Joe Conason's Journal

Quite a few supporters of the candidates I urged to drop out have written in to protest. But if Iowa were America, Gephardt would have been president long ago.

Published September 24, 2003 1:07AM (EDT)

Only two more weeks of California farce
Weary of providing free entertainment to the world, Californians of all persuasions seem relieved at the 9th Circuit's decision to let the recall election go forward as scheduled. At least it will be over soon, they reason. (Perhaps even the American Civil Liberties Union lawyers who brought the challenge secretly feel that way.)

The farce will continue running for another two weeks, with one of its most potentially amusing segments scheduled to air Wednesday when Schwarzenegger deigns to "debate." Today's sideshow was pretty good: Darrell Issa, the millionaire congressman who financed the recall before dropping out as a candidate for governor, said he might well urge his fellow Republicans to vote no.

Say what? Issa wept publicly when the Terminator's friends shoved him out of the race a few weeks ago. Is this his idea of revenge? He claims to be worried that with Tom McClintock splitting the "anti-tax" vote, the victor will be Cruz Bustamante, an even worse alternative than Gray Davis. Issa was showered with mockery for his trouble.

Meanwhile, I am reliably informed that should the actor somehow win, Democratic activists are ready to kick off the Recall Schwarzenegger campaign within a weeks after Oct. 7 (as predicted in this space several weeks ago).

In defense of vanity candidates
Quite a few supporters of the candidates I urged to drop out have written in to protest that high-handed suggestion. Some are fans of moral-hygiene political posturing, some believe that the minor candidates attract alienated voters, and some think my desire to clear the field is simply premature.

Several pointed out that Dick Gephardt enjoys considerable support in Iowa and among certain unions, despite his pitiful showings in national polls, and thus can claim a national viability. (Of course, if Iowa were America, Gephardt would probably have been president long ago.) Anyway, those Iowa numbers certainly explain his doggedness.

"Gephardt needs to win Iowa and [John] Edwards needs to stay in double digits to be taken seriously in South Carolina," wrote another reader, "but they both seem viable candidates especially when one considers the Iowa caucus is still months away."

The vegan from Cleveland also had his fans: "The reason Kucinich is in the race is because he is the lone Democrat offering a truly progressive platform (and don't talk to me about that phony Clinton-clone, Howard Dean!). Kucinich is the real deal. He's no political lightweight. It's the media that, for a variety of reasons (some innocent and some not-so-innocent), have decided to paint him as an abject nobody." But doesn't his feeble campaign tend to discredit his progressive positions?

"Even the most cynical centrist Democrat should be able to see the point that candidates like Kucinich and Sharpton (I'm not so sure about Braun or Graham) can energize people who would otherwise vote for a Green Party candidate or not vote at all, and encourage them to vote for the eventual Democratic nominee in the general election ..." That doesn't seem to be the purpose of the rhetoric emanating from Kucinich and Sharpton, especially the latter.

My viewpoint wasn't entirely without support however -- and rather passionate support at that:

"This is to counter any e-mails you may get from supporters of ridiculous presidential candidates with no chance of winning. I say drop out, please!!!!! Everyone should drop out at this point except Dean, Kerry, Clark and (unfortunately) Lieberman, and all the rest should pledge to fully support whichever candidate wins the nomination!!!!! The Republicans figured out in about 1997 that the way to win in 2000 was to rally around one candidate. I really hope that more Democrats can look up from the circular firing squad for a brief moment, and work together to win this #$%^& election."

This hectic life, bound for Tinseltown
Today I heard from a very disgruntled reader who complained that I'm devoting too much space to radio and bookstore appearances. "Who cares?" groaned Bill from Sacramento, and perhaps he's right. So I'll keep this brief: Tomorrow at noon I will be in L.A., signing books at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School.
[5:30 p.m. PDT, Sept. 23, 2003]

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