Playing the political name game
By MIKE MARCHAND
Despite the current crop of 2000 presidential candidates doing the shaking-hands-and-kissing-babies act in New Hampshire, where the primary election is four months away, the biggest political news of the fortnight was not a policy debate nor a stance on issues.
George W. Bush didn't know who Atal Bihari Vajpayee is.
WHAT? You mean YOU don't know either? Why, he's the recently reelected prime minister of India. EVERYONE knows that. When taken to task by Andy Hiller of WHDH in Boston two weeks ago, Bush also failed to recall the names of the leader of Chechnya (Aslan Maskhadov) or the general who seized control of Pakistan last month (Pervez Musharraf), and the best he could do when asked to name the president of Taiwan (Lee Teng-hui) was, "Lee."
Many Democrats are hoping and Republicans are fearing that Bush's bombing of the impromptu foreign leader quiz will start to make him morph into Dan Quayle misspelling "potato." Quayle's chances of regaining any nationwide political relevance after that monumental brain fart are about as slim as his odds of being able to correctly spell "Atal Bihari Vajpayee." Democrats are thrilled and Republicans scared of the prospect that George W. Bush, the frontrunner in both the Republican and overall races, might suffer the same fate.
OK, first, how many of you would have known those guys' names? Be honest. Truthfully, I remembered Lee's whole name, which means I outdid Bush by one Teng-hui. I most likely would have thought Maskhadov plays for the Detroit Red Wings, and that Vajpayee or Musharraf were mathematicians who just discovered the trillionth digit of pi. Second, how many of you have, at any time, confused George W. Bush with his father, ex-President George Bush? I remember a poll done of perspective voters not too long ago, when asked why someone would want to vote for George W. Bush, one of the more popular answers polled was, "His leadership in the Gulf War." It speaks volumes of either voters' intelligence or the fact that George W. should start tacking on a "Jr." to his last name.
Junior's flunking the quiz is especially surprising considering his dad's encyclopedic knowledge of foreign leaders. Then again, the only time Senior Bush flexed his foreign policy muscles was against Saddam Hussein. A real tough job that was, what with Iraqi soldiers surrendering to news crews.
Then the economy bit the dust, voters said goodbye, and now he has a memoir out.
Ronald Reagan would sometimes forget the names of his own Cabinet members. But every voter and every world leader knew exactly where he stood on foreign policy issues. One minute after he was inaugurated, Iran released the American hostages they were holding because they knew Reagan's stance.
Additionally, his leadership is why America won the Cold War. The fact that he might not have known the name of Russia's minister of defense was inconsequential.
And then there's Bill Clinton. As a candidate, Clinton promised all over himself about how great his foreign policy would be. Way to wrap up that whole Bosnia/Serbia/Kosovo thing, Mr. President. Glad you got it fixed. We should have fixed East Timor the same way. (And if Andy Hiller asked him to recall the names of women he's dropped the First Boxers in front of, his answers would be more inept than George W. Bush's. But I digress.)
Does George W. Bush not remembering who Atal Bihari Vajpayee is disqualify him to be the president? Using the previous presidents as examples, obviously not. Bush, Sr. would have passed easily; he's only the fifth one-term president. Reagan would have flunked embarrassingly, but he passed the real test with flying colors. Clinton would have bragged about how well he would have passed; judging by the fact that he needed cruise missiles to achieve at best a temporary peace in the former Yugoslavia, he has failed. However, Bush, Jr. has yet to outline a clear, unabashed, Reagan-esque foreign policy. Until or unless he does, the only things that people will think of when they think of his foreign policy are his almost comically inept responses like, "Wait, wait, is this 50 questions?"
Do the names of these people even matter that much? Apparently not, considering Nakasha Ahmad mentioned Pervez Musharraf's coup in her Viewpoint piece on Thursday only by saying, "A general is now in charge of the country." Both of her parents are Pakistani, so she almost certainly knows his name; however, she didn't even feel it was important enough to mention it.
So, does this mean that George W. Bush will bumble his way into Quayle-ian political obscurity? It's unlikely. After all, everyone knows how to spell "potato." Only one in a thousand people would know who Atal Bihari Vajpayee is. And you can bet your Teng-hui on that.
Mike Marchand is an off-campus junior English major who knows how to spell "potatoe" but is so burned out by his last week of classes that he's not sure who wrote this column. Whoever's it is, it appears every other Monday. Mike's e-mail address is Marchand.firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Monday, November 15, 1999