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Jewish World Review May 23, 2000 / 18 Iyar, 5760

Chris Matthews

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Who typifies leadership? -- MY FATHER'S IDEA of a politician is a gutsy fellow who stands on a downtown street corner pointing to the bums in City Hall and saying how, when he gets in, things are going to be different.

A U.S. senator once offered a variation of that theme. "The only reason to be in politics," he said in the euphoria of his final victory night and a couple of dry martinis "is to be out there all alone and be proven right."

The subject is leadership. It's the quality owned by the few to recruit many into battle.

FDR had it. Just knowing he was our president made victory in World War II assured. "Don't talk to me about the war," he chided a young ensign shipping out in the spring of '45. "Tell me about your plans when we've won!"

JFK had it. As politician and president he never gave up his vibrant feel for command. With Mississippi burning in June of 1963, he was still the South Pacific skipper dictating orders to his gung-ho crewmen. Four decades later, old men still wear those PT 109 tie clips as badges in his service.

This summer and fall we all take up the quest anew. Who will lead this great, freshly blessed country into the unknown new century?

The outward evidence can deceive as much as tell. Colin Powell has the carriage of a general, but so did Westmoreland. Carter could calibrate the great conflicts of energy, terror and national malaise but not lead others to confront them.

Besides, as Lincoln observed in picking his generals, some people just don't have the luck to lead. A New York Times poll out last week gives Governor George W. Bush a 10-point lead over Vice President Gore when voters are asked which of the two has "strong qualities of leadership."

The judgment rests on a fresh but vital foundation. While both men won their intramural skirmishes handily, Bush won the tougher fight (with the estimable John McCain) with fewer casualties.

Gore survived an easier contest, but his reputation shrunk. He didn't tell us he would be a stronger president than his Democratic rival, just that he would be more careful. Bradley, he warned us, would harm the beneficiaries of government by mistakes in his Medicaid math.

In the aftermath, Gore can take pride in winning the electoral equivalent of a national tattletale contest.

Rather than match Bradley's bold if flawed plan to save the entitlement programs that benefit low-income people, Gore scrounged through them in a desperate hunt for glitches.

Everyone suspects Gore will bring the same class of combat to the summer and autumn fight with Bush.

He will study the Texan's proposals on Social Security, his positions on abortion rights, guns and taxes and, using his earnest research, design his assault. Rather than lead, he will spend June, July, August, September, October and the early days of November warning us, each according to our particular concerns, not to follow Bush.

It's a sound strategy, based on that most reliable truism of voter behavior: self-interest.

If it fails, it's because we hopelessly romantic Americans prefer an unproven leader to a stop sign posing as a presidential candidate.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


05/19/00: Bubba's legacy involves AIDS
05/16/00: Dubyah's outlook for 'playoffs' remains perilous
05/11/00: Giuliani's travels
05/09/00: A Yale degree, a Bob Jones education
05/03/00: Show of force!
05/01/00: Abortion polls don't reflect reality
04/28/00: Bill Russell and American racism
04/24/00: Vietnam 25 -- The good, bad and ugly
04/19/00: Nader's threat to Gore in California
04/17/00: Berkeley politician visits with Elian's father
04/14/00: Clinton and the Castro curse
04/11/00: Men who saved Elián from the sea
04/06/00: Caine should coach politicians
04/03/00: No. 2 spots: Woman-to-woman?
03/29/00: Gray for veep and Gore might coast to victory
03/27/00: The secret life of a CIA wife
03/22/00: 'We're suckers for underdogs'
03/20/00: Bush's California dream vs. reality
03/06/00: Scary Gore vs. hopeful Bush
03/06/00: McCain's appeal to 'Reagan Democrats'
03/01/00: John McCain fits a hero's profile
02/28/00: Grading the American presidents
02/25/00: Clinton remains No. 1 issue
02/23/00: Will Ross Perot aid POW McCain?
02/18/00: McCain faces fury of GOP establishment
02/17/00: Citizen Springer
02/14/00: McCainia and the frisky independents
02/07/00: A prime-time primary for California
02/02/00: Clinton's final campaign: Take the blame
01/31/00: Which GOPer is willing to pay for his positions?
01/27/00: John McCain's gay radar
01/25/00: This time, candidates get 'authenticity' check
01/18/00: AIDS dooms 1 in 4 in tiny Swaziland
01/13/00: Complacency might be the campaign key
01/10/00: A choice, not an echo
01/06/00: The role of a lifetime
01/03/00: Dangers in Gore's dirty war
12/30/99: Churchill's fighting words saved the century
12/28/99: Candidate Gore's separation anxiety
12/17/99: Catch 22: Leading candidates don't lead
12/17/99: New Democratic leader on the horizon
12/15/99: Is Hillary clueless?
12/08/99: Taking Buchananism to the streets
12/03/99: Why are we so obsessed with 'spin'?
12/01/99: Donald Trump, 'Sinatra of Steel'
11/29/99: Why AlGore will be our next president
11/23/99: After the fall
11/17/99: Our conveniently forgetful president
11/15/99: Next president: Male, WASP, self-selected
11/10/99: Backroom Bill
11/08/99: Please don't feed the 'pander bears'
11/03/99: Battle of the Bubba clones
11/01/99: Pat Buchanan, kamikaze candidate
10/27/99: The year of the woman... voter
10/25/99: The Curse of the Bubba
10/21/99: GOP gives Clinton his finest hour
10/18/99: Clinton's last hurrah
10/13/99: Rough seas for Capt. Ventura
10/11/99: Gore targets Bradley's strength
10/06/99: Bradley's got the right Rx
10/04/99: Buchanan, Churchill and Hitler
09/30/99: Who'll spin political gold in Golden State — Gore or Bradley?
09/27/99: Here's a millennial checklist for candidates
09/22/99: The biography battle
09/20/99: Buchanan's new book is a must-read
09/15/99: Don't rule out Beatty
09/13/99: The man with the sun on his face
09/08/99: W. vs. Jr. on dope and the draft
The FALN: Hillary's Willie Horton
08/26/99: Bill's guilt fuels Hill's race
08/25/99: The seemingly inexhaustible strength of America's free enterprise
08/23/99: GOP candidates are weak also-rans
08/16/99: Bubba on Bubba
08/11/99: Hillary's agonizing attempts to understand
08/09/99: With warm regards, Richard Nixon
08/04/99: Weicker: real third party is on the Left
08/02/99: Dubyah's last hangover
07/27/99: Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh; capitalism is gonna win

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