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Jewish World Review Dec. 20, 1999 /11 Teves, 5760

Chris Matthews

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Catch 22: Leading candidates don't lead -- MY DICTIONARY defines a "Catch-22" situation as one in which "the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the solution."

Joseph Heller, who invented the phrase in his 1961 novel of that name, died last Sunday. But as we saw in the next night's debate from Des Moines, the spirit of his anti-hero, the World War II bombardier Yossarian, lives on.

Yossarian was the guy who discovered a provision in the military rule book that said you can be excused from flying death-defying missions if you are declared insane. The catch is that you have to ask not to fly. If you ask not to fly, you show "rational fear in the face of clear and present danger," evidence that you are sane.

Catch-22 also governs campaigns for president. If you have a chance of getting elected, you don't say anything interesting, much less risky, in a televised presidential debate. If you don't have a prayer, you have all kinds of interesting, risky things to say.

"Will you commit tonight to having a pro-life running mate?," Gary Bauer demanded of Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

"I think it's incredibly presumptive," Bush answered, "for someone who's yet to earn his party's nomination to be picking vice presidents."

Catch-22! Long-shot Bauer is eager to lock himself into hard opposition to abortion rights. Bush, the former president's son and the best shot to oppose Al Gore or Bill Bradley next fall, could not be less eager.

Arizona Sen. John McCain also proved the Catch-22 rule. Not actively campaigning in the Iowa caucuses set for late January, he came out against ethanol, the auto fuel produced from Iowa agriculture.

"I want to tell you the things you don't want to hear as well as the things you want to hear," he bluntly intoned.

Bush, who leads the polls in Iowa, was quick to demur.

"I support ethanol and I support ethanol strongly, John, and I'd support ethanol whether I was in Iowa or not."

And so it goes. George, John and possibly Steve Forbes, the trio of hopefuls who hit the pillow each night with visions of the Philadelphia convention and beyond, keep their impulses under strict control during the debates. Predictably, we get the most interesting debate performances from Gary Bauer, Orrin Hatch and Alan Keyes candidates with the least chance of winning, guys enjoying their moment.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


12/17/99: New Democratic leader on the horizon
12/15/99: Is Hillary clueless?
12/08/99: Taking Buchananism to the streets
12/03/99: Why are we so obsessed with 'spin'?
12/01/99: Donald Trump, 'Sinatra of Steel'
11/29/99: Why AlGore will be our next president
11/23/99: After the fall
11/17/99: Our conveniently forgetful president
11/15/99: Next president: Male, WASP, self-selected
11/10/99: Backroom Bill
11/08/99: Please don't feed the 'pander bears'
11/03/99: Battle of the Bubba clones
11/01/99: Pat Buchanan, kamikaze candidate
10/27/99: The year of the woman... voter
10/25/99: The Curse of the Bubba
10/21/99: GOP gives Clinton his finest hour
10/18/99: Clinton's last hurrah
10/13/99: Rough seas for Capt. Ventura
10/11/99: Gore targets Bradley's strength
10/06/99: Bradley's got the right Rx
10/04/99: Buchanan, Churchill and Hitler
09/30/99: Who'll spin political gold in Golden State Gore or Bradley?
09/27/99: Here's a millennial checklist for candidates
09/22/99: The biography battle
09/20/99: Buchanan's new book is a must-read
09/15/99: Don't rule out Beatty
09/13/99: The man with the sun on his face
09/08/99: W. vs. Jr. on dope and the draft
The FALN: Hillary's Willie Horton
08/26/99: Bill's guilt fuels Hill's race
08/25/99: The seemingly inexhaustible strength of America's free enterprise
08/23/99: GOP candidates are weak also-rans
08/16/99: Bubba on Bubba
08/11/99: Hillary's agonizing attempts to understand
08/09/99: With warm regards, Richard Nixon
08/04/99: Weicker: real third party is on the Left
08/02/99: Dubyah's last hangover
07/27/99: Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh; capitalism is gonna win

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