Dave Barry

Classic '96: Of democracy, and almost being trampled to death


This Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, February 18, 1996, and refers to the 1996 presidential election.

The eight leading Republican presidential contenders squared off in a televised debate here the other night, giving New Hampshire voters, as well as millions of viewers across the nation, an opportunity to watch Friends.

I thought the debate went very well, except for the part when I almost got killed. This was entirely my fault. The debate was held at a TV station, and I stupidly chose to be standing out front when the candidates arrived. This was a major mistake, because an event like this attracts a large number of people whom I will describe as "political activists," because it would be unprofessional to use the term "wing nuts."

If these people had been any more politically active, the police would have needed tranquilizer harpoons to subdue them. There were hundreds of them, representing a wide range of candidates and causes. One person was dressed -- Why not? -- as a pig. These people were all standing jammed together in a small area, thrusting signs and mindlessly shouting slogans at each other.

Mindless repetitive shouting is of course a major tactic in American politics. You'll see two groups of people holding diametrically opposite views -- say, pro- and anti-abortion -- shouting at each other for hours at a time, as though each side  truly believes it's accomplishing something; as though, suddenly, the other is going to stop shouting and go, "Hey! You're RIGHT!"

So anyway, I was standing atwhat I thought was a safe distance from the crowd, when up pulled a vehicle, and out got Pat Buchanan, surrounded by a clot of aides and police, which started moving . . . OH NO! IT'S COMING MY WAY!

I turned to run, but it was too late. I was engulfed by a fast-moving stampede of TV crews and sign-thrusting people, some shouting, "GO PAT GO!!"; some shouting, "DOLE FOR PRESIDENT!!"; some shouting, "DON'T EAT MEAT!!"; some shouting -- I swear -- "LAMAAARRRR!!"

Struggling to remain on my feet, I tried to push my way out of the mob, but it was too dense around me, and -- CONK! -- a TV camera, behind me, was -- CONK! -- slamming down, hard, directly on my -- CONK! -- head, and just when I thought I was about to be CONKed senseless, a courageous Manchester police officer pulled me out of there.

As I emerged from the mob, I saw, standing in front of me, speaking to nobody in particular through an electronic bullhorn, a man wearing a large rubber boot on his head. I recognized him from the 1992 primary; he's a perennial presidential candidate who calls himself "Vermin Supreme."

At that moment, he seemed to be one of the saner people in New Hampshire.

A short while later, as I was massaging my head, a TV cameraman came over and said, graciously, "I didn't mean to hit you in the head." I told him it was OK. As a journalist, I recognize that the risk of permanent brain damage is a small price to pay for providing the American voter with crucial video footage of Pat Buchanan walking into a building.

As for the actual debate : It was very, very informative, with the candidates doing an excellent job of explaining exactly how they differed on the key issues. Here's a breakdown of where each candidate stands:

Against Negative Campaigning? -- *

Opponents Are All Scum? -- *

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LATE NEWS UPDATE: It has been snowing like a banshee (assuming that banshees can snow), and President Clinton has flown up here for a presidential visit with the policy objective of screwing up traffic beyond human comprehension.

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MORRY "THE GRIZ" TAYLOR CAMPAIGN UPDATE -- According to his published schedule, The Griz's recent campaign events included making his "own brand of beer" and challenging "TV personalities" to a candlepin bowling match. My advice is, jump on this bandwagon soon, before it crashes.