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CLASS OF ’79

Dream Ticket

 

This year’s presidential contest may be a strictly Harvard (Gore)-Yale (Bush) affair, but a Penn alumnus was in the running for vice president. Sort of.
    Until George W. Bush chose another transplanted Texan, Dick Cheney, as his running mate, J.R. Lieber, “the Yankee Cowboy everybody loves to hate,” was running a vigorous—and virtual—campaign to join the Texas governor on the Republican ticket.
    J.R. is the creation of Dave Lieber C’79, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and sometime Gazette contributor. (“Bagels and Big-Haired Women,” in November 1997, traced J.R.’s origins and Dave’s courtship-via-column and subsequent marriage to an authentic Texan.) In a campaign brochure, J.R. writes “I was born in a log cabin in the quaint village of Manhattan in New York City. For that, Texans hate me.”
    The Gazette became aware of J.R.’s candidacy through a series of e-mailed photos tracking his campaign swing through the nation’s capital, where, besides confusing tourists, he chatted up former Illinois senator and Democratic presidential contender Paul Simon (mistaking him for Al Franken) and conferred with Republican pollster Frank Luntz C’84. (You can see them for yourself at www.virtualtexan.com, and also view J.R.’s four-minute campaign video.
    Not entirely coincidentally, Dave traveled to Washington at about—well, exactly—the same time as J.R. to accept an award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists for his online columns. “As a columnist, I strive to come up with ideas that break new ground,” Dave says. “And it’s safe to say that no New York Jew who graduated from Penn ever ran for vice president of the United States as a Yankee Cowboy living in Texas.”
    Aside from satirizing “Texans’ prejudice toward Yankees, Yankees who move to Texas and want to fit in (like me), presidential pandering politics and the influence of the Internet on politics,” the campaign also served as a fundraising vehicle for Summer Santa, a charity Lieber co-founded in 1997 to aid children in North Texas by sending them to summer camp, distributing toys and buying school supplies and clothing. Campaign buttons were sold, raising $3,000 for the summer camp fund, and J.R. also
hosted a Celebrity Miniature Golf/Bowling Tournament. “There were dozens of little kiddies running around putting and wearing ‘J.R. for Vice President’ buttons. What a sight!”

    While Governor Bush has never given any sign of being aware of the campaign, it made considerable headway in North Texas, where J.R. “appeared at chamber lunches as the keynote speaker, before Rotaries and quilt clubs, at schools and senior centers” in his trademark leopard skin jacket and “really bad” cowboy hat. “I’d walk into supermarkets and people were actually wearing these buttons. I’d go to charity balls and people were wearing these buttons.”
    The media took notice, too. Editor & Publisher paired Lieber’s campaign for VP with Dave Barry’s run for president (“At campaign stops, J.R. pulled out the story and explained that the only thing separating him from Dave Barry was syndication in 500 newspapers, a Pulitzer Prize, 25 bestselling books, a TV series based on his life, and millions of dollars.”), and J.R. received an actual endorsement from the Justin Whistler newspaper.
    While J.R.’s being passed over by Bush was “sad,” Lieber says, he (Dave) learned something from the campaign. “People are tired of the same old charity rigamarole. But when you make them laugh, they are more likely to give.” As a result, he is laying plans for two future campaigns to raise money for the Summer Santa program, he says. One is a fundraising drive for Dirty Debbie’s Beauty College (Not a “college for cosmetology,” he explains, but “a place to study the burgeoning science of beautology—why cultures find some things beautiful and other things ugly”), scheduled for next year. In 2002, he thinks he’ll launch a campaign to elect his by then five-year-old governor of Texas.
    More immediately, Dave says, J.R. still has 300 buttons left, “so, as of this writing, he was figuring out a way to announce to readers that he was running for vice president as an independent on the Liebertarian Party ticket.”


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