-party campaign in American history. Referring to Taft, the sitting President, as "a rat in a corner" and "a fathead...with the brains of a guinea pig"--can you imagine any 2008 candidate referring (publicly, anyway) to a competitor in this fashion? More was to come. Roosevelt stumped tirelessly around the nation, sometimes wearing a sombrero and smoking a cigar. Once he horrified reporters by taking over the controls of his locomotive and driving it off the tracks. The culminating moment came on October 14, 1912. Roosevelt was about to give a speech in Milwaukee when a crazed assailant named John Shrank walked up and shot him point blank in the chest. Not only did Teddy insist on giving the speech, blood dripping from its pages (the folded-up papersr of the speech, along with a glasses case, had stopped the bullet from killing him) but he had the presence of mind...god bless blame the attack on his opponents: "It's a natural thing that weak and violent minds should be the kind of artful mendacity and abuse that have been heaped upon me for the last three months."
Roosevelt recovered, but lost the election to Wilson (Taft came in third) but it was one of the most uproarious contests in U.S. history. We can only hope for more of the same....

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