Hillary and the Bulls

Posted: Jul 09, 2003 12:00 AM

In Pamplona, Spain, this week, brave men are being gored and trampled in the traditional running of the bulls. The 400-year-old ritual goes on for a week. Each day, ill-tempered bulls are let loose in the street, where they take three to four minutes to run the half mile to the bull ring and eventually face battle with a professional bullfighter. The sport usually involves drunken men of all ages throwing themselves in the imminent path of the bulls, and then trying to avoid death or a certain act that is no longer illegal in Texas.

According to the ancient rules of the run, despite the danger (which is even greater than inhaling secondhand smoke), any person over 18 may take part. Participants are allowed only a rolled-up newspaper to fend off the bulls. This is curious. Even if a newspaper is as slanted as the New York Times, it is hard to see it having much effect on a Spanish bull. Even if one concedes the power of the press and that the pen is mightier than the sword -- this would be taking literalism too far. The runners would seem to be on the horns of a dilemma.

Meanwhile, here in the States, another ritual is being played out: The traditional running of the dwarfs through the quaint newsrooms and meeting halls of Iowa and New Hampshire. In this tradition, the running dwarfs -- who are usually drunk only on their delusions of grandeur -- dash about desperately for a full year before one of them reaches the national bullring, where he will meet the professional bullfighter, George W. And, in our tradition, the Des Moines Register and Manchester Union Leader, whether rolled up or not, can take a terrible toll on the cattle.

With the former vice president out of the race, at least none of the participants are going to be gored. But there is still the danger that late in the year the wandering dwarfs may yet be trampled by the late entry of Hillary "Cattle Futures" Clinton. From the seat of her pants to the crowning hair on her head, she is no dwarf. In every poll of every sample of Democrats in every state that has polled, she would win every election against every other Democratic candidate. In short, the Democratic nomination is hers for the asking. But, like all monarchs, Queen Hillary will not condescend to ask. The great prize must be offered to her by a band of supplicating Democratic grandees -- top hats in hand.

Currently she is on her European tour, offering the hem of her garment to the elites of that benighted continent. Once the Europeans start cooing on her behalf, can Newsweek and Time magazine cover stories be far behind? She will permit herself to be compared very favorably to President Bush. It's a clever strategy. The smaller the dwarfs shrink, the larger she puffs herself up. And the dwarfs are shrinking. After months of campaigning by the miniature candidates, the leading pundits are increasingly pointing out that there is no front-runner -- just a first tier on their trail of tears. Usually a leader emerges from the pack, followed by a late and usually hopeless effort by an insurgent candidate. But this time, the insurgent candidate -- Dr. Dean -- has emerged, out-raised and matched in polling the rest of the pack before a front-runner emerged from it.

This has occurred for two reasons: First, none of the KerryGephardtEdwardsLieberman candidates can get their heads out of Washington. They are playing to the wrong audience. They seek the approval of their peers, rather than the electorate. Only Dr. Dean shows the true contempt for Washington that is so appealing on the campaign trail. (The remaining nano-dwarfs -- GrahamSharptonBraunKucinich -- are mere freak show attractions.) Second, they have gone on "Meet the Press," where Tim Russert has done to most of them what the Spanish bulls try to do to the drunken men of Pamplona. Meanwhile, Sen. Kerry has spent several months now losing a urinating contest with what was one of the smaller dwarfs, the ever-present Dr. Dean. Thus, they have lost even the esteem of their Washington peers.

Whether any of the dwarfs may grow into an electable size remains to be seen. But in any version of this dwarf story, Queen Hillary may get the nomination, but she will never be Snow White -- no matter what her mirror, mirror on the wall may say.