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Bowling or Doling?

Who can figure out these two geezer-baiting pols?

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The November elections are fast approaching, and, like a good citizen, I've been paying strict attention to the campaigning going on for Jesse Helms' Senate seat. Not that I've been able to help paying strict attention. They run those radio and television spots with obnoxious frequency, so often that I find myself reciting the commercials along with the geriatric actors hired to portray the helpless elderly people Dole/Bowles (depending on the commercial) is trying to screw. I admit to a preference for old people's television programs (I do like Matlock), but this is surely overkill.Even after all the attention I've given to this campaign, what I'm still trying to figure out is this: do either of these people have a platform containing an issue other than Social Security? I feel secure in my understanding of that particular issue. Bowles says that Elizabeth Dole is determined to squander Social Security money in the stock market. Dole says she absolutely does not intend to squander any Social Security money. So this is completely clear. But is there anything else at all?

I care about Social Security as much as the next person -- as long as the next person is a married 20 or 30-something currently getting bamboozled out of much of her paycheck because it takes a lot of Social Security money to support all the old people in this country. I care about Social Security to the extent that I realize it's a hopeless case for me and that my Social Security contributions would be much better off deposited in an IRA. I am fully aware that as the baby boomers age, Social Security becomes more and more impossible.

To the elderly, though, it's a matter of receiving a check, as opposed to being deprived of a portion of a paycheck, so they care considerably more than I do. And there are quite a few elderly people bopping around these parts, at least to judge by the number of irate seniors featured in both Dole's and Bowles' commercials, so both Dole and Bowles are clearly trying to go for a meaningful group of voters. Certainly, senior citizens are one group you can count on to show up at the polls on Election Day. We Gen Xers could easily decide to take an extra long nap on Election Day and completely miss the voting action. And Gen Yers could get distracted by a Britney Spears concert on MTV. But what else have the seniors got to do?

So I'm not arguing with the obvious wisdom of either Dole's or Bowles' campaign peeps. They know what they're doing and they're targeting some powerful people. I just can't help but want a shred more information. Does either of them feel strongly about anything except that seniors shouldn't be forced to eat dog food or live in hovels?

Dole is perhaps the bigger concern of the two. What does she in fact believe in? I can remember her making occasional statements over the past few years since her husband has been out of the limelight, but certainly nothing cohesive enough to be termed a platform, or even an opinion. I recall the hell she caught a few years ago for advocating the need for gun control, an anti-Republican stance if ever there was one. Does she still believe this? How are we to know?

As a person who has never held an elected political office, Ms. Dole gives us precious little to go on. And refusing to debate the competition is just another masking device. Of course, Dole and Bowles apparently have similar stances on the whole debate issue, since both of them seem willing to agree to a debate as long as the other side does not. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't expect any actual debates that may take place to be specially enlightening. I suspect they'll merely be the in-person continuation of the horrible ads both candidates have been running, all of which are intended to enrage, frighten or calm elderly voters. If any new issues do come up, I imagine health care and the need for a better prescription drug program for seniors will top the charts.

Although Jesse Helms isn't my personal aging politician of choice (as a native South Carolinian I endorse dear old Strom as the decrepit lawmaker of the century -- literally), I can easily understand the trauma of his stepping down from the Senate. It's not traumatic because he's done a wonderful job, but because he was predictable, a part of our routine.

For better or for worse, with Helms you always got just what you expected. With either Dole or Bowles, it's as though we're ordering lunch at McDonald's. We think we know what we're getting, but the minute we're out of the drive-thru we'll realize we didn't get a straw or, worse, they gave us a fish sandwich instead of the double cheeseburger. And in this case, the manager doesn't really care what we ordered.

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