Jewish World Review April 22, 2004/ 1 Iyar 5764
He thinks this election's about him; let's make lots of money
A pro-Bush pal called last Wednesday, the day after the President's prime-time press conference, and was dismayed, saying, "For the first time, I think he could actually lose the election." Well, no kidding, but it'll have nothing to do with his typically ham-handed response to the questions of partisan journalists. As I've written previously, John Kerry, despite being an awful candidate, is essentially a placeholder this fall. If the war in Iraq remains chaotic, to say nothing of the entire Mideast, and the economy turns sluggish, Bush will be chucked out of office. End of story, regardless of what Kerry does or doesn't promise.
Of course Bush was feeble in the q&a segment of the hour-long event. That's why he schedules so few press conferences. A more nimble president would've batted the hostile query of Time's John Dickerson asking about mistakes he's made by saying something like, "Yes, like anyone I've made decisions over a three-year period of time that now, in hindsight, I regret, and one of them includes calling on you, John." A smattering of polite laughter in the room, and the "gotcha" attempt would've failed. And I cringed when Bush couldn't answer why he and Dick Cheney have to appear in tandem before Thomas Kean's tainted 9/11 Commission. Who in the world was coaching the President before he appeared before so many men and women who can't stand him?
New York Times reporter David Rosenbaum, in a rare instance of candor, wrote on April 18 about Bush's botched attempt to defuse the "mistake" trap. "No one who follows the news closely was surprised that Mr. Bush ducked this and other questions. After all, reporters have but one goal to lure the president into committing a gaffe or divulging something he shouldn'tů [W]hat baffled people who have worked inside the White House was that Mr. Bush did not seem ready for the question."
It does, as always, cause worry that Bush could bomb in his two debates with Kerry this fall, but that's not likely. The media will, as it did in 2000, prop up Bush as the doofus underdog matching wits with the droning Massachusetts senator, and so unless he really commits a Gerry Ford-like gaffe maybe calling Teddy Kennedy a "f----ing drunk," for example the results will be called a draw.
As for the press conference, I doubt it'll have much affect on his standing in the polls, which are almost useless six months before the election. Bush's opening statement was powerful and far more important than his volleying with a bunch of affluent journalists all competing to trip up their perceived intellectual inferior.
Bush said, in a passage widely quoted by those who don't hope for an American catastrophe in Iraq: "Above all, the defeat of violence and terror in Iraq is vital to the defeat of violence and terror elsewhere; and vital, therefore, to the safety of the American people. Now is the time, and Iraq is the place, in which the enemies of the civilized world are testing the will of the civilized world. [Itals mine.] We must not waver.
"The violence we are seeing Iraq is familiar. The terrorist who takes hostages, or plants a roadside bomb near Baghdad is serving the same ideology of murder that kills innocent people on trains in Madrid, and murders children in Jerusalem, and blows up a nightclub in Bali, and cuts the throat of a young reporter for being a Jew."
Understandably, Kerry is attempting to be more than Bush's faceless opponent, perhaps learning from Bob Dole's memorably feeble campaign against Bill Clinton eight years ago. But one of his advisers (not the multimillionaire populist Bob Shrum) ought to advise the candidate to save the shrill attacks for when they're really needed. Last Friday, at a college rally in Pittsburgh, Kerry, perhaps on edge because of the calls for his Heinz heiress wife Teresa to release her tax returns (which would make for fascinating reading), went ballistic for no logical reason.
Who knows, maybe Uncle Teddy chewed him out in private for feigning a move away from liberal orthodoxy on the war and economy, maybe he felt one-upped by Bush's embrace of Ariel Sharon and Israel, but Kerry's dander was up.
Ostensibly, the Vietnam vet was steamed that the Bush campaign has made an issue of Kerry at first voting in favor of the Iraq invasion and later voting against the $87 billion authorization for military funding in Afghanistan and Iraq. Saying the Bush administration has a "twisted sense of ethics and morality," Kerry went for the jugular: "I'm tired of these Republicans who spend so much time denigrating Democrats and other people's commitment to the defense of our nation. I'm tired of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney and a bunch of other people who went out of their way to avoid their chance to serve when they had the chance. I went [to Vietnam]. I'm not going to listen to them talk to me about patriotism."
Clinton, of course, is exempt from such criticism. In 1992, when the slippery Arkansan was in a primary fight against Vietnam vet Bob Kerrey, the Massachusetts senator defended him, saying, "We do not need to divide America over who served and how. I have personally always believed that many served in different ways." Critics of Clinton (running against the first President Bush, a World War II vet) were labeled by Kerry as "latter-day Spiro Angews" who "played to the worst instincts of divisiveness and reaction that still haunt America."
Perhaps Kerry is spending too much time studying Michael Moore's anti-American website. The following snippet from entertainer's website is a beaut: "The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not 'insurgents' or 'terrorists' or 'The Enemy.' They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow and they will win. Get it, Mr. Bush?"
The White House has gone out of its way to praise Kerry's Vietnam service and not call his patriotism into question. A loaded charge like that would be as stupid as Kerry's remarks earlier this year that Republicans are liars and crooks.
Here's something I don't understand: Kerry has a decent hand going into