Turned Off by the Election? Back in 1996...


For those of you dispirited by the upcoming election, cheer up: I was so depressed back in 1996 that I read the following commentary on my local NPR affiliate.

I have warped sense of humor, a confession that will startle none who know me. A few months ago, I changed my telephone answering machine. In addition to the usual “leave a message” drivel I added, “If the election were held tomorrow and the choices were Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, Ross Perot, or a large furry hamster named Louie, for whom would you vote for and why?”  To enhance the effect, I even attempted impersonations of the first three. Several callers have told me that David Frye’s place in the history of political mimicry is secure, and my wife suggested I stick to my strength: Elmer Fudd sings the greatest hits of the Doors.

I’d like to say I had some grand purpose in mind in concocting my phone message, but the truth is that it was simply one of those days when I was feeling more surreal than real. Little did I know how deeply my silliness would capture the zeitgeist of the 1996 electorate.
I’ve fielded scores of recorded thoughts since my initial foray into foolishness, but a clear pattern has emerged: voters are overwhelmingly in favor of Louie. Many simply laugh and hang up, but of those bold enough to venture an opinion, no one has professed a preference for Dole or Perot. The closet either came was a woman who thought that Perot was also a hamster, and worried that Louie’s entry into the presidential rat race might split the vermin vote. As for the incumbent, only two callers confessed that despite Louie’s considerable charms they’re still Friends of Bill and will vote for Mr. Clinton in the fall. Surprisingly, quite a few have offered campaign contributions to help Louie break out of the pack.
I’ve not tested Louie’s strength against Richard Lamm*, but I suspect my furry friend would easily shear his ovine challenger. My favorite comment came from a caller who said he would definitely vote for Louie because, “He’s the only candidate who knows he’s a rodent.”
To venture a serious thought at this juncture is to skate on sand, but I won’t let that stop me. Sure the Louie the Hamster for President campaign is frivolous, but that’s exactly why so many people are leaving their equally frivolous thoughts on my answering machine. They, like legions of others across the country, are as excited about the 1996 presidential campaign as they are at the prospect of adding paint drying as an Olympic sport. Dole?  Perot?  Clinton?  Is this the best we have to offer? More than one person has told me that were it not for the Kerry vs. Weld Senate race, they’d sit this one out. [Yuppie Billy faces an uphill battle in Western Massachusetts despite his attempt to bribe us with free Turnpike tolls.]** 
To switch from huckster to historian, I haven’t seen so little interest in a presidential race since the post-Watergate Ford/Carter election. That one gave us voters so turned off that they evolved thrilling slogans like “Stay Bored With Ford,” and “Don’t Vote, It Only Encourages Them.” The 1992 election reversed a steady trend of declining voter turnout, but unless I miss my bet, 1996 will return us to that disturbing scenario.
As many Americans see it, our choice is between a geezer, a lunatic, and a sleaze. I can envision bumper stickers like “Dole: Old, Mean, and Clueless;” “Perot: I’ll Save You From Deficit-Spending Aliens;” and “Clinton: They Can’t Prove Nuthin’.” (Or perhaps, “Clinton: Who’s Gennifer?”)
Oops, I’m being cynical again. Well, that puts me in the mainstream for 1996. Guess I’ll give up trying to make any intelligent points whatsoever and leave you with a plea: Give generously to the Louie the Hamster for President campaign. With your help Louie can squeak out a victory in the fall. Contributors of $50 or more will receive a complimentary copy of “A Wider in the Stowm: Elmer Fudd Sings the Gweatest Hits of the Doors.”

* Richard Lamm is a semi-forgotten figure. He was a former US Representative from Colorado (D) who, while serving as Colorado's governor, briefly contemplated challenging Clinton as a member of the Reform Party. He claimed that both the Democrats and Republicans were brain dead (!) and that a new party was needed. Less than 48 hours later, the Reform Party announced it was running Perot, not Lamm, as its official candidate. Should I say "Bah!" to the party's decision to choose the floppy eared Perot over the fuzzy Lamm? That would be wrong of me.

**John Kerry defeated Bill Weld by 8% in 1996, despite the fact that Governor Weld eliminated turnpike tolls in the western part of the state. And, despite that little handout, Weld got clobbered in Western Mass. You may have heard that Clinton got reelected, once Louie decided to hibernate instead of run. That explains why I was right about lower voter turnout.

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