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Casting for an Aristocrat Democrat : Only a Blueblood Can Cure the Party’s Chronic Anemia

<i> Carolyn See's next novel will be "Making History." </i>

I suppose I’m not the only Democrat feeling sad because there’s not a Democratic President-elect.

But I admit, I don’t feel quite as sad as I ought to: Michael Dukakis seemed a poor sort of person to vote for. George Bush appears at least to know what he’s doing, and if I were asked right now to take a test on the names and characteristics of those Democratic “Seven Dwarfs” we all had around last year, I know I’d flunk.

It’s so strange! Dukakis supposedly lost on issues of the homeless, education, giving the poor a helping hand-- compassion . Bush supposedly won on the Pledge of Allegiance. But what if something else was happening all along? What if Dukakis and all those other timorous, wind-up candidates lost because they were losers, and Bush won because he was--stand back for this one!--a winner, a member of the American ruling class? What if we don’t live in a classless society at all? (And who, by now, could ever suggest we do?) What if we yearn for aristocracy, not everywhere, but where it more or less belongs, up there at the very top? The two great Democratic Presidents of this century, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, looked after the rights of the poor but, God knows, they were both as rich as a mince pie at Christmas.

I suggest that in the next decade the Democratic leadership do a little stylistic rewriting on their campaign rhetoric. And when they next look for their presidential candidate, they might run an ad in the great cosmic newspaper that reads like this: “Wanted: A Traitor to His Class.” The Democratic Party needs a rich man to lead the middle class and the poor. This paragon should be handsome and brilliant as well; in all, he should possess six qualifications.

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--He should be for the underclass, but not of it. He should have, or come from, unapologetic wealth. Not like poor Hubert Humphrey who drove the campaign trail in clunky cars and couldn’t afford air time, and whose dark-brown hair dye smudged the back of his poor, pure neck. No, our man should have all the money in the world, and the splendid ease that comes from that.

--He should have the best education in the world. First, so that he’d be smarter than the rest of us. Second, so that he wouldn’t look like a bumpkin and embarrass us in public. Think of Bruce Babbitt at a state dinner. Or try to. I can’t. Remember President Jimmy Carter visiting Mexico and complaining of “Montezuma’s revenge.”

--Our man should have an insanely competitive spirit, which he would have picked up from his excellent family and from those good schools of his--Andover, Yale, whatever. He should be used to beating the kapok out of his rivals in tough team sports, then taking a shower and offering them all a dry martini, nicely. We remember Kennedy not just for the way he took on segregationists, but for the outraged arrogance with which he confronted the Soviets during the Cuban missile crisis. (Let me suggest that Americans voted for Bush this year not despite his vicious campaign, but because of it. It was intolerable for him--it turned out--to be defeated.)

--From his upbringing and his education, this Democratic candidate would understand that the United States runs on business and business alone. Rather than preach to us about “helping” the homeless, he might get us to see the homeless as an untapped source in the American economy. He’d be far too cool to condescend to the poor and lonely. No, as Roosevelt did, he’d salute their courage in adversity and offer them ways to help themselves. You have to live in a home, however tiny, to own a microwave oven, a blender, sheets made in America. He’d remind them of all that, and remind Business-America to look to its advertising.

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--Our man should be aristocratically handsome and overridingly cool. A depressing American fact is this: Every American guy looks great when he’s 20. But then our class society takes over. Our poor, drinking beer and eating Hamburger Helper, run to fat. Our middle class doesn’t get enough time to work out. Only the rich can afford rowing machines and regular massages and chin lifts and the very best medical attention. Perhaps only the rich think they deserve all that.

Our President should look great. F.D.R. did, even in a wheelchair; he was vain and darling. J.F.K. looked fabulous and used all that shamelessly. (Remember, American myths come from high school. It’s hard for us to vote for a guy who looks just a little nerdy, like Sen. Paul Simon, or who is short like Gov. Dukakis, or who has little-bitty eyes like what’s-his-name, one of the other Dwarfs.) Also, the candidate’s conversation should come from his own well-educated and witty lips, not from a lot of desperate, third-rate handlers.

--It goes without saying that our man should have a beautiful wife who loves him, kids who look good on a dais, an extended family who can offer us variant pictures of our own ideal selves. (Carter’s brother Billy was an example of what can happen when a President doesn’t come from the ruling class.) This Democratic candidate would have no shady business dealings--he’d be too rich to care for money. He wouldn’t have vices--his life would be pleasant enough the way it is. And of course he should be a good man; it couldn’t hurt.

That’s it. That’s what the next Democratic President should be, do, have. But why would a man of such privilege, intelligence, strength and largess want to take on such a job? Not for those dusty Democratic imperatives of compassion and “doing-good,” but for reasons of pure privilege: (1) to become the President of the biggest student body in the world; to change that world, to rule it, and (2) to look at the job the way Roosevelt did, the way Kennedy did--to take it on and play it through like a wonderfully rough polo match, never retreating or whining that things aren’t “fair” but swinging up and down the political and historical field, whacking and galloping and telling glorious jokes, because, from the privileged point of view, being President must be so much fun.

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