HILL OF BEANS: Bill Boards

When Slate revealed last week that Bill Bradley had scored only 485 on his verbal SATs, it provided us with one of the most delightful moments of the campaign -- albeit one of the least surprising. If Bradley is the intellectuals' candidate, it's only because (1) it doesn't take much to satisfy intellectuals: a diffident shrug here and a muttered invocation of seriousness there, and nobody will ever think to ask himself what Bill Bradley has ever said that's clever, let alone brilliant; and (2) consider the competition: if Al Gore's SAT scores were ever released, they'd most likely show him to be ineligible for intercollegiate athletics.Getting some quantitative measure of Bradley's mental capacity at least explains why the Democratic debates have come out as they have. Bradley says: "Why should we believe you will tell the truth as president if you'll not tell the truth as a candidate?" (Liar! Liar!) Gore says: "That's not a negative attack?" (I'm rubber and you're glue! Everything you say bounces off of me and sticks to you!)What has gone unexplained is how John McCain keeps getting credited with winning hearts and minds as he lurches from one humiliation to another. On his campaign bus, McCain was asked what would become of his pro-life sentiments if his 15-year-old daughter found herself pregnant. Now, this is one of the oldest journalistic tricks in the book, the campaign-trail equivalent of those three-move checkmates that work only against third-graders who learned to play chess this morning. And McCain fell right into the trap, saying "the final decision" would be hers. In other words, he doesn't think of abortion as murder. In other words, in his heart of hearts he's pro-choice -- which is exactly what the journalist meant to establish in asking the question. When Alan Keyes scoffed: "Mr. McCain does not understand the moral issue that is involved with abortion," he was absolutely right, of course. A hardline pro-lifer would answer the question exactly the same way he'd answer a question about whether his daughter should take out a contract on her archrival for the cheerleading squad. He wouldn't say: We'd sit around the kitchen table and discuss it, but it would be her decision.Then McCain told the Manchester Union-Leader that he was running for president because he wants to "restore respect" to the office. Am I deaf to a nuance here, or is McCain telling us, "The reason I'd make an excellent president is because I'd make an excellent president"? That's almost identical to what Orrin Hatch said when he got into the presidential race. When Hatch got out last week, having got one percent of the Iowa vote -- including two non-Mormons! -- he was equally inspiring. "It's now clear," Hatch confessed, "that there will not be time to build sufficient support for my candidacy."

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