A distinguished columnist, editor and foreign correspondent, Wes Pruden has been a leading voice of conservative thought for more than three decades.
Throwing the kitchen sink
If you've got a nice kitchen sink, guard it well. A surrogate for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney (or someone pretending to be) could be lurking in the shrubbery under the kitchen window, plotting to scavenge something to throw into the campaign.
It's the season of the October surprise.
If you see a woman in red it's probably Gloria Allred, the Los Angeles lawyer for scorned women just arrived from hell with their furies and long memories. Mzz Allred promised the president she had a doozie for this October. The doozie so far looks like only bitter recriminations of a scorned floozie, but the October surprise season is still young.
Mzz Allred is peddling the story of a contentious divorce of 25 years ago, and paints Mitt Romney as the villain of the piece because he testified for the husband about the value of stock shares in the settlement, which the wife agreed to and later decided she didn't like.
This tastes like pretty thin soup, something the National Enquirer might have found in a musty bound volume in the basement of the court house. Husbands and wives have been known to shout in Divorce Court. That's about the value of a kitchen sink. You heave it over the side and hope it hits somebody. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't.
The origin of the October surprise lies in the 1968 campaign, when Lyndon Johnson announced a "peace breakthrough" in Vietnam and halted the bombing of North Vietnam to guarantee an end of the war and "co-incidentally" assure the triumph of Vice President Hubert Humphrey. The veep got a little bounce but Richard Nixon won by a margin of less than a percentage point.
Four years later, the Vietnam war was still alive and well and Mr. Nixon and George McGovern were fighting it out over who could end it. On Oct. 26, just 12 days before the November election, Henry Kissinger, the president's national-security guru, announced that "peace is at hand." Peace, such as it was, would wait for three more years, but Mr. Nixon won 49 states and defeated Mr. Magoo by 20 points. The president would have won, anyway, but "peace is at hand" might have contributed to the landslide.
In late October 1980, the Iranian government and President Jimmy Carter announced that it wouldn't release the American hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran until after the November election. This was not much of a surprise, but it fed fevered speculation in Washington that the Reagan campaign had made a secret deal with Iran to delay their release to avoid giving Mr. Carter the happy surprise. There was actually a January surprise, when the hostages were released minutes after Mr. Reagan took the oath of office. The controversy over what had happened lasted for years, but two congressional investigations concluded there was no deal, and best of all, we didn't have to give the hostages back.
The vultures were not finished. Caspar Weinberger, the defense secretary for Ronald Reagan, was accused of criminal complicity in a deal to send missiles to fight Saddam Hussein, which he opposed, and a special prosecutor with not much to show for his investigation pursued Mr. Weinberger after he left office, and indicted him on the eve of the 1992 election, hoping to prevent George H.W. Bush's re-election. Mr. Bush was defeated and gave Mr. Weinberger a full pardon the day before he left office.
Since then, the October surprises have become smaller stuff. On the eve of the 2000 election there was the news that George W. Bush had been arrested for drunk driving 24 years earlier, when he was young and callow. He won anyway. Eight years after that, The Associated Press discovered that Barack Obama's aged Aunt Zeituni Onyango was living in Boston as an illegal immigrant from Kenya. Her nephew won anyway.
This year the October surprises, such as they are, are -- so far -- even less consequential. Donald Trump promised something about Barack Obama's college transcripts if the president would release them for a $5 million contribution to his favorite charity. A man went to the Romney campaign with "proof" that Mr. Obama scored cocaine hits in college and the Romney campaign told him to get lost.
All we've seen this year are frail skeletons from closets long since abandoned, and Gloria Allred's well-done nothingburger from an ancient divorce proceeding. She should stick to chasing more promising ambulances. One of them might have a kitchen sink inside.
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.
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How Wes saw things on Jun. 19, 2012
We're not yet a nation wholly of whiners, but some of our congresspersons are working on it. Democrats who should have been taking a victory lap spent a week cowering in fear of the contents of a tea cup. No wonder real men — mostly but by no means all white — are shunning the Democrats.
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