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Jewish World Review Jan. 8, 2001/ 13 Teves, 5761

Suzanne Fields

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Consumer Reports

Laying the political race card -- WHEN BILL CLINTON said he would choose a Cabinet that "looks like America,'' Democrats cheered. But his Cabinet was chosen as if off the menu at a Chinese restaurant -- an attorney general and an energy secretary from Group A, a secretary of state and a defense chief from Group B. The flavors were consistent if not exciting, as if from the same Cantonese kitchen.

George W. Bush offers something different, with spicy dishes from Szechwan and Hunan provinces, a Peking Duck and dumplings either steamed or fried. It's too soon to know what's in the fortune cookies.

This president-elect is clearly not rigid about the appearance of ethnicity. He has chosen qualified people for his team of cabinet-level positions who happen to belong to certain minority groups, but who were not chosen to reflect a certain skin color or sexual persuasion. There's one Democrat, two black men, one Asian-American man, five women (including one black, one Hispanic), a Hispanic man, a Lebanese-American man and five men wryly characterized in the newspapers as "non-Hispanic whites.'' Critics who mock George W's command of the English language have to concede that his Spanish is fluent enough.

Linda Chavez, a Catholic woman (married to a Jew) opposes affirmative action even though she's both Hispanic and female. Rod Paige, the Houston schools superintendent and the designated-secretary of education, is black, but he doesn't sound like Jesse Jackson or Maxine Waters. He raised test scores of children regardless of race by demanding excellence and taking no excuses. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice were chosen for experience that has nothing to do with race.

This is bad news for Democrats itching to play the race card. Black voters who turned out in great numbers for Al Gore, many voting for the first time, learned how bitter and frustrating defeat can be. (Welcome to the club.) Certain Democratic pollsters are trying to transform this bitterness into rage. John Ashcroft, the Bush nominee for attorney general, is the designated target and Jesse Jackson has designated himself as the hit man. He vows to use street protests and demonstrations to intimidate senators.

The Rev is skilled at this. It's what he does best. Some of his critics say it's all he knows how to do. When there was talk several years ago that Mr. Jackson ought to run for mayor of Washington, Marion Barry, the incumbent, did not tremble. "Jesse,'' he said, "don't want to run nothing but his mouth.'' Some Democratic senators who intend to press Mr. Ashcroft at his confirmation hearings are similarly dismissive of Jesse Jackson's "help'' now. They're not only embarrassed by his threats, fearful that he will provoke a backlash of sympathy and disgust, but don't want to risk the civility and congeniality they want to nurture in the new Congress.

"It's foolish to threaten members of Congress,'' says one Senate aide. "Threats are not very effective. The senators do not need to be scolded.''

Playing the race card against Mr. Ashcroft because he opposed the confirmation of one black Missouri Supreme Court justice to a federal judgeship is tempting, because most blacks are Democrats. But it won't survive close inspection. When John Ashcroft was governor of Missouri, he appointed the first black to the state court of appeals, signed the law for a state holiday commemorating the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., named a black woman to a state judgeship, led the fight to save traditionally black Lincoln University, founded by black soldiers after the Civil War, and led efforts to commemorate the birthplace of Scott Joplin, the ragtime composer. As a senator he voted to confirm 26 of 28 black judges nominated by President Clinton. This is hardly a record to warm the heart of the grand kleagle.

The president-elect says he welcomes the tough questions Democrats will pose to Mr. Ashcroft, but he expects him to be confirmed. "In the great land we call America,'' he says, "(Jesse) can do anything he wants to do.''

It's a shame about Jesse Jackson. "He coulda been a contenda. [cq]'' Early in his career in Chicago, when he first emerged on the national stage, he inspired everyone, black and white, who heard him telling young black men and women how they could "be somebody.'' He pushed them to get an education, to work hard in the new opportunities opening up to them in a society that was at last trying to do the right thing. This was hard and often thankless work, as any good teacher or preacher knows, and it's no doubt a lot more fun to watch yourself on the evening news fanning the flames of racial politics. But it's a recipe for defeat. Maybe not for John Ashcroft in the issue at hand, but ultimately for Jesse Jackson, and for us all.


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01/02/01: This year, looking ahead is sure sweeter than looking back
12/21/00: Black power with a Republican face
12/21/00: First impressions of two First Ladies
12/18/00: Challenge for the 'better angels of our nature'
12/14/00: What we've lost sight of
12/13/00: Hillary in the lion's den
12/08/00: Return of the 'second sex' on campus
12/04/00: Politics as entertainment today
11/30/00: Winner vs. whiner
11/27/00: Measuring against history
11/23/00: Memories of Thanksgiving past
11/17/00: In defense of the Electoral College
11/16/00: More than one way to win an election
11/13/00: Sexual politics squared
11/09/00: A Middle East legacy
11/06/00: Filling in the dots at campaign's end
11/02/00: His own man in full
10/30/00: The Oval Office, through a glass brightly
10/23/00: There'll always be an England. Maybe.
10/19/00: The celebrity candidate
10/16/00: 'Ladies night' at the second debate
10/12/00: Gore vs. Bush: Volvo vs. Maserati
10/10/00: We weep for Rami for he is dead
10/05/00: Looking at Lieberman from inside the 'ghetto'
10/02/00: Campaigns, candidates, and kissy-face
09/28/00: Laughing and crying over Joe Lieberman
09/21/00: Targeting teenagers for money
09/21/00: Sexual politics in New York
09/18/00: Surviving the stereotypes and debates
09/14/00: Gloria Steinem runs cheerfully into captivity
09/12/00: Sex in the eye of the partisan
09/07/00: 'Sex and death' on the college campus
09/05/00: Joe Lieberman as a 'Menorah Man'
08/31/00: Rising suns of the conventions
08/17/00: Changing icons: From Loretta Young to Hillary Clinton
08/14/00: The Creator returns to the public square
08/10/00: Bursting with pride, but caution too
08/07/00: Brains, beauty and beastly politics
08/03/00: A candidate with a superego
07/31/00: The sizzling Lynne Cheney
07/27/00: The party of the aging Playboys
07/24/00 Hillary drives the Jewish wagon into a ditch
07/20/00 Conservatives gone fishin'
07/17/00: Snoop Doggy Dogg was a founding father, wasn't he?
07/13/00: When a teenager doesn't need a prime minister
07/10/00: Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment
07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
07/03/00: Independence Day with Norman Rockwell
06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

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