The Last Butter

Politics and policy.
Aug. 14 1999 10:36 AM

The Last Butter

(Continued from Page 1)

"Lamar Alexander."

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"Are you a congressman?"

"I'm running for president."

"So you're not a congressman?"

Lamar moves on. With his remaining resources, he's running a new TV commercial that takes a witty shot at George W. Bush and Steve Forbes. It opens with a livestock auction--only this one is an auction of the presidency. Dudes puffing on big cigars signal higher and higher bids. Finally a guy with a big cowboy hat takes the prize for 30 million. Then Lamar comes on: "The presidency is too important to be bought or inherited," he says. "It has to be earned."

This is his new message: not choose me, but think twice about choosing him. Back at the fair, Lamar tells me that it would be a big mistake to nominate Bush without putting him through the hazing of a hard-fought primary. "I propose a new 12th Commandment," he says, playing off Reagan's 11th--Thou shalt not criticize a fellow Republican. "Thou shalt have a contest."

The scene around George W. Bush's campaign couldn't be any more different. When he arrives in Indianola a little before sunset, a crowd of a well over a 100 supporters and perhaps 50 journalists are already in place. Bush has a full-scale traveling campaign entourage with Texas Rangers acting the part of Secret Service. There's a sense of excitement when the governor and first lady, as the Bush aides refer to them, emerge against a Reaganesque backdrop, the porch of a picturesque farmhouse belonging to Bob and Shirley Lester. The Bushes are positioned in such a way that the fading light infuses them with a honeyed glow. Just behind them, a large American flag undulates in the breeze. It's morning in America again. Bush's chief adman, Mark McKinnon, weaves through the crowd with a handheld video camera, shooting scenes he'll use in future commercials.

Bush is in shirtsleeves despite the fact that it's rather cool outside, suggesting that he too is keenly aware of his visuals. He delivers an upbeat, Peggy Noonan-esque speech on his already familiar theme of "prosperity with a purpose." Though he's pretty smooth, a few Bushisms creep in. "I love America," he says. "Feel fortunate to be an American!"

Where Bush shines is in less formal situations after he's done with his speech--greeting well-wishers and taking questions from reporters. He has a hearty, disarming manner, and expresses his enjoyment of the moment with body language that is fluid and comfortable. Grenades don't faze him a bit. The comedian Al Franken, here on assignment for George, gives him a chance to lose his balance. "Governor, have you ever manufactured crystal meth?" he asks Bush. "In a bathtub or anything?" Bush, not thrown for a second, cracks up. "Are you looking for work?" Bush says, "I'm looking for a new spokesperson."

The style of his responses is far superior to the substance. Another reporter asks if Bush regrets giving an interview to Talk magazine (in which he repeatedly used the F-word and mocked Karla Fay Tucker, a woman who was about to be executed).

"It wasn't an interview," Bush says.

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