Jewish World Review Dec. 15, 2003 / 20 Kislev 5764

Paul Greenberg

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With apologies to Walter Winchell | Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. North and South America and all the ships at sea. ... Let's go to press!

The best omen yet for the Republicans in Ought-Four isn't the suddenly booming economy it's this flash from Ralph Nader: He's just authorized an exploratory committee to raise funds for another run at the White House. He did it before and he can do it again, namely, drain away enough votes from the Democratic presidential nominee to ensure George W. Bush's re-election. That's the kind of news that brings joy to Republican hearts. Short of the Democrats' nominating Dennis Kucinich for president, what more could the GOP hope for? Is there anything more self-destructive than the Don Quixotes of the raving left?

Well, yes, there's the raving right, which deserves equal billing. After all, Pat Buchanan ran last time out, too, and if he'd done as well as Ralph Nader, he might have diverted enough True Believers away from the Republican ticket to elect Al Gore president, but poor Pat didn't even prove an effective spoiler. No wonder the Dems can never forgive him.

Some Democrats are talking about winning next year's presidential election without the South. They figure W.'s got Dixie sewn up anyway, so why waste valuable resources courting all those good ol' boys with confederate flags on their pickups. But if they decide to snub the South, Dems will be running not just against W. but against history. They've never won the White House without at least some Southern electoral votes. Bill Clinton took four Southern states in '92 and '96; Jimmy Carter swept the South in '76. Both won. Al Gore, Michael Dukakis and Walter Mondale didn't carry a single Southern state and they lost. Nuff said.

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Besides, by handing the GOP Dixie on a plate, the Dems would just free Republican resources to be used against them elsewhere. Somebody like Georgia's Zell Miller - senator, cracker-barrel philosopher and an honest man not above confessing his own sins - may believe that the Democrats are a national party no more, but why prove him right by sawing off the South?

Now there's a word for it. You know how people will listen perfunctorily to bores on the phone, throwing in an "um" or "uh-huh" at strategic pauses to cover their inattentiveness while actually answering e-mail, working spreadsheets or checking out the weather in Omaha? If you listen closely, you can hear the telltale tap-tap-tap on a keyboard.

'Fess up: You've done it yourself. Well, psychologists now have a name for this behavior, absent presence or surfer's voice. Uh-huh. Right. Yeah. Um hmm.

Leave it to John Abizaid, the general in charge of U.S. Central Command, to sum up the enemy's strategy in Iraq in a couple of pithy sentences. "The goal of the enemy is not to defeat us militarily," he says. "The goal of the enemy is to break the will of the United States of America.'' Carl von Clausewitz, the famed Prussian military philosopher, would understand. That classic strategist pointed out that the decisive goal in any war is not to capture the enemy's capital or occupy his territory, or even destroy his military forces, but to break his will. The crucial front, not for the first time, is the home front.

Russia is definitely swinging to the right. Way to the right. The latest Russian czar being given the revisionist treatment and portrayed as a hero is Ivan the Terrible. There's a move on to declare him a saint. Nothing tells more about a society's present state than how it views its past. When you think about it, Vladimir Putin would have fit right in as minister of the interior under Alexander III. Comrade Putin's crackdown on tycoons who dare exercise their political rights shows that, the more Russia changes, the more czarist it remains.

Who says ABC's Peter Jennings has no sense of humor? Here's what he told the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times' television critic: "I'm not any more skeptical about Republican administrations than I am about Democratic administrations." Uh-huh. Right. Yeah. Um hmm. This is absent presence signing off for Jergen's with lotions of love.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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