"Look, on this whole issue of running for President, I'm not trying to be coy at all. In fact, I want to be very direct with you. Running for President is being in the Superbowl [sic] of politics."
--Richard D. Lamm and Arnold Grossman, A California Conspiracy
Whatever else it might have been--inspiring, pathetic or just plain daffy--Dick Lamm's announcement last week that he would seek the Reform Party's nomination for the highest office in the land was no surprise. As every political junkie knows, Lamm's been toying with the notion for months, playing footsie with reporters and scanning the horizon for smoke signals from shifty-eyed party boss H. Ross Perot.
The national press has described Lamm's candidacy as an effort to raise the level of debate in the coming campaign, but his hunger to be president is more deep-rooted than that; it's older, in fact, than some of his supporters. Long before he cozied up to Perot's political organization, and even before his failed 1992 comeback bid in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, Governor Gloom was dreaming of life in the Oval Office.
Lamm has been preparing for this moment practically forever. His three terms as governor, not to mention his later career as a think-tanker and author, have been merely a warmup for the present campaign. All along, he's been polishing his presidential skills: promising Colorado voters one thing and delivering another; massaging and manipulating the media like a Hollywood chiropractor; publishing hand-wringing screeds and execrably written pulp novels that push his platform and reveal his prurient fantasies of what it might be like up there at the top of the political heap.
Those who ignore Lamm's past are bound to have him repeating on them, like an old LP with a bad case of the skips. Here, then, is a lightning review of Dick Lamm's most presidential moments:
Displaying Lincolnesque fortitude and folksiness, gubernatorial candidate Lamm devotes seven weeks to walking across the state, from the edge of Wyoming to the New Mexico border. Already well-known for sponsoring the first state law in the nation legalizing abortion and for helping defeat efforts to bring the Winter Olympics to Colorado, the tousled-haired legislator proves himself a fiscal conservative by spending only $300 on his cross-state hike, cadging meals and lodging from ranchers, farmers, steelworkers and other ordinary citizens. "I'm not saying it's the only way to run for office," he tells reporters, "but it's my way."
The freshman governor has barely taken office when he comes under fire from old friends for failing to live up to his promises. Robert Redford complains that Lamm isn't doing enough for the environment. State representative Wellington Webb questions Lamm's commitment to minorities. Indeed, the highest-ranking black in Lamm's first administration is Lieutenant Governor George Brown, who slips into Quayle-like obscurity after causing a sensation by claiming that, during World War II, an Alabama farmer chained him in a barn and branded the letter "K" on his chest. Eventually, Lamm will cut off funds to Brown's office and withhold his final paycheck, claiming he hasn't shown up for work for a month.
In a fit of Nixonian pique, Lamm lashes out at an audience of newspaper editors for failing to rise when he is introduced. "I want them to stand, goddammit," he snaps.
Later, the Man Who Would Be King explains that he wants reporters to show respect for the office, not the man. He reminds the ink-stained wretches that William Jennings Bryan, three-time Democratic nominee for president, used to be applauded for hours.
In New York City for the Democratic National Convention, Lamm ducks a proposed meeting with independent presidential candidate John Anderson. The Illinois congressman wants to sound out Lamm about being his running mate, but Lamm isn't ready for such a dramatic break with his party. Instead, he backs a sure loser: incumbent Jimmy Carter.
Lamm declines to posthumously pardon Alfred Packer, Colorado's best-known cannibal, thereby avoiding the kind of "Willie Horton situation" that would later haunt Michael Dukakis and other presidential nominees. Since Packer's victims were supposedly five of the seven Democrats in Hinsdale County, reporters suspect partisanship, but Lamm denies it. "This issue has been gnawing at me for some time," he says.
Lamm and co-author Michael McCarthy publish The Angry West, the first in a series of sourball books by the governor that lament the trashing of the Rockies but are woefully short on solutions. No John F. Kennedy when it comes to cranking out executive prose, Lamm demonstrates a penchant for banal one-liners such as "So it is in the West," and "Good with bad: this is the paradox of oil."
In December the governor exhibits a Bush-like sense of noblesse oblige by swapping homes for the holidays with the family of a California architect. Dick, Dottie and the kids spend a week in the architect's exclusive Presidio home overlooking San Francisco Bay. The Californians get snowed in at the governor's mansion for the duration of the Christmas blizzard of '82 and send the Colorado State Patrol out on errands.
