• U.S.

DUTCH TREAT, NATURALLY

4 minute read
Calvin Trillin

If I were a member of the Reform Party, I’d approach the question of whether or not I’d want a billionaire as the party’s presidential candidate pretty much the way I’d approach the question of whether or not I’d want the billionaire along if a bunch of us party loyalists went out for an expensive dinner. For me, that is, the decision would have to do with who is going to pick up the check.

What I wouldn’t be able to get out of my mind is the fact that four years ago Ross Perot spent $63 million on his own presidential campaign. Dick Lamm, worthy citizen though he may be, has raised only about $100,000. Where would he get the rest of the money? I’d have a strong suspicion that he intends to get it from a bunch of us party loyalists.

The way the campaign laws of American politics are rigged these days, the most logical method of running a first-class campaign is to find a candidate who can pay for the entire thing himself without feeling a pinch. From the looks of the Democratic senatorial candidates this time around, the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee must have had roughly the same itinerary on candidate-recruiting trips as the special gifts coordinator for the Princeton alumni fund.

Yes, I realize that these richies don’t always win. Michael Huffington is always used as the example of how money alone can’t buy a Senate seat if the candidate is doing a pretty good impression of a cipher. But the nominee of the Reform Party isn’t going to win anyway. Winning isn’t the point of a third party. In others words–looking at this from the point of view of a party loyalist–nominating somebody other than Ross Perot means that we’re going to split the check for the full meal even though no entrees were brought to the table.

I also realize that a lot of people wouldn’t want Ross Perot along for the expensive dinner, even if that meant they’d have to pay for their own grub. For one thing, he would almost certainly insist on ordering for you. “No, you don’t want the striped bass,” he’d say. “The fish they serve in this place haven’t been in the water since the Great Flood. Waiter, bring him the rib roast. Well done. Just burn her up. And don’t go sprinkling on any of those Gucci spices of yours. He wants an honest piece of meat. O.K., next order.”

Oddly enough, in one of those coincidences that keep the American political scene entertaining even as it grows more vacuous, Dick Lamm’s political philosophy could be summarized as the belief that everybody should pay his fair share of the bill. That’s what this talk about establishing intergenerational equity and dealing honestly with entitlements comes down to: If you ordered the steak, you pay for the steak. Some people, after all, only had an appetizer.

So if Dick Lamm presided over the dinner, he’d pull out a pen and a tiny calculator, turn the check over and begin a tally. Don’t forget his background: he’s not just a lawyer, he’s a certified public accountant. “O.K., Ed,” he’d begin, “did you have a second scotch or just the one?”

This is, of course, a much more equitable system of paying, just as it might be more equitable if those older citizens who happen to be millionaires aren’t having their Social Security provided by young couples who can barely support themselves. In both cases, though, I’d bet that the people who seem to be getting a free ride would prefer to keep things the way they are.

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