This is how ridiculous presidential politics and politicians have gotten: The candidates are fighting over who should answer the White House telephone in the middle of the night.

“It’s 3 a.m., and your children are safe and asleep,” the announcer says in the first manifestation of the now famous Hillary Clinton TV ad. “But there’s a phone in the White House, and it’s ringing. Something’s happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers that call.”

The implication is you’d better hope it’s not Barack Obama because he wouldn’t know which end of the phone to pick up.

Since the first ad, which was released before the Texas primary, Team Clinton has released a tweaked version for Pennsylvania voters. The same red phone rings again, this time for an economic crisis.

If John McCain’s in the White House, the ad implies, he won’t be interested enough to even answer the phone.

But these ads are wrong on several accounts.

First of all, forget the beautiful children asleep in their clean bedrooms, the covers neatly tucked under their chinny-chin-chins as their slim, attractive mother peeks in their rooms.

The cameras don’t show the toys, books and junk they had to shove aside in order to get in bed. And where are the dirty clothes on the floor and the half-open backpack with yesterday’s uneaten lunch peeking out from among the soiled gym clothes and past-due homework?

As for Mom, how is it that she looks so good at 3 a.m.? And what is she doing up at that time of night, anyway? Was Dad snoring so loudly that she couldn’t sleep?

Or maybe she woke herself with her own snoring, her mouth hanging open and a bit of drool dampening the pillow. But where’s the tattered nightgown she wears because it’s so comfortable?

What about the dogs? In real life, dogs always get up when Mom does, in hopes that while she’s stumbling around in the dark, she won’t stumble over them, and in fact will thoughtfully take a moment to refill their food bowls.

Which a real mother will do if she thinks about it. She may also move the wet clothes from the washer to the dryer, put some stray dishes in the sink and turn off a light or two before shuffling back to bed.

Unless, of course, the phone rings.

In the White House, the telephone is answered by staff members who get paid to answer it, day or night, and route calls accordingly. Presumably, they are calm.

Mom, on the other hand, will snatch up the receiver before the first ring is over – assuming Dad hasn’t already gotten it. In television’s Land of Make-Believe, middle-of-the-night phone calls are theoretical. In real life, “something’s happening in the world,” all right, and it’s nearly always bad.

Creditors don’t dun you in the middle of the night. Friends don’t call to catch up on old times. College kids don’t call to ask for money.

At 3 o’clock in the morning, state police call from the scene of a wreck. Emergency rooms call because Grandma or Grandpa has arrived in an ambulance. Cousins call with catastrophic family news from several states away.

Sometimes you get lucky and the middle-of-the-night call is a wrong number. You can sink back in the bed and resume your snoring and drooling, knowing the children are asleep in their messy bedrooms, the dogs have been fed, and you’ve turned off all the lights.

And knowing, too, that when a phone does ring in the White House in the middle of the night, it isn’t part of a silly political pageant that proves nothing and reassures no one.

Frances Coleman is editorial page editor of The Press-Register of Mobile, Ala. She can be contacted at [email protected]


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