Likening himself to Paul Revere, Lamm fires off a series of dire warnings concerning runaway health-care costs, immigration policy and other hot-button issues. He attains national prominence at last by telling the Colorado Health Lawyers Association that "we have a duty to die" rather than to prolong life through artificial means. "Let's see how that one plays tomorrow, eh?" he jokes to a Denver Post reporter covering the speech. "AGED TOLD TO DROP DEAD," reads the headline in the New York Daily News.
Lamm spends the next few weeks defending his comments. He explains that he was paraphrasing philosopher Leon Kass, insists that he was misquoted, and denies making any specific reference to the elderly or terminally ill having a duty to die. Meanwhile, other Lamm-isms draw fire, including his statement that it doesn't make sense to spend $10,000 a year teaching mentally retarded children to "roll over." All the publicity earns him a guest shot on the Today show and an invitation to write an article for Playboy on America's future, which he does, outraging feminists.
Shrugging off the controversies he's courted, the governor shows the spunk of Teddy Roosevelt by turning on the siren in his state car and chasing down a drunk driver in downtown Denver. A strident critic of bilingual education, Lamm has trouble mustering enough Spanish to tell the offender to stay put until the police arrive.
Clearly frustrated with the scope of his office, Lamm publishes two more policy books and a political "thriller," 1988, co-authored by media consultant and jogging buddy Arnold Grossman. The novel offers unthrilling prose (opening line: "So this is what it's like, getting shot by someone who wants you dead"--better than getting shot by someone who wants you alive?), vanilla sex scenes (two political operatives make love "without caveat") and a plot strictly from hunger: Popular former Texas governor bolts his party, runs for president as an independent and pushes an anti-immigration platform that's actually a front for corrupt oilmen and Palestinian terrorists. The governor's aide muses: "Although victory still seemed unlikely, it was clear that the American electorate was as close to being ready for an alternative candidacy as it would ever be."
Lamm's final months as governor are tainted by revelations concerning his "preferred client" relationship with penny-stock kingpin Meyer Blinder. Combining the financial acumen of Hillary Rodham Clinton with the selective forgetfulness of Ronald Reagan, Lamm admits that he invested $5,000 with Blinder and made $20,000--then remembers it was actually a profit of $50,000. Like Warren G. Harding, Lamm goes to bat for his friends, however unsavory: He quietly promotes Blinder's efforts to open a casino in Nevada while publicly denouncing efforts to legalize gambling in Colorado.
Taking a cue from Woodrow Wilson, Lamm retreats to academia to prep for his run at the White House. He and Grossman publish another presidential potboiler, A California Conspiracy. The obligatory sex scenes are more lurid than those in 1988 ("Cynthia guided his organ, which seemed to be near bursting, between her buttocks, so that he could enter her from the rear"); one steamy hot-tub liaison ends in murder. Most intriguing, though, is the strangely prescient political subtext: Young, charismatic California governor Terry Jordan is considering a run at the presidency, urged on by a wacky billionaire who wants to be governor. Turns out the billionaire is mixed up with Japanese fanatics and must snuff them out one by one before gracefully diving off the Golden Gate Bridge.
Elder statesman Lamm attends the opening ceremonies for C-470, a suburban beltway symbolic of Denver's sprawling growth. Fifteen years earlier, Lamm had vowed to kill the project with a "silver stake."
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Lamm returns to the political arena, announcing his candidacy for U.S. Senate. Once considered a shoo-in for the post, he's now hampered by his association with American Water Development Inc., a company bent on sucking water out of the San Luis Valley to further more urban growth, and by his increasingly alarmist statements about immigration, welfare mothers and the disabled. Environmentalists squirm over the AWDI connection; Hispanic activists actively campaign against him. He loses the Democratic primary but vows to support the victor, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who waits until he's comfortably in office before switching his allegiance to the Republican Party.
The makeover of the candidate is complete. Lamm becomes vice-chairman of the National Alumni Forum, a group dedicated to fighting political correctness on campuses across the country. Among the NAF's "bipartisan" national council and advisors are several prominent conservatives: Lynne Cheney, Colorado senator Hank Brown, Irving Kristol, James Q. Wilson, Leon "Duty to Die" Kass... and a wild card named Dick Lamm.
Time reports that Lamm is also meeting with Gary Hart, John Anderson, Bill Bradley, Paul Tsongas and other past presidential hopefuls and also-rans--the so-called "gang of seven"--to explore the prospect of launching a third party. Lamm denies the magazine's speculation about the group fielding its own candidate, though, telling reporters he doesn't want to split the Democratic Party. "I don't want to have the defeat of Bill Clinton on my conscience," he says.
Not to worry.