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Jewish World Review Jan. 2, 2001/ 7 Teves, 5761

Suzanne Fields

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This year, looking ahead is sure sweeter than looking back


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- JUST WHEN we need him, here comes Janus, the Roman god for whom the new month is named, the god with two heads. He needs them both this year, when, on the eve of a new presidential administration, he can look back with a critical eye on the past and forward with a hopeful eye on the future.

Some of the contrasts he'll see are particularly striking -- and maybe instructive for the rest of us.

  • Vice president. Both presidential candidates made strong choices for running mates. George W. Bush showed himself to be a man of humility in choosing Dick Cheney, who was much more experienced in the ways of Washington. During the bitter post-election period, it was Dick Cheney who was reassuring while George W. appropriately stayed out of the spotlight (where he didn't say things to regret later). Cheney gives the public confidence that getting off to a late start is not as damaging as it might have been.

    Al Gore's choice of Joe Lieberman erased in an instant the idea that Al Gore was fused at the hip to Bill Clinton. By choosing the Democratic senator who had scolded the president for immoral behavior, Al Gore reduced Bill Clinton as a liability. But Joe Lieberman was disappointing as a candidate because he had, or thought he had, to repudiate himself. We can hope his return to the Senate will be accompanied by the return of the Joe Lieberman we all admired.

  • First and second ladies. Laura Bush showed poise and understated eloquence as a one-time librarian and teacher speaking out for literacy. She complements her husband's concerns that "no child should be left behind'' and that it's time to end "the soft bigotry of low expectations.'' No smug appeals to a "co-presidency'' or getting two for the price of one. Refreshing.

    Lynne Cheney comes back to Washington, where she was the chairmen of the National Endowment for the Humanities (1986-1988). She was a fierce critic of "political correctness'' because it dumbs down education in schools and colleges. Let's hope that she will continue to be a forceful critic. Tipper Gore, her predecessor as second lady, once bravely criticized the Hollywood establishment for the poison it pumps into the culture, but she was silenced when her husband needed campaign money from those who pump up the poison. Pity.

  • Attorney general. The president-elect wants John Ashcroft. The liberals are out with their long knives. Gone are the accolades for his graceful concession speech, refusing to push a strong but divisive election contest when he lost his Missouri Senate seat to a dead man. (Imagine what Al Gore's lawyers would have done with that one.) Some blacks oppose Ashcroft because he opposes affirmative action (on principle) and many feminists oppose him because he's pro-life (on principle).

    If he wins confirmation, he will follow an unprincipled and politicized attorney general.

    Janet Reno ordered the raid on Waco to save the children. As a result, the children were incinerated. (They'll never be abused again.) She ordered Elian Gonzalez abducted at the point of an automatic rifle from the secure arms of a young man who plucked him from the sea because she didn't trust the law to do what she wanted it to do. Her repeated refusal to appoint an independent counsel to investigate Al Gore's suspicious fund-raising drew criticism from Louis Freeh, director of the FBI. The new attorney general must be motivated by principle rather than politics if respect for the law is to be restored.

  • President of the United States. A former governor of Texas replaces a former governor of Arkansas. But being a governor is probably the only thing the two men have in common. Bill Clinton is a brilliant man who cynically used his charm and savvy to accomplish nefarious ends. He knew when it was important to compromise (Welfare legislation) and to camouflage his exploitation of others (whether his wife, a mistress, or merely a passing object of casual lust). He inherited a roaring economy and, to his credit, didn't interfere. This roaring economy kept most of the public on his side, although he never won a majority of the popular vote.

    George W. arrives when the economy seems to be coughing, not roaring. The president-elect carries none of the personal baggage of Bill Clinton, but neither does he arrive with the Clinton reputation for smarts. Many of those relieved to see Bill Clinton leave the White House are not yet confident of the man who will replace him. They have cautious but legitimate hopes.

    Janus is meant to oversee exits and entrances. He's an observer, not a prophet. But looking ahead is sure sweeter than looking back. Just ask anyone.



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    ©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate