This Tuesday, Florida voters will go to the polls to select the Democratic candidate for governor. When the day is over, we'll finally have a winner in a competition that might just as well be called "Who Wants to Wear His Ass as a Hat?"
Sad to say, but Jeb looks all but indomitable, which may be why he puts on that squinty, ferretlike face whenever he's reminded that there will technically be another person in the race. He's expecting a rout. And if he gets it, it won't be over education, election reform, Elian or Waco. It'll be because we Democrats in general have allowed the Republicans to usurp our public image as the party that parties the hardest.
I don't think I realized the extent or the import of this sea change until a particularly wise taxicab driver explained it to me in the form of a rhetorical question: "Who would you rather spend a weekend with," he challenged, "Chelsea Clinton or the Bush twins?"
Touché. Now, America appears to have a wellspring of respect for Chelsea, who shows every sign of being intelligent, poised and principled. But respecting someone and wanting to spend your precious leisure time with her are two different things. One can easily envisage a weekend with Chelsea as a genteel game of debutante's choice, one that would involve sipping Bloody Marys and playing a lot of music recorded on David Byrne's label. And when Sunday rolled around, she would probably expect you to clean up.
On a weekend with the president's daughters, Kamikazes would be inhaled. Waiters would get slapped. Credit cards would be maxed out. And there'd be nothing to clean, because late on your last night together, one of the twins would burn down the beach house where you had all been staying, just as a thoughtful little forget-me-not. It'd be like "Body Heat," only no one would have to put up with Kathleen Turner.
We Americans say we want our public figures to set positive examples, but positive examples really only intimidate us. Deep down, we want our politicians and their families to be just like us: corrupt, wasted and ready to ruin everything we touch.
And Janet Reno, though she's no stranger to setting things on fire, just doesn't factor into this lifestyle equation. I have never met anyone whose capacity for self-punishment ran so deep that he wanted to spend a single second imagining what Reno's social life might be like, let alone harboring a desire to get in on it. A taxpayer wants more from his or her weekend than a pair of Herman Munster shoes under the bed and a feeling of profound remorse.
The sad irony of our current lot is that we Democrats all but invented the concept of the political bacchanal. We made John F. Kennedy the idol of millions -- not so much for his proclamation, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," but for its implied codicil, "and ask me later what I can do for your little sister." The era of the Dionysian Dem reached its apotheosis with Bill Clinton, who made the terms "sleaze factor" and "approval rating" essentially interchangeable. But the atta-boy vibes Clinton engendered just don't translate to anyone else in his family or his party. Had it been Hillary and not her husband who shared a lust-smeared Oval Office El Producto with Monica, we'd still be singing the First Lady's praises today. Or at least Howard Stern would.
Slowly but surely, the Republicans have been learning their lesson. Richard Nixon compensated for his law-and-order stance by cozying up to some of the biggest throwdown specialists of the 20th century. We voted for him twice, but we were only using him to get to Elvis and James Brown. And Dan Quayle's tenure as vice president was marked by rumors that he bought pot in college, a story I'm convinced his own people fostered to make him more sellable to Joe Gunrack. I still can't picture Quayle taking anything harder than Flintstones chewables.
The next generation of Bushes, meanwhile, needs no such PR tweaking. It's a by-God dynasty of dysfunction, and Jeb is in the catbird seat. He can afford to play the Eagle Scout as long as everybody else in his family remains an utter sociopath. While the governor's personal style is as safe as Ovaltine, you just know that, if you hang around with him long enough, you're going to see something really exciting -- whether it's Noelle boosting Sudafed or Columba trying to sneak past airport customs with a Cartier watch cleverly hidden in her colon. From a distance, everything is "Leave It to Beaver;" scratch the surface, and you have "Midnight Express."
It's time for us Democrats to re-seize the anarchic initiative. We need to quit blathering about corporate accountability and shrinking civil liberties and put the focus back on the important issues, like how fast we can clean out a minibar. It behooves us to follow the example of Rob Lowe, who we all thought had torpedoed his career by videotaping himself having sex with two underage women -- and during our own convention, remember? A mere 11 years later, he rode that so-called disgrace all the way to the White House.
And not just any White House.
"Martin Sheen's" White House.