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Jewish World Review April 12, 2000/ 7 Nissan, 5760


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The human cliche: AlGore seeks another box-office issue -- LET'S SEE: How badly has Al Gore screwed up his presidential run in the past week? The Veep's campaign finance reform proposal, which a fortnight ago was slated as his number-one issue, was apparently ditched, since it not only met with Sen. John McCain's derision, but was ridiculed in the media as well.

As Gore knows, a slush fund is a slush fund is a slush fund. Next came his break with Bill Clinton and Janet Reno on the question of whether to send Elian Gonzalez back to Cuban hell: the former duo said kiss the little boy's ass goodbye, Gore loudly protested that Elian deserved permanent residency status. But that didn't last long.

In the span of three days last week, Gore gave about 100 different versions of his position on Elian; none of them the truth, it almost goes without saying. He couldn't admit that he was attempting to force rival George W. Bush to spend money and time in Florida this fall, distracting him from the vital Rust Belt states that will decide the election. But on the day that Reno gave a press conference announcing the United States' doublecross of Elian, Gore was mum about the controversy, even though he was in Florida attending a $5000-per-person fundraiser at the home of Rep. Peter Deutsch.

Gore's spokesman, Doug Hattaway, fully trained in Gore-speak, issued a statement on behalf of the mute Vice President: "He thinks it's important to let those talks happen and let the process play out, so he's not going to make any statement. He understands that people disagree with his position, but he thinks it's the right approach, and you have to let the chips fall where they may."

Well, that was, uh, confusing.

As a result of Gore's blundered fake to the right, it appears that Bush doesn't have to worry all that much about carrying the state that his brother Jeb governs. It may even force Gore to choose Florida Sen. Bob Graham as his runningmate, a second-string choice. As I've written before, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, lieutenant governor of Maryland, is an ideal choice for Gore-a woman who can sprinkle Kennedy dust all over the nation. And, unlike most of her clan, Townsend has a clean record: there are no arrests or confessions of substance abuse; she's a loving mother and wife, and the one child of Robert F. Kennedy who's not only deeply religious but has taken her father's idea of public service to heart.

Oh, Mo

Maureen Dowd, writing on April 2 in The New York Times, exposed Gore for his hypocrisy: "True, Al Gore looks craven for breaking with the president to lend his support to the efforts to keep [Elian] here. But why shouldn't he try to wrest Florida's Cuban-American vote out of the grip of the Bush brothers? This is Gore at his Goriest, standing firm on shifting principles. As a doting father, the vice president should put his own family's need to live in the White House ahead of Juan Gonzalez's need to live with his son in some shack in Cuba."

It goes with saying, however, that Dowd can't write a column without trashing George W. Bush. (I'm not sure if that's part of her contract at the Times or simply pure principle. Probably the former, since Dowd isn't prone to Big Thoughts, unless they involve Ireland, her father or Hollywood.) So she continues: "Like all Republicans, the Bush boys believe in family values and the rule of law-as long as those beliefs don't get in the way of a good wedge issue. W. and Jeb pander most fluently in Spanish."

A lame joke, but probably popular on the Upper West Side. It's also completely untrue. Jeb Bush, who disdains grandstanding, has largely kept out of the Gonzalez mess; his brother, who long ago stated his position that he'd back legislation to keep Elian in Miami, and not jettison the child back to Fidel Castro's brainwashing camp, hasn't, unlike his competitor, exploited the issue. Obviously, all politicians pander to potential voters, depending on what state they're speaking in-George Bush's sudden conversion as an environmentalist last week was particularly absurd-but in this case, Dowd's just taking a cheap shot.

It's early in the presidential campaign, but the media has been rough on Gore, a surprising turn of events now that McCain is out of the running. Liberal pundits, one, two, three and more, are in a race to level Bill Clinton's Last Victim. Lars-Erik Nelson, who's aghast anyone would actually advocate that Elian Gonzalez remain in a democratic country, scorched Gore in his April 9 Daily News column. He writes: "What Gore is doing is neither politics nor principle. It is simply a botched attempt to play it cute, not the courage you expect to find in a national leader. Can anyone imagine Dwight Eisenhower or Harry Truman letting a mob in Miami dictate how we enforce our laws?"

I support the Cuban-Americans of Miami, but if Nelson wants to help Gov. Bush, who am I to argue? Bush, at least currently, isn't running the aggressive campaign that one expects of a man who wants to cleanse the White House of Clintonism. He's timid about making gutsy policy speeches; dawdles on small-bore issues when he could be making headlines with a firm declaration of support for the people of Taiwan; and is reluctant to hire advisers who don't have an Austin pedigree. This smells of Dukakisism.

Nonetheless, you can't blame the guy for staying on the sidelines while Gore makes a fool of himself at least twice a week. It's a weird strategy, but for the time being it seems to be working. How else to account for the fact that in recent polls, voters think Bush will manage the economy better than the Vice President?

Maybe that's because Pinocchio Al just can't resist an old-fashioned Tennessee fib. For example, on March 11, in Houston, Gore came up with the whopper that the Bush-Quayle early 90s recession was "the worst depression since the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s." First of all, now that we know Gore wasn't a straight-A Harvard student, maybe someone should explain to him the difference between a depression and a recession. Furthermore, according to the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, the Bush-Quayle economic dip rated eighth out of 10 since 1959. Jimmy Carter's team rated first, with a poor showing in the second quarter of 1980, when the gross domestic product fell 7.7 percent.

