• U.S.


3 minute read
Jeff Greenfield

YES, THEY HAVE SURVIVED THE WINDY PLAINS OF IOWA, the frozen tundra of New Hampshire, the sparkling sands of Arizona’s diamond desert. But now they go where no Republican presidential candidates have gone before: into a contested New York State primary. And, like explorers of earlier ages treading upon virgin land, they must confront a terrifying New York political ritual: the food.

The “melting pot” may be an old-fashioned description of New York, but candidates for high office are more or less required to ingest as much of this fare as they can physically consume. Call it “Rockefeller’s Law.”

In 1958 Nelson Rockefeller ran for Governor. To prove that this scion of privilege was a regular Joe, Rockefeller proceeded to eat his way through the tribes of New York. There he was, his picture in the paper day after day with a hot dog, a knish, a slice of pizza, an egg roll. He won–and political tradition turned into a required ritual.

Now it is true that the temptation to use food as a political symbol is bred in the bone. William Henry Harrison won the presidency by calling himself “the candidate of the log cabin and hard cider.” Franklin D. Roosevelt served hot dogs to the King and Queen of England.

And it is also true that food can pose a threat in any locale. Recall President Ford’s run-in with a tamale in San Antonio, Texas, when he tried to bite into it before removing the corn-husk wrapper. But New York is where they pile Pelion on Ossa–or kreplach on calzone. Democratic operatives still speak of the near disasters that occurred when first Robert Kennedy and then George McGovern sat down at kosher delicatessens and ordered a sandwich–and a glass of milk.

Consider the backgrounds of the three G.O.P. primary contenders:

Pat Buchanan is a descendant of Scottish-Irish and German blood, and lived just about all his life in Washington, where, until 15 or 20 years ago, international cuisine meant tomato sauce on a plate of spaghetti.

Steve Forbes also points with pride to his Scottish background, a nation of proud, hearty people whose idea of a buffet is a slice of gray meat, a loaf of bread and four different kinds of potatoes.

Bob Dole hails from rural Kansas, where they put a star next to vanilla ice cream on the menu, denoting “Hot and Spicy.”

Do we dare imagine the consequences to these candidates after consuming a sausage calzone, a gyro, a samosa, a pastrami on rye with a half-sour pickle, a pint of brown ale, a dozen baby back ribs and a cannoli, all in 45 minutes? Will the Secret Service have the sense to avoid disaster by leaping in front of their candidate and wrestling the innocent-looking kielbasa to the ground?

And then there is the potential of a final insult. Just as he did in Iowa and New Hampshire, President Clinton might well swoop through the state in the final pre-primary hours, this time happily wolfing down thousands of grams of multicultural fat, as his ads proclaim: “Clinton for President–The Other Guys Just Don’t Have the Stomach for It.”

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