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Jewish World Review June 17, 1999 /3 Tamuz, 5759

Paul Greenberg

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George W.'s first mistake --
UH OH. George W. Bush, known simply as W. in MaureenDowdspeak, has decided to leave Austin, where he's almost locked in the Republican presidential nomination, and actually campaign for it.

This could be his first big mistake. George W. might have cinched the nomination if he'd called a special session of the Texas legislature and kept himself too busy to campaign. But, no, the governor has decided to go on the road. And just when he was doing so well at home.

But there's hope yet. Just because W. is campaigning out of state doesn't mean he has to address any issues. Case in point: Dwight Eisenhower was a natural master of the noncommittal, having been a highly successful staff officer. He would go on to perfect the art of saying nothing as supreme allied commander in Europe. What with both Monty and Patton to coordinate, the one thing Ike didn't need was more drama.

Ike's syntax was such that, even if he had slipped and actually taken a stand on any issue, it wouldn't have been easy to spot in all the entangled verbiage. Only later did it dawn on the punditry that the general's mysteriously convoluted statements were that way deliberately. The man was inarticulate like a fox.

By 1952, having served as president of another confused theater of war (an Ivy League university) Ike was ready to run for president, or rather To Respond to the Call of the People. That was the humble style in those now olden days. Adlai Stevenson, too, was nominally drafted by his party that year. But he never had a chance against Ike's smile.

The general, who only appeared naive, took an early lead by avoiding anything so mundane, if germane, as a discussion of political issues. And he pretty much stuck with that winning strategy right through election day. Some would say right through two highly successful administrations.

Nothing succeeds in American politics like no politics. It certainly drove Ike's critics crazy, or at least those who were not already around the bend to begin with.

Poor Bob Taft, the best (19th-century) mind in the U.S. Senate, a man who nwver met`an issue he couldn't take the unpopular side of, tried to rally the party loyalists, but by that time, the attractions of defeat`were beginning to wane for tle GOP, just as they are`now. Ike beamed his way to the nom}nation, then the presidency. For all his eloquence, Adlai Stevenson never laid a simioe on him.

It's a tradition by now. Politicians have been getting away with issueless campaigns in American elections at least since Washington. It's called character. The Republicans lost a bet by not drafting Colin Powell in '96; he might have out-nonissued them all.

But even civilians have been known to employ this strategy with great success. William McKinley stayed on his front porch in '96 -- that's 1896 -- and strolled to victory over one of the greatest stump speakers in American history, William Jennings Bryan, the Boy Orator from the River Platte. Bryan's oratory, like the river itself, was broad and shallow, brimming over with fool ideas, mainly Free Silver and a general discontent with industrialism.

Bryan roused the whole country that summer and well into the fall, half in hope and half in fear, but in the end, he couldn't prevail against William McKinley's placid platitudes and, even more formidable, the Republican candidate's campaign chest.

Marc Hanna, the first modern campaign chief, made sure the Republican nominee had plenty to spend and nothing to say. It proved a winning combination that George W. seems well qualified to emulate. For the most effective orator may be the one who convinces us he's no orator.

Now if George W. can just noncommit his way through the primaries, he'll have the nomination sewn up. He'll just have to remember not to say anything memorable. That was another George W.'s fatal error -- George W. Romney, who confessed to having been brainwashed about Vietnam. It was a fatal admission. To be brainwashed, one has to have a brain -- an immediate disqualification for the presidency in a country naturally and rightly suspicious of intellectuals. The Romney campaign fell apart almost immediately.

Anyway, after eight years of clinton clauses and general waffling, would We the People recognize an idea if we heard it? It might only frighten us.

In 1896, William Jennings Bryan stumped the whole country, covering more than 13,000 miles in 14 weeks, delivering 600 flamboyant speeches in 29 states in that pre-jet America. He scarcely left a county seat unscathed. And what good did it do him?

His opponent, William McKinley, stayed home on his front porch in Canton, Ohio, mouthed respectable niceties, neither impressed nor frightened anyone, and was elected. Bryan's campaign had been an older, rural America's last, boisterous hurrah, though no one would realize it for some time.

So if Bush the Younger is looking for a model, he might do worse than study the watershed campaign of '96. In some ways, it was the beginning of the modern, issueless campaign and the end of ideology in American politics. With an occasional exception, the ideologues -- the Goldwaters and McGoverns -- have been losing ever since. One of the exceptions was Ronald Reagan, an anti-intellectual who was pro-ideas and never wavered from his own. Paradoxes happen.

But if American politics has its paradoxes, something tells me George W. isn't one of them. He's been doing so well without issues and ideas, why should he risk them?

A prudent presidential candidate will avoid anything that smacks of ideology. And the surest way to avoid ideology is to avoid ideas. His father's son, George W. should have no difficulty with that assignment.


06/08/99: Hail to the chief?
06/02/99: In praise of failure
05/26/99: Betrayal in the making: let's not make a deal
05/20/99: Israel's big switch: new era or just a mood swing?
05/18/99: Free our kids: revive the land of opportunity
05/13/99: This war will end --- or spread
05/11/99: South Sider comes through
05/07/99: There is no substitute for victory
05/05/99: A Tale of two colonels
05/03/99: It's the culture, stupid
04/30/99: Bumpers' 'B.S.'
04/27/99: An American tragedy: the fall of Kenneth Starr
04/23/99: Presidents and the press
04/14/99: A revealing moment
04/14/99: War Day by day
04/12/99: Just a few questions
04/06/99: The problem with the Left
04/05/99: The problem with the Right
03/30/99: But can he convince himself?
03/26/99: Short bursts
03/24/99: Once more into the quagmire
03/17/99: Big time in Little Rock
03/15/99: Our own Roger Taney
03/09/99: A different ‘Waterfront’
03/05/99: Law and disorder
2/26/99: King Richard's revenge
2/25/99: Open season on the fetus, and a good word for the pagans
2/23/99: It never ends: Here comes the judge
2/19/99: After the storm: Going through the debris
2/17/99: Where's the closure?
2/12/99: Hussein the Hashemite: The wiliest player on the board
2/09/99: The social security game
2/04/99: Our own Inspector Clouseau
2/01/99: Night scene, night thoughts
1/28/99: The decay of the art of lying
1/26/99: Impeachment: Short subjects
1/22/99: Bounce, glitz and tedium: The State of the Disunion
1/20/99: Destructive engagement: How to encourage tyranny
1/18/99: Martin Luther King: The radical as conservative?
1/11/99: Why America is apathetic about Bill's date with destiny
1/06/99:The year of Moronica
1/04/99: Clinton’s janitorial crew of two
12/29/98:The Senate will be on trial, too
12/29/98:A look down the avenue
12/22/98: The surreal impeachment
12/17/98: Another moment of truth approaches
12/15/98: The President's defenders: witnesses for the prosecution
12/10/98:The latest miracle cure: CensurePlus
12/03/98: Sentences at an airport Sentences at an airport
12/03/98: Games lawyers play
12/01/98: Ms. Magoo strikes again, or: Janet Reno and the law
11/26/98: The most American holiday
11/23/98: Same game, another round
11/18/98: Guide to the perplexed
11/09/98: A vote for apathy
11/03/98: Global village goes Clintonesque
11/02/98: Farewell to all that
10/30/98: New budget, same swollen government
10/26/98: Of life on the old plantation -- and death in the Middle East
10/22/98: Starr Wars (CONT'D)
10/19/98:Another retreat: weakness invites aggression
10/16/98: Profile in courage
10/14/98: A new voice out of Arkansas
10/09/98: Gerald Ford, Mr. Fix-It?
10/07/98: Impeachment Journal: Dept. of Doublespeak
10/01/98: The new tradition
9/25/98: Mr. President, PLEASE don't resign
9/23/98: The demolition of meaning
9/18/98: So help us G-d; The nature of the crisis
9/17/98: First impressions: on reading the Starr Report
9/15/98: George Wallace: All the South in one man
9/10/98: Here comes the judge
9/07/98: Toward impeachment
9/03/98: The politics of impeachment
9/01/98: The eagle can still soar
8/28/98: Boris Yeltsin's mind: a riddle pickled in an enigma
8/26/98: Clinton agonistes, or: Twisting in the wind
8/25/98: The rise of the English murder
8/24/98: Confess and attack: Slick comes semi-clean
8/19/98: Little Rock perspectives
8/14/98: Department of deja vu
8/12/98: The French would understand
8/10/98: A fable: The Rat in the Corner
8/07/98: Welcome to the roaring 90s
8/06/98: No surprises dept. -- promotion denied
8/03/98: Quotes of and for the week: take your pick
7/29/98: A subpoena for the president:
so what else is new?
7/27/98: Forget about Bubba, it's time to investigate Reno
7/23/98: Ghosts on the roof, 1998
7/21/98: The new elegance
7/16/98: In defense of manners
7/13/98: Another day, another delay: what's missing from the scandal news
7/9/98:The language-wars continue
7/7/98:The new Detente
7/2/98: Bubba in Beijing: history does occur twice
6/30/98: Hurry back, Mr. President -- to freedom
6/24/98: When Clinton follows Quayle's lead
6/22/98: Independence Day, 2002
6/18/98: Adventures in poli-speke

©1999, Los Angeles Times Syndicate