Night of the Living Career Dead


Just a couple of years into them and the '00s are already shaping up as a massive rerun of a decade, with dangerous levels of "been there, done that" hanging in the air like so much Russian mystery gas: another Bush in the White House, cataclysmic threats tied to the Middle East, the familiar pit-of-the-stomach dread of more Star Wars movies, and on and on.

Nowhere is the trend more evident—or odious—than in current senatorial politics. How else to explain the resurgence of not only upper-chamber nonentity Frank Lautenberg, who stands poised to misrepresent the fair residents of the Garden State once again, but Walter Mondale, the Alf Landon epigone whose last run for office fizzled so spectacularly that the former vice president and ambassador to Japan's place in history had been downgraded to being the father of a possible Bill Clinton consort?

Lautenberg's return wouldn't be so bad if he were half as colorful as the openly corrupt figures who bookended his Senate days (Sens. Harrison Williams, of Abscam fame, and Robert Torricelli, supergroupie). But this Nosferatu pol's lasting contributions to American politics were by-the-numbers smear campaigns and a ban on smoking on domestic airplane flights. Surely, the world's greatest deliberative body—not to mention the state that invented guide dogs for the blind—can do better.

For his part, Walter Mondale's main political skill, notes the The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, is his "knack for being in the right place at the right time." Which is perhaps about as much as you can ask of a guy who has largely gotten by on equal parts "Norwegian charisma" and timely quoting of Wendy's old "Where's the Beef?" ad campaign.

As former Chicago Tribune scribe Bob Greene was fond of noting back when he still had a job, F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that there are no second acts in American life. Sadly, that has apparently turned out to be true only for Fitzgerald, who peaked early and died a rummy's death in Hollywood. (Greene, recently canned for sexual improprieties, is no doubt studying Bob Crane's unpredictable comeback.)

When it comes to this electoral season, there are at least two second acts too many.