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A Political Dead Duck

With the dawning of the New Year, I've come to accept a reality: I will never be elected President of the United States. It's not just because of my lack of qualifications and my disinterest in public life. It's the hunting thing.

In the recent campaign, it became obvious that Americans still like to see photos of their candidates hunting. For some bizarre reason, some voters feel that getting dressed up like a tree and killing animals is an obvious demonstration of leadership qualities necessary to run the United States.

As more and more women are national political figures, will they participate in these photo opportunities, too? Might we soon see photos of Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Dole driving their SUVs down a country road with a dead moose tied to the luggage rack?

Hunters call what they do a "sport." In most sports, there is an attempt at having an equal opponent. A heavyweight boxer doesn't fight a lightweight. The New York Yankees don't play a high school team. And a world-class sprinter doesn't race against me. Long ago, hunting fell into this category, too. Speedy hunters chased fierce animals and then bravely risked their lives as they subdued their prey so their families could have something to eat. Sometimes they won the battle and sometimes they tragically lost.

To suggest that today's hunter is heroically up against an equal opponent seems pretty far-fetched. He might not succeed every time, but what are the odds that the brave hunter might actually get shot by a duck?

If you put on your best running shoes, chase after a bear, catch it, and wrestle it into submission, I'll be impressed. If you jump off a cliff, and grab a flying goose in mid-air, that's something to brag about. If you dive into the ocean, catch a marlin with your bare hands, bring it back to shore and then cook it for dinner, I guess I'd have to call you a sportsman or sportswoman. But if you've got the latest scientific equipment, spend most of the time hiding from your prey, and then kill it just for fun? Why should that make me want to vote for you?

Hunters will tell you that part of the joy of what they do is being outdoors, enjoying nature. But can't they enjoy nature without shooting at it?

So why is hunting so symbolically important to American voters? Why would anyone think that a hunter would necessarily make a better leader than someone who doesn't hunt? Perhaps hunting represents an earlier, idyllic America in which men really did need to hunt for their dinners. Hunters might say that hunting demonstrates certain qualities that are important to leadership. It requires patience, concentration, and focus. I can't argue with that. But there are lots of other things that require patience, concentration, and focus. Like flossing. Is hunting any more admirable a quality for a candidate than proper dental hygiene? Why should an endorsement from the National Rifle Association mean more than one from the American Dental Association?

Is the only remaining conclusion that a large segment of our population feels reassured, knowing that a candidate has the ability to kill something? I hope not. I hope it's just a tradition that candidates have gotten so used to that they don't question. Like kissing babies. Like thousand-dollar-a-plate dinners. Like giving the "thumbs up" when they don't know what to say.

Regardless of the reason, it seems like it's a tradition that's going to be around for a while. So it's clear I'll never be president. However, I still feel there's a chance I might someday be named to the Supreme Court. After all, it would not be a great compromise of my principles to be photographed, brandishing a macho fly swatter.

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver