Moe Biller, president of the American Postal Workers Union, a stand-up Democrat all his long life _ he'll be 79 next month _ has never seen so many "chicken-livered" candidates in his party.
He has been steaming over the "summer soldiers" in President Clinton's army, and last Thursday at a private fund-raiser for Rep. Bob Carr of Michigan, he finally got a chance to do something about it. He confronted the president and Carr, a Senate contender who wouldn't go near Clinton in Detroit just two days earlier. He unfurled a newspaper column criticizing Democrats fleeing their president.
"Did you see this?" he asked the pair. Clinton said he had and thought it was terrific. Carr said nothing, and Biller told him, "I hope you will associate yourself more closely with the president and his achievements." Carr said he would.
The postal workers have given $5,000 to Carr, including the price of the dinner ticket, which was $2,500. A total of 25 representatives of different lobbies and unions also were on hand.
Clinton, Biller marveled, was totally gracious, telling the guests, "We have just given Bob Carr another week on television." Carr, he noted, had brought his wife and two children, who seemed thrilled to be meeting the president.
Biller later told Carr he had not meant to offend him, "but what is happening is just awful _ you should be proud of him."
Carr explained that had he availed himself of Clinton's photo opportunity at the Dearborn Ford plant, he might have broken campaign laws. It wasn't a campaign event, and a Carr appearance would have made the affair an "in-kind" contribution from Ford, requiring equal time for his opponent.
"That's ridiculous," Biller told him.
Carr was not the only candidate to make himself scarce. Two congressional candidates, Lynn Rivers and Bob Mitchell, had other things to do. Carr told the press accompanying the president that he had "no particular problem" with the president's coming to the Ford plant.
In Biller's office, he and his staff recalled how little Carr stood on ceremony at their convention last August. He wangled a seat on the stage and got introduced to the audience by Vice President Al Gore as "the next senator from Michigan." One question is how Michiganders will feel about a man who snubs the president by day in public and then runs around the back door by night for a handout.
Whistle-blower Biller wishes Clinton would be "stronger" with fleeing Democrats and do what Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson would have done, which is to say, make them tremble.
"If you hadn't bled for Jack," said one Democratic old-timer after he had guffawed over the thought of the Kennedy brothers' turning the other cheek, "you were dead with Bobby."
Biller disclaims any expertise _ he reminds a caller that his first presidential choice was Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and that he told New York Sen. Daniel Moynihan 20 years ago that he was too much of an intellectual to succeed in politics. But he sees Clinton being re-elected "in spite of these jerks."
The Carr episode does something to explain the mystery of Clinton's failure to win credit for his growing list of foreign-policy feats. His successes in Ireland, Haiti, North Korea and the Middle East are overlooked by Democrats who fear to mention his name, much less crow about his accomplishments.
Bob Carr and his ilk do their "don't come, send money" routine because they know they can get away with it.
The president's proposal to highlight his successes in Kuwait by visiting the Middle East was dumped on by Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes and consultant Tony Coelho, who was brought in to run the congressional campaign.
Aspersions on Clinton's judgment and political acumen are not particularly helpful at the height of a nasty campaign before an irritable electorate, but such behavior is never punished by the president.
The passion for anonymity has passed by Clinton's helpers; their palpable concern is for their own reputations rather than his. The want of respect is seldom articulated by voters, but it is felt. Some members of the Clinton staff are pathetically grateful when the press stands up to greet the president. But others seem to forget from time to time who is president. It's no wonder the public does, too.
"It's every man for himself," mourns Moe Biller.
Universal Press Syndicate