Academic pursuits took me in my salad days to the University of Wyoming at Laramie. An archivist at the internationally renowned American Heritage Center on campus assisted my rummage through the unique repository of documents while ceaselessly humming the same upbeat melody over and over.
Finally, almost diffidently, he revealed that this wasn't folk music, but an election jingle just two years old, yet popular well beyond the political race that spawned it in 1976. That was when Malcolm Wallop, a wealthy rancher from Big Horn, decided he'd like to represent his state in the US Senate.
The consultants he hired could find nothing with which he could recommend himself nor wallop the incumbent. They therefore composed a rousing Western-style song, exhorting the voters to "come join the Wallop Senate drive." The lively cowboy tune accompanied a video clip showing Wallop leading cheery riders - all suitably attired in buckaroo garb and hoisting aloft the state flag - galloping exuberantly across the range.
The reason Wallop should be elected, according to the vibrant refrain, was that "he's Wyoming to the spur." The copywriter who came up with this immortal campaign line couldn't later specify what "Wyoming to the spur" meant. He intuitively sensed "it somehow sounded good," which is why he adamantly insisted on it.
And right he was. Wallop defeated his very able predecessor and went on to win more elections because he had a catchy jingle, a resourceful PR team and money to shell out. Issues were largely beside the point.
It may be tempting to laugh this off as the quintessence of American shallowness, impossible in Israel's polarized environment, laden as it is with life-and-death concerns. But Kadima seems determined to assault all our assumptions and demonstrate that our political messages can be every bit as meaningless as the most vacuous out there.
What Wallop could do in untroubled Wyoming, Olmert can exceed in beleaguered Israel.
INTERVIEWS HE granted to almost every newspaper last weekend featured a surfeit of indefinable "spurs" - like Olmert's assertion that he'd make Israel "a country that's fun to live in." The Haaretz correspondents who quoted this inanity didn't press the prime-ministerial front-runner to clarify precisely what "fun" signified, why we need it, whether it's top of our wish list, when it would come, how and in what shape. They let him get away with syrupy obfuscation.
Olmert committed himself to nothing while simultaneously promising something to almost everyone. Thus all settlements beyond the security fence will be dismantled, but the fence is portable and the IDF will stay in evacuated territories. Olmert will keep Jerusalem unified but not necessarily Jerusalem as we know it today.
Kadima's rightist refugees of the Tzahi Hanegbi mold can dream of substantive settlement blocs, while the Peres-Ramon assortment of Labor dropouts trust these will be minimum-scale blocs. Olmert is a headliner for all persuasions.
He poses as the executor of Sharon's political last testament, deliberately obscuring the fact that, before his stroke, Sharon stated there'd be no more unilateral moves (not that anything he said could be taken at face value).
Fawning journalists don't harp on contradictions nor demand to know how Olmert plans to effect a separation between Israelis and Palestinians; how he'll expel 100,000 settlers when he couldn't resettle the 9,000 already uprooted; how a judenrein heart of the Jewish homeland and narrower territorial confines will enhance Israel's security; how his line of retreat will become Israel's new border when neither the Palestinians nor the international community would recognize it; how bestowing free gifts on Hamas would cool its genocidal ardor, and how he'll prevent Kassam rockets from spoiling the fun of Israelis in Kfar Saba or Ben-Gurion Airport.
But why carp pettily when Olmert assures his Haaretz interviewers that "people will love to say they love" their funland. That should make everything just dandy. No need to worry. It doesn't matter that "convergence" (Olmert's disengagement sequel) won't bring an end of conflict, improved deterrence or any sort of gain - other than "fun."
Could Olmert's brief caretaker tenure hint at the manner of fun in store?
AFTER HE was stunned by Hamas's ascent, his government spewed an array of inconsistent improvisations and cockily claimed to have mobilized a global anti-Hamas coalition. Almost immediately Hamas honchos began globetrotting as desired guests. Financial aid wasn't fully withdrawn. World leaders already obsequiously plead for pronouncements that can be passed off as incipiently moderate. International legitimization for a regime that doesn't conceal its resolve to destroy Israel is inevitable.
Olmert and his surprised sidekicks missed the opportunity to declare Oslo, with its road map and disengagement offshoots, obsolete because Hamas's takeover of an entity Israel created for the Palestinians is inimical to Israel's most vital existential interests. Additional concessions to a Hamas-led PA would embolden it, enhance its prestige and enfeeble the rag-tag remnants of so-called Palestinian moderation.
Instead Olmert hawks more unilateralism - the ratings-oriented antithesis of patience and perseverance. If the other side won't agree to trade peace for land, Olmert will unilaterally cede land for nothing. His object is perverted from winning peace to ditching land.
Yet Olmert's bamboozled groupies applaud. The fatigued prefer purveyors of fun to those who offer no facile solutions. Fluff, hype, slogan and spin become be-alls and end-alls. Boastful pretense counts more than sound policy and proven abilities.
As Olmert saddles up for the last stretch of the great prime-ministerial drive, what "somehow sounds good" overrides what's good for the nation. Olmert is Israel to the spur (whatever that is).