This summer, while drinking a frozen drink on the island of Lanai, in Hawaii, I came up with a plan for saving the democratic process, if anybody still wants to.
The democratic process was on my mind because I attended both the Republican and Democratic conventions (motto of both parties: ''Building A Better America By Mindlessly Waving Signs''). I also watched on TV as the Ross Perot Party, founded and paid for by Ross Perot, made the surprising decision to nominate Ross Perot.
This means I spent 10 solid days watching men in suits explain why they want us to elect them president. Of course the obvious reason why they want us to elect them president is that they just really, desperately, want to be president. But they never say this. They never say: ''Please vote for me because I have an obsessive all-consuming need, bordering on mental illness, to live in the White House and fly around in Air Force One and have a vast entourage of lackeys.''
Instead, they say they want to provide Leadership. The way they do this is by taking weekly polls to find out what kind of Leader we voters think we want that week, then claiming that they have been that person all their lives.
So these men have learned to be extremely flexible about what kind of Leadership they provide. Gumby is rigid, compared to these men. This is why Bob Dole staged a convention that featured a prime-time speech by every leading moderate and minority-group Republican (for a total of four speeches) while Pat Buchanan lay bound and gagged in the basement. This is why Bill Clinton, who last time around was Mr. Government Activist Hollywood-Star-Schmoozer Rock-'n'-Roll Saxophone Hipster, is suddenly Dwight Eisenhower (if the polls call for it, Bill will be bald by election day). This is also why Ross Perot has, through a tremendous exercise of willpower, refrained from publicly expressing his deep-seated belief that CIA-controlled hamsters are putting radioactive M&Ms up his nose when he sleeps.
These men will do anything to make us like them. If we tell the pollsters that we believe our president should resemble a given Warner Bros. cartoon character, then we will see Clinton, Dole and Perot presenting their visions for America through the mouth holes of Tweetie Bird costumes.
And of course we will be repulsed. That's the problem with our current democratic process: The more these desperate, needy men contort themselves to look like Leaders, the less presidential they look, and the fewer of us bother to vote for any of them.
Is there a solution? Is there some way to make them for God's sake STOP trying to Lead, and start just acting like humans? Yes. It hit me during my second frozen drink: We need to pass a law requiring that all candidates for president must spend the entire campaign in Hawaii.
You cannot take anything, including yourself, too seriously for very long in Hawaii. Consider the Big Island of Hawaii, which is basically an active volcano. Even as you read these words, there is actual lava flowing down the mountain there; it occasionally covers highways and towns. If such a thing were to happen in, for example, New Jersey, it would be HUGE news. It would be on CNN day and night, and 58 committees of Congress would be holding hearings. All the presidential contenders would be demonstrating Leadership by helicoptering over the area and frowning down at the volcano through their Tweetie holes.
But the Hawaiians honestly do not seem to view it as a big deal. They avoid the lava, of course, but for them it seems to represent about the same level of hazard as an Amway representative. They don't seem to spend much time fretting about it. Because conditions in Hawaii are just too relaxing: The islands are lovely; the weather is superb; the music is gentle. Even the language is soothing: All the words sound like ''aaaaahhhh.''
So I think the presidential candidates should have to spend the campaign in Hawaii, alone, without their pollsters and their wing-tipped entourages. Maybe they should be confined to the island of Lanai, which has about 2,500 residents, some sheep, some turtles, 700 gazillion fish and a couple of resorts serving excellent frozen drinks. You could not conduct a traditional campaign on Lanai; you could reach some voters only by snorkeling up to them and indicating your policies via underwater hand gestures.
Under those conditions, maybe even the candidates -- even those frantic, twitching, driven men -- would eventually mellow out. Maybe one day, lying on the beach, they'd announce: ''Hey! I can't remember my economic program!'' Maybe they'd realize that the country could get along without their Leadership. Maybe Ross would get swallowed by a tuna.
Maybe I'm dreaming. But those drinks sure were good.