Last Wednesday, in Washington for an AFL-CIO rally, Gore told an enthusiastic crowd: "We face an opportunity to build on today's prosperity, use it to make sure no one is left behind, or to choose the other direction, which would mean a right-wing U-turn back to the Bush-Quayle deficits, the Bush-Quayle recession, the Bush-Quayle assault on working families." Despite the gullible congregation, Gore's remarks were incredibly stupid. While the present administration has, to its credit, compiled a record of economic prosperity, most economists would agree that it had little to do with either Clinton or Gore. Second, ridiculing the Texas Governor's father is a sure way to rouse him from this April slumber: there's nothing more important to Bush than family, especially his old man, and his best instincts, such as unwavering loyalty, come out when relatives are attacked.

Gore, Man of the People?
And Gore, Man of the People, proved his commitment to the downtrodden at a fundraiser in Florida last week that was packed with lawyers, at $10,000 a clip. In one of the clearest contrasts between the two presidential candidates, Gore is in favor of increased litigation in the United States, putting him on the side of the wealthy legal lobby, as well as organs of democracy like The New York Times.

The Times, in a March 31 editorial about the crazy monetary judgments rendered in favor of former smokers suing tobacco companies, said: "The anti-smoking campaign suffered a setback recently when the Supreme Court ruled that the Food and Drug Administration did not have authority to regulate tobacco. Congress ought to give the F.D.A. that power, but in the meantime lawsuits may prove the best weapon to drive the industry to more responsible behavior."

I'm drifting a bit now, but here's a question I'd like answered: Why hasn't the Times, or the liberal Democrats in Congress, advocated prohibition of tobacco if they're so certain that people aren't smart enough to know that smoking causes health problems? I'm being a smart aleck because anyone with a lick of sense knows that the tobacco industry's bankruptcy would put a lot of lawyers out on the street, therefore unable to donate loads of cash to the Democratic Party; and that also the government takes in too much money from onerous taxes on tobacco products.

According to Ceci Connolly's article in the April 9 Washington Post, Democratic National Committee Chairman Ed Rendell said at a Houston gathering of lawyers: "Eighty to 90 percent of those [consumer] safety advances came from litigation, so I think we are proud as a party to have the support of the trial lawyers. It is nothing we apologize for." Gore, by Rendell's side, then threw in for good measure: "We fight for the working people, for those who don't have the resources." He added that Republicans "draw from the wealthiest, most powerful and well-heeled." It's true that the GOP lards its campaign coffers with contributions from rich men and women, but it's not as if the Democrats are piling up their millions from the likes of lawyers like Ron Kuby, who really does take the cases of people "who don't have the resources." No, it's the $500/hour litigators who keep the Democrats afloat, along with dumb and dumber movie stars and Hollywood executives.

Imagine this: What if Bush, or some future Republican president, actually has the guts and brains to demolish the IRS? Think of all the lawyers and accountants who'd have to pursue another line of work. Somehow, I don't think most Americans would shed too many tears.

McCain being himself
I didn't see it at the time, but there was a benefit from all those reporters kissing up to John McCain on his "Straight Talk Express." McCain was so reckless in his campaign that he blew his chances for the presidency; had he not compared Bush to Clinton, one, and needlessly nuked Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell (while sparing even more militant religious conservatives like James Dobson), the GOP nomination might still be in doubt. However, Slate reporter Jacob Weisberg went from eating donuts with McCain to glimpsing Gore from afar (the Veep refuses to hold press conferences), and his eyes were opened. I suppose that's optimistic, and Weisberg will undoubtedly continue to ridicule Bush, but he's been unexpectedly tough on the Vice President.

In an April 7 dispatch, Weisberg wrote: "Equally fatuous is the way Gore takes credit for having a strong record on Hispanic issues by taking all of his claims about the administration's accomplishments and recasting them as accomplishments for the sake of Latinos. His release notes that Hispanic unemployment is down, Hispanic real wages are up, and so on. 'Hispanic Families Have Flourished Under the Clinton-Gore Administration,' the release declares. 'The Administration's economic policies have helped thousands of Hispanic families.' This may be a valid claim, but it's an absurd way to boast about an economy that has brought the same good things to all people without regard to size, shape, or color. You could change all 37 instances of the term 'Hispanic' in Gore's statement to 'Episcopalian' without making it any less accurate-or any more meaningful."

And Albert Hunt, The Wall Street Journal's liberal albatross, also can't shake the McCain Kool-Aid. Granted, in his April 6 column he took the opportunity to impugn Bush's readiness for "prime time," still harping on the Governor's stupid fudge, during a debate, on a Dean Acheson biography. Still, the McCain-enhanced Hunt had this to say: "Democrats...believe the more important issue will be that the Texas governor isn't ready for prime time, that he lacks the heft to be president. That theory was advanced against Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential race and against George W. Bush in Texas in 1994-spectacularly failing both times."

Hunt gives Gore a backhanded compliment when he writes: "[W]hen it comes to truthfulness and morality the vice president is leagues ahead of the president." Since Gore is neither truthful nor moral, I imagine that Hunt was just making the best of a bad situation; after all, even Rep. David Bonior is more honest than Clinton. The quasi-liberated Journal pundit continues down the Gore Information Highway by recognizing, unlike some of his colleagues and Gore staff hacks-sometimes they're hard to tell apart-that the odor of Clinton's reign remains in Washington. He writes: "There is a public fatigue with the duplicities of this administration, and Republicans will benefit if it looks like this will persist in a Gore administration."

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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© 2000, Russ Smith