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MORALISTS, JOURNALISTS MISSED MARK AT DALLAS CONFERENCE

Three interesting things happened before, during and after last weekend's political festival at the Dallas meeting of Ross Perot's United We Stand.

People paid $135 for the right to be in Dallas in August to hear about three dozen political speeches. It was a 19th-century sort of event, an echo of an era before electronic entertainment and big-time professional sports and other modern pastimes.And it was roundly panned in advance by moralists spanning the political spectrum. They said the politicians, especially Republican presidential candidates, who would go to Dallas would be pandering to Perot.

Oh? When candidates address, say, the NAACP, are they "pandering" to NAACP leadership, or addressing a significant segment of black America? The moralists may consider Perot voters declasse, but those voters do exist.

Why should candidates not seize a chance to address Perot's constituency, particularly considering that candidates routinely troop off to cultivate the affections of groups like the Upper Middle South Association of Baptist Welders?

The interesting occurrence during the Dallas event was the delivery of a speech deserving of the designation "presidential." It was by Sen. Richard Lugar, the Indiana Republican, and was a sober treatment of a subject people would prefer not to think about. The interesting development after the event was that next to nothing was reported about his seven-page speech.

Most of his speech concerned the possibility that an American city will be destroyed. He said:

The Oklahoma City terrorism killed 168. Had the World Trade Center bomb destroyed the building's structural foundation, 30,000 might have died. Nuclear terrorism is "but one small step" away and is becoming more probable because of "grossly inadequate" control of fissionable material in the former Soviet Union.

According to Lugar, between 1991 and 1994 the German government detected at least 350 instances of attempted nuclear smuggling. There have been 60 seizures of nuclear materials in the past three years.

A relatively simple weapon of a well-known design, using a bit more than 100 pounds of highly enriched uranium, could produce a 15-20 kiloton blast. (The Hiroshima bomb was 12.5 kilotons.) A quantity of plutonium the size of a grapefruit could produce a simple weapon.

Lugar's speech struck a discordant note in Dallas, where most speakers told the audience that the biggest danger to the nation is Congress or President Clinton or NAFTA or something else. But Lugar's speech was respectful of the audience's earnestness and intelligence.

Next time journalists lament that candidates are not as serious as, well, as journalists, remember how few of them reported it when Lugar discussed the possibility of a person with a bomb in a suitcase killing everyone in Oklahoma City.