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Jewish World Review March 31, 2000/ 24 Adar II, 5760


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Political notes -- WHILE IN London, my blood pressure went up a notch when I read the New York Times review (faxed to me a few days ahead of publication) of Peggy Noonan's "The Case Against Hillary Clinton,", which I'd given a rave notice in the March 16 Wall Street Journal. Michael Oreskes, toeing the Times party line, panned the brilliant book because it was a "polemic" and not based on thorough reporting. Like readers don't already know that the Clintons are a pair of social-climbing, power-hungry ciphers who don't care about anybody but themselves.

That's my opinion: and Oreskes has his, citing administration toady Jeffrey Toobin's whitewash book A Vast Conspiracy as proof that Noonan's effort was flawed. Yes, Oreskes is that objective, as if Toobin doesn't have his own agenda, just like Noonan. These strange people employed by the Times have an endless store of arrogance and their work is really quite disgusting to read; what's worse is that none of them seems to know that the Times in its current incarnation is a neon blight on today's journalism. Unfortunately, because readers are so easily duped, mine might be a minority view.

Oreskes writes on March 19: "In Toobin's telling, Bill Clinton, while flawed and foolish, was really a good guy, besieged by overzealous opponents who did far worse things than the president and the first lady. Noonan's case against Hillary Clinton would have been stronger by far if she had confronted this line of thinking and showed New Yorkers why it was wrong."

Okay, I get it: Noonan's book would be "stronger" if she agreed with the equally biased Toobin, Oreskes and The New York Times. At least Noonan admits up front that she believe the election of Hillary to the Senate would continue "Clintonism," something I'm sure most Americans are not in favor of.

Toobin is a prominent reporter whose writing should be recognized for its partisanship and elitism. He had a piece in the March 20 New Yorker, a profile of Washington Post publisher Donald Graham that was repellent for its condescension. Toobin says that Graham runs the "nation's second-most important newspaper"; I don't think he was alluding to The Wall Street Journal as the top banana. Frankly, as a Manhattanite, I'd swap the Times for Graham's paper in a flash. Toobin sniffs at Graham's obsession with market penetration, quoting the executive: "A lot of what makes the Post a good business is that if you put an ad in to sell shirts, you'll sell a lot of shirts." What an extraordinary concept! A newspaperman who thinks about commerce instead of promoting a political agenda!

On Monday night, I was watching CNN and there was John McCain being interviewed on the steps of the Capitol, explaining to a doting reporter that he was glad to be back at work, ready to cooperate on his pet reform projects with "Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and vegetarians." I'll ease up on John of Arc now that he won't be the GOP nominee, but it would be gratifying if he got some new material. Perhaps Salon's Jake Tapper, once he emerges from McCain's lower intestine to become the Senator's press secretary, can help out on that front.

Purchasing this book
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What's far more irritating is that the Beltway press, looking for a villain in the McCain campaign-someone who dashed their dreams for a "reform" candidate they'd never vote for-has settled on consultant Mike Murphy. Jacob Weisberg was especially obnoxious in a March 16 Slate dispatch: calling Murphy a "creep," the reporter objected to the outspoken strategist's interview with The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz (a fellow McCain toady) a few days after the Senator's campaign was suspended. Saying that Murphy exceeds the "normal standards of the political-consulting profession, which ranks ethically somewhere between personal-injury law and loan-sharking," Weisberg claims that Murphy was a credit-hog, a backstabber, a purveyor of dirty campaigning and sneaky. I'd say that reporters like Weisberg, who completely betrayed their own political instincts to fall in the tank for a committed conservative like McCain, rank very low in the ethics department, but that's a different and longer story.

Question: If Murphy was such a skunk, why didn't White Knight McCain fire him? Answer: Because without Murphy's brilliant co-optation of almost the entire liberal media, and some on-acid-for-a-month conservatives, McCain wouldn't have become a phenomenon, a famous man who inspired millions to vent their own anger-which probably had nothing to do with the candidate. If it weren't for Murphy, McCain, underfunded from the start, would've pulled a Bruce Babbitt (another media favorite) and dropped out early in the race.

Weisberg dumps on Murphy for suggesting to Kurtz that the now-infamous Virginia Beach speech, in which McCain stupidly blasted Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, was the work of campaign manager Rick Davis and that he tried to soften it. Who knows? I'll bet that Murphy and all the McCain staff high-fived each other (along with reporters) after those remarks-which equated a has-been like Falwell with Al Sharpton!-almost immediately backfired. In any case, McCain himself was on a messianic crusade at that time, high from all the attention and certain of his self-righteous and miscalculated screed. Again, if McCain, the candidate, didn't sign off on the oration, he didn't have to deliver it.

It's the job of a political consultant to vault his client to victory. Murphy and McCain's other main handlers almost pulled off a miracle, against incredible odds. That Weisberg and scores of other reporters who bonded with the former POW are now disappointed is no reason to blame the hired hands. McCain was the presidential candidate; he wasn't a puppet. And that's something I'm sure he'd agree with.

