Frogs in boiling water

A day on the trail with George W. Bush is all about swing states and dodging the media.

By Jake Tapper

Published November 4, 2000 12:52AM (EST)

Gov. George W. Bush is fired up, defending his plan for the partial privatization of Social Security. He's standing in the center of the St. Charles Family Arena, the $30 million stadium that is home to the St. Louis Steamers of the Major Indoor Soccer League. The Steamers' home is Bush's last scheduled campaign stop in the swing state of Missouri.

"They want the federal government to control Social Security like it's some kind of federal program," Bush says.

He goes on to say that his prescription drug plan for seniors is an "ingriddable" part of his presidential agenda.

The last several appearances as Decision 2000 winds down come in a high-pressure itinerary. Bush, his campaign staff and his traveling press corps fly into a swing state (Missouri, Illinois and Wisconsin on Thursday). We motorcade through town, arrive at an auditorium that the local GOP has tried to pack to the gills with excitable partisans holding ready-made signs. (In Duluth, Minn., one chunky, plaid-clad Minnesota man curiously held up a sign he'd surely been handed, which said "Bush is HOT!") Then Bush gives his speech, usually pretty well if you erase 30-60 seconds of his reliably embarrassing flubs. We go back to the airport and we fly to the next swing state.

If the state doesn't have a Republican governor -- as was the case Wednesday with rallies in Washington, Iowa and Minnesota -- Bush occasionally imports one from a neighboring state. Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson was in the house in Des Moines, Iowa. Michigan Gov. John Engler was at the arena in Duluth, Minn., as was a local state senator, Bob Lessard, who recently switched from Democrat to Independent.

A gun rights enthusiast, Lessard introduced Bush by saying that if you put a frog in a boiling pot of water, the frog will jump right out. If you put a frog in a cold pot, however, and then slowly turn up the heat, you will lull the frog into a false sense of comfort while you kill him. In Lessard's analogy, our current economic prosperity is the warm water, and death is the cessation of our "constitutional rights" to keep and bear arms.

"And we're the boiling frogs!" Lessard cried.

As we hop across the continent in an electoral, high-stakes game of "Risk," the next day's schedule is kept pretty secret. No need to tip off the Gore-bies! As of mid-afternoon on Thursday, we had yet to be told where we will be heading on Friday.

These are the only sure things:

  • Gore will be competing for the same states -- and as a matter of fact, we ran into Gore's running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., on the tarmac in Missouri.

  • The media will have little contact with the candidate, and get zero opportunity to ask him any questions (until the end of the day, when he makes a brief appearance to admit to a DUI arrest in 1976). Democratic veterans Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, Dan Inouye of Hawaii and Max Cleland of Georgia launched a full assault on Bush's "missing year" of National Guard service Thursday morning, and none of us are going to get to ask the candidate about it.

  • The pace will be frenetic -- with some effect on the plane, as well as the quality of the prose. As I write this, mechanics are on the tarmac with wrenches, inspecting the plane's brakes.

    Hold on. The pilot just said that we're clear to fly to Illinois.

    "As you might imagine," the pilot jokes over the P.A., "the paperwork took longer than it took to fix the problem."

    Damn gummint. Gore probably wants to run the Federal Aviation Administration like it's some kind of federal program.

  • Jake Tapper

    Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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    George W. Bush Republican Party