Why pretend? Most people, at least some of the time, view political races the way they do the rest of TV — as entertainment. Candidates have become performers, judged less for the content of their speeches than for the shows they put on. In this spirit, and to get an early handle on the 1992 presidential campaign, we rate the TV debuts — their announcement addresses — of the official candidates (seven Democrats, no Republicans) so far:
Larry Agran 46, former mayor of Irvine, Calif.
Sound Bite: ”Larry Agran isn’t exactly a household name throughout America.”
Hairstyle: Alan Alda. Hurdles: Considered this year’s ”joke” candidate.
TV Charisma: Has all the on-screen magnetism of a young Walter Mondale. Forced gestures, awkward pauses, and a really boring indoor backdrop gave his speech the unmistakable imprint of rinky-dink.
Bonus Points: Has some $7,000 in the campaign kitty. D
James Brown 53, the former Zen governor of California. He’s already made history as the first presidential candidate ever to announce via fax-thus no picture here.
Sound Bite: ”Government has become the cover story for political fund-raising.”
Hairstyle: Mister Rogers meets Vidal Sassoon.
Hurdles: Has promised not to accept contributions of more than $100.
TV Charisma: He’s studiously avoiding it.
Bonus Points: Used to date Linda Ronstadt. C
Williams Clinton 45, governor of Arkansas.
Sound Bite: ”I’m not out to soak the rich — I wouldn’t mind being rich myself.”
Hairstyle: Boris Yeltsin. Hurdles: His nomination address for Michael Dukakis at the 1988 Democratic convention went on so long people started cheering when he said, ”In conclusion ”
TV Charisma: His half-hour announcement speech was so windy it’s amazing it didn’t blow over the podium. Nice, flag-bedecked backdrop, though.
Bonus Points: Rhodes scholar. C-
Tom Arkin 51, U.S. senator from Iowa.
Sound Bite: ”We’ve got too many people making money on money.”
Hairstyle: Dan Rather.
Hurdles: Dumb enough to admit to being a liberal.
TV Charisma: Has the man-of-the-people look down pat — he announced wearing a blue workshirt and chinos. Overdoes the finger-in-the-air gesticulations, though.
Bonus Points: Brave enough to admit to being a liberal. B+
48, U.S. senator from Nebraska.
Sound Bite: ”We can and should trust again!”
Hairstyle: Andy Warhol a la Jerry Mathers.
Hurdles: Shies away from Bush bashing.
TV Charisma: Hippest of the bunch, opening his announcement address with Springsteen’s ”Born to Run.” Could use some technical help, however: He announced with his back to the sun, which makes for rotten TV lighting.
Bonus Points: Lost part of a leg fighting in Vietnam; used to date Debra Winger. B+
Paul Tsongas 50, former U.S. senator from Massachusetts.
Sound Bite: ”Enough of this Washington mediocrity!”
Hairstyle: A 10th-grade math teacher.
Hurdles: He’s Greek, a liberal, and from Massachusetts hmmm, where have we heard this before?
TV Charisma: The Stepford Candidate. Tsongas’ announcement was as riveting as a lecture on the Laffer curve.
Bonus Points: Chutzpah. D-
L. Douglas Wilder 60, governor of Virginia.
Sound Bite: ”I recognize that I am the longest of long shots.”
Hairstyle: Ted Baxter.
Hurdles: Where to begin? He’s still rumored to be seeing Pat Kluge — ex-wife of billionaire John Kluge — and he’s only recently mopped up a very public spitting match with U.S. senator Chuck Robb, his fellow Virginian and Democrat.
TV Charisma: Folksy, revival-hall style made his announcement address easy listening. Snappy dresser, too.
Bonus Points: Grandson of a slave. B-