The Nation's David Corn wasn't nearly as churlish and mean-spirited as Weisberg in his March 27 editorial about the primary results, but his writing was just as silly. It seemed a throwback to the 60s, with an odd twist: When did The Nation ever mourn the defeat of a man who's pro-NRA, anti-Hollywood, a military hawk, pro-life and a self-proclaimed political heir to Ronald Reagan? It seems reform covers it all: you utter that word and liberals come running. It doesn't matter that's McCain's hobbyhorses are the elimination of "soft money" in politics, which Mr. Keating Five collected plenty of, and a war against tobacco.

And that's it. Now, in the extreme solipsism of the media that rallied behind McCain, it was obvious they believed the candidate would "grow" and become a full-fledged progressive with honor. Talk about self-deception.

Corn writes: "The system works. After Super Tuesday, each party has as its putative nominee the fellow embraced by its elites, by its main money people, by its prominent lobbyists and, of course, by its loyal voters, who followed the orders from above and spurned challengers who, in limited fashion, dared their parties to be better. John McCain and Bill Bradley provided more discomfort than expected. But the lesson is not startling: It's damn hard to beat the Man. Even when you're a reformer/ war hero who inspires independents. Even when you're a reformer/sports hero defying the number-two to an impeached President."

"The Man"? I haven't heard that term in 20 years. But what's most startling about this Nation editorial is its condescending attitude to all those who voted for Bush and Gore. The Bush voters are written off as sheep-like boobs, but what about all the "people of color," gays and union members who cast their lot with Gore? Do Corn and The Nation, who champion these groups in every issue, really believe they're so stupid as to "follow the orders from above"? I'd like to hear a response to that.

(It should be noted that Corn, who's written for New York Press in the last two years, has had his column discontinued. No knock on Corn, a friendly and smart fellow, just a hard editorial decision that comes up from time to time. Also, he tells me that the "the Man" line was a joke, but I sort of doubt it.)

Now to the truly reprehensible, if only for its mass circulation: on March 16 Richard Berke and Frank Bruni wrote the standard anti-Bush article, this one headlined "Bush Rebuffs Bid To Embrace Views Pushed By McCain." Their front-page lead story was larded with the bias against the Texas Governor that has defined the Times' agenda in the GOP nomination battle, suggesting that current relations between the two competitors were far more strained than they really were. The story, once again, was accompanied by a large, unflattering picture of Bush.

However, if you read the excerpts of the interview that Berke and Bruni conducted with Bush (presumably recorded verbatim) you'll emerge with a different picture from their one-sided story.

Bush: "First of all, Al Gore is no John McCain. Please don't lump John into that category... I know everybody said this was a dirty campaign. Compared to many campaigns, it wasn't and the proof is that we had huge turnouts in our primaries, huge, much bigger than the Democrats and much bigger than the past... I know that some are saying that people aren't interested in tax relief. I happen to think they are. And even if they weren't, I'd still be talking about it, because I happen to think it's important for the economic growth."

Berke & Bruni: "Polls say voters aren't demanding a huge tax cut and that they trust Al Gore more on the tax issue. Is that not like campaigning with weights around your ankles?"

Bush: May I make something really clear to you, once again, and I hope this pleases you. I don't care what the polls say. I don't... It's not going to change my opinion about what I think should happen."

Now it's possible that Americans don't care about tax cuts. (Although I believe that most believe that a dollar they earn is better put in their pocket than in the binge-spending government's.) Still, Bush's position on polls is refreshing after seven years of Bill Clinton relying on focus groups and a battery of pollsters to dictate not only domestic and international policy, but where to vacation.

Then I was reading the March 21 International Herald Tribune and nearly spit up my coffee. Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Jim Yardley, of the New York Times Service, come up with a whopper on the McCain/Bush front.

They write: "Without question, Mr. Bush has been a popular governor, yet he is not widely viewed in Texas as a reformer. Unlike Senator John McCain of Arizona, who bucked the Republican Party on such issues as campaign finance and tobacco legislation, Mr. Bush is not as confrontational, nor is he usually identified with sweeping change. His record is largely built on compromise and his ability to build coalitions with conservative Democrats.

"Mr. Bush's boldest effort at reform-his 1997 plan to overhaul the state's outdated tax code-failed badly. The governor won plaudits for his courage but ultimately could not leverage the 'political capital' he has promised to use if elected president: He could not win the support of enough lawmakers in his own party."

Amazing. Start with that last sentence: McCain couldn't win the support of his own party either in his attempts at reform. Both examples of McCain's "bucking" the system failed miserably. And is it bad that Bush wants to work with conservative Democrats in Congress, just as LBJ gathered members from both aisles at his toilet to ram through legislation? Unintentionally, Yardley and Oppel Jr. prove that Bush, based on his record in Texas, would be superior to McCain in actually passing laws.

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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