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Jewish World Review March 15, 2000/ 8 Adar II, 5760


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What Bush must
do to beat Gore -- THIS PRESIDENTIAL CONTEST will have no parallel to any in the past (the closest probably would be 1960's, with Gore in the unenviable Nixon role). Because of the Permanent Campaign, which Bill Clinton has governed by, but which was also made possible by the technological explosion of the 90s, November's election probably will be the dirtiest since one of Andrew Jackson's in the 19th century. Mike Barnicle, the disgraced Boston writer whom blockhead Mort Zuckerman allowed a weekly forum in the Daily News, managed to ferret out a splendid quote from former Sen. Alan Simpson for his March 12 column. Simpson said: "Al Gore is the single most partisan and nastiest guy I ever served with. He's already calling for debates, huh? Says he wants a couple a week from the conventions right through to the election? Let me tell you: Al Gore doesn't want to debate. All Al wants to do is fight. And he's good at it, too. He's a mean fellow."

Mickey Kaus, a lukewarm Gore partisan (he did work for The New Republic, after all), flips what passes for current wisdom upside down in a Kausfiles dispatch ( He wrote on March 9 the following ripsnorter about the cliche that any period more than a week is "an eternity in politics":

"It's more like five eternities. Bush probably has time to move to the center, move back to the right, feint at protectionism, convert to Catholicism, divorce his wife, admit he dropped acid, denounce vivisection, embrace Lenora Fulani, enroll in Bob Jones University, then tearfully apologize for all of the above on Meet the Press and still move back to the vital center again before November. O.K., I'm exaggerating. But you get the point. We have no more idea what the public image of Bush will be in November than we have of what Chicago will look like in the year 2100."

Try telling that to the lonely journalists still pining for the derailed "Straight Talk Express" bus, walking around in a haze repeating to themselves that McCain would've creamed Gore-by a 3-to-1 margin, man, because he's for reform!-and refusing to believe that the mercurial Senator will ultimately be a footnote in American politics. These deluded men and women, liberals and conservatives alike, seem to resemble the stoners who woke up at the Woodstock festival in '69 on Tuesday and thought Jimi Hendrix was going to come back to the stage for one more encore. Purple haze is in their brain, baby.

But let's forget about John and Cindy (until the next item) and figure out what Bush must do to beat Gore. Hiring McCain's media-tamer Mike Murphy is crucial, and I'm certain he'll come over to the Governor's side. (Already, besides Graham, Sens. Fred Thompson and Chuck Hagel, avid McCain boosters, have joined the team.)It's not as if this guy is going to sit out an election;
if Bush wins, Murphy gets the Carville Prize of 2000, which he can parlay into even more wealth. Besides, he really likes the dirty campaigning that will be necessary, and an actual pleasure, against Gore. In addition, the all-Austin Bush machine needs some outsiders to tamp down their arrogance, something that was abundant in New Hampshire and nearly blew the nomination.

As I wrote last week, Bush needs a topnotch speechwriter, and if Noonan and Mark Helprin are unavailable, there's a wealth of conservative talent to be had. The candidate might also spend some of his downtime in front of a mirror, practicing lines and, if possible, figuring out a way not to screw up the English language. Reporters take his often tortured syntax as a sign of stupidity; that's a naive, if convenient, assessment. It's simply a tic, obviously genetic, but still something Bush has to work on, as if he were trying to correct an overbite.

Most importantly, Bush's campaign has to be on the offensive every day for the next eight months, because it's obvious that's what Gore's already doing. A smart start would be to make a biweekly policy speech, at a different locale, obviously in the key states that will decide the presidency. (New York probably should be written off-it's not as if Gov. Pataki has shown any brilliance, despite Bush's surprising primary victory here-but California, with its significant Hispanic population, must be vigorously contested.)

Bush should return over and over to the themes he sounded on March 7, after thumping McCain from coast to coast. That means: education (an issue that Gore is especially weak on), military strength, Social Security and the record of immorality and sleaziness that will form the Clinton-Gore administration's puny legacy. If gasoline prices, unemployment and interest rates continue to rise, the Vice President will (unfairly) be blamed, and Bush must exploit that. And he should not abandon tax cuts. A key passage in his victory speech a week ago was: "And I will cut taxes for everyone who pays taxes-because the surplus is not the government's money, the surplus is the people's money. The polls say cutting taxes is not popular. I'm not proposing tax relief because it's the popular thing to do; I'm proposing the tax relief because it's the right thing to do."

Then, there's the selection of a runningmate.At the risk of repeating myself, Bush has to select Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a Catholic most pundits count out because of his pro-choice stand on abortion. Yes, it will stir up a little trouble with the Gary Bauer types, but I doubt they'll sit out the election when the GOP presidential candidate is pro-life, running against abortion-on-demand Al Gore, who'll have the power to appoint Supreme Court nominees. Ridge can win his home state for Bush, as well as neighboring New Jersey. He's a popular Vietnam vet who'll be well-received in the states that will decide the election: the Rust Belt states. We already know that Gore takes New England, New York, Maryland and probably California; likewise, the South and Rocky Mountain states will end up in Bush's column.

Taking a breather in London

Spring vacation is upon the MUGGER family, and while the urge to keep hammering the duplicitous Al Gore is powerful, instead I'll take next week off and reflect on the 2000 presidential race while visiting relatives and friends in the UK. Nothing like a dinner at South Kensington's Bibendum, catching up with Toby Young and getting lost in the London Dungeon to put Gore's daily contradictions into perspective.

It was unsurprising last week, after he'd clinched the Democratic nomination, to see on the same day (March 9) in The New York Times these contrasting lead paragraphs of "news" articles in the Gore Paper of Record. Katharine Q. Seelye wrote: "Vice President Al Gore moved quickly today to stake out the high ground on overhauling the campaign finance system, saying he would make it a campaign priority."

Don Van Natta Jr. and John Broder started their story differently: "A day after Vice President Al Gore challenged Gov. George W. Bush to a mutual halt in raising the unlimited campaign donations known as soft money, Gore aides were launching a program to help the Democrats raise $35 million in such funds over the next few months."

This is one reason why November's election will be so close: George Bush has the issues, personality and the reality of Clinton fatigue on his side. On the other hand, Gore is such a tenacious and unrepentant liar, who'll meet with Jesse Ventura on one day to talk "reform," then attend an "Iron Triangle" fundraiser the next. The Texas Governor will have to counteract the Vice President's sleazy attacks on his character and alleged "lack of experience" to be president, as well as demonize his race-baiting, which is disguised as uplifting sermons on Rainbow Coalition harmony.

And once the elite media is fully recovered from its four-month John McCain bender, they'll be tilling the tobacco fields for Massa Gore, tying Bush to the inconsequential Bob Jones (a man who's already been erased from most voters' minds), while ignoring Gore's far more repugnant obeisance to Al Sharpton.

Still, on occasion, the sun shines. Since the Los Angeles Times broke the story last week that, two years ago, Attorney General Janet Reno ignored the advice of Justice Dept. investigator Charles LaBella and FBI Director Louis Freeh that Gore, the Clintons and Harold Ickes be the subject of an independent prosecutor's probe for '96 campaign violations, it gets more difficult for the Vice President to mouth the words, "Like John McCain..."

Rep. Lindsey Graham, one of McCain's most ardent supporters-and, as a younger politician who's likely to run for a South Carolina U.S. Senate seat, one of the first to push for a unified GOP, unlike the bitter former Sen. Warren Rudman-was magnificently blunt with Fox News commentator Paula Zahn last Sunday. He said: "Al Gore, of all people, saying [campaign finance reform] 'is the centerpiece of my campaign.' That would be like Bill Clinton giving sexual harassment seminars. I mean, these guys are just shameless... Al Gore didn't make mistakes on campaign finance reform. I think he broke the law. And this whole Justice Department; Richard Nixon would've dreamed to have Janet Reno during Watergate."

Even The New York Times had to chastise Reno with an editorial on March 11. "These latest documents," the tepid rebuke read, "however, cast further doubt on her wisdom and add to the evidence that she has run a Justice Department that often puts politics ahead of impartial law enforcement." One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, guys. The Times, of course, could have demanded Reno's resignation, but their agenda of electing Gore doesn't square with that (at this point) mildly courageous stand.

The Democratic establishment counters with Bush's unprecedented fundraising for his nomination quest, even though all the money was legally accounted for and disclosed on the Internet. And let's not forget about Sam Wyly's $2.5 million environmental ad campaign leading up to the March 7 blizzard of primaries-an effort the Bush campaign didn't know about-and just the utter corruption of everything in Texas. Except Lloyd Bentsen and Molly Ivins. As if that holds an incense candle to Gore's willing participation in fleecing nuns for money in California back in '96. But as Gore told the Times last Sunday, that's "old news." Maybe that's Gore's take, but you can be sure it's on the front burner for Maria Hsia, convicted two weeks ago in the scandal. If she does time, maybe she'll receive a form letter soliciting donations for Gore 2000.

Campaigning in Florida, Bush reacted to Gore's Times comments by saying, "I wasn't sure if it was an April Fool's edition or not of the newspaper... One of his close friends was indicted and convicted of fundraising excesses. I think the Vice President is somebody who will say anything to get elected."

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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