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For the week of Feb. 23 through Feb. 29, 2000

Will the REAL candidates please step forward

Commentary By PAT MURPHY

Suddenly, in the past week or so, reporters tracking John McCain’s presidential hopes have called asking whether the McCain who’s become the lovable maverick on the "Straight Talk Express" is the real John McCain that I and other present and former Arizonans know.

The reporter from the Boston Globe wanted to know. So, too, the reporter from the New York Times. Bright and early Monday, a young woman from a magazine, "World," called, too.

Nope, the McCain who’s regaling reporters on the "Straight Talk Express" definitely is not the McCain best known in Arizona.

But then Molly Ivins, the edgy Fort Worth newspaper columnist, says the George W. Bush on the campaign trail definitely is not the Bush that she and other Texans know.

Would it be cantankerous and cynical to question aloud whether Vice President Gore and Bill Bradley on the campaign trail are the authentic Gore and Bradley?

Is it possible, then, that our presidential candidates are pandering to what we want to hear and see, not what they really are?

Are the candidates and their clever strategists retiring to their rooms at night and clucking and chuckling about how a nifty line in a speech or a fist shaken into the camera at the appropriate moment has stirred the saps—er, the voters—into adulation?

But is it also possible that, with the Democratic and Republican campaigns getting more mean-spirited, media lap dogs are finally turning into watchdogs and putting some effort into peeling back the veneer of the candidates?

The surrealism in this year’s presidential performance has become unimaginable. Forget about "issues," which have been carefully picked and crafted after months and months of polling to determine what wins votes, not shapes the nation’s governance.


The other day, while network cameras focused on candidate Bush, the TV screen was filled with waving flags, shouting and cheering supporters in the foreground, suggesting a mob scene. The lens on C-SPAN’s camera, however, took a long, wide shot at the same moment of the same setting, and revealed a half-empty room, and the shouting "mob" was really just a cluster of supporters arranged in front of a stage.

And then on Sunday, Vice President Gore—a man who all his life has been known for his stiffness and stone face—stood in the pulpit of a largely African American church, castigating Bush and McCain for refusing to denounce the Confederate Flag atop the South Carolina state capitol.

As his arms swept through the air in appeal to the Holy Almighty, and his body undulated with each stirring phrase, Gore’s voice took on the faintly familiar dialectic intonations of the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Surely, the saps—er, the voters—watching this dramatic rendition on TV knew this wasn’t the real Al Gore, but merely an incarnation for the purpose of winning votes.

Or did they?

Pat Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.


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