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Boomtime for Storylets

THE 1992 presidential campaign is too close to ignore, but it's still too distant to have taken shape. So we're in a political silly season - a period during which every political rumor or straw in the wind will be scrutinized for its effect on the race.By late February or early March that period will be over: We will know which candidates are attracting serious money and have assembled effective campaign organizations, and the early caucuses and primaries will have separated a few hopefuls from the pack. Until then, though, all political speculation is equally worthy of note, because equally unsusceptible to proof or refutation. This is a time of the boomlet and the storylet. A boomlet is that brief enthusiasm - largely within the media - that builds behind a candidate, often with the life span of a June bug (recall Bruce Babbitt?). A storylet is a related phenomenon - a news item that fascinates journalists and political intriguers for a short spell before they scramble after the next one, like children in pursuit of soap bubbles. Storylets aren't just fanciful, or they would never get airborne; sometimes they even grow into Stories (Gary Hart's monkey business). More often, though, they suffer the fate of soap bubbles. The current storylet is President Bush's challenge from the right wing of the Republican Party. Conservative journalist Patrick Buchanan reportedly is set to enter the New Hampshire primary in February. And David Duke - despite having underwhelmed voters in Louisiana's gubernatorial election last Saturday - has floated the idea of running against Bush in some Southern primaries. These revolts can't be simply dismissed. Inside-the-Beltway types are weaving elaborate, albeit gossamer scenarios about the possible effects of such candidacies on Bush's reelection prospects and on steps he might take to "protect his right flank." Sure, maybe so. But, then, at this time four years ago Pat Robertson and Pete du Pont were said to be threatening Bush's grip on the Reagan right. Enjoy the boomlets and storylets. Follow them avidly, relish the inside dope and long-shot bets. It's all great fun. But every once in a while pause, and ponder John Anderson. If you can remember him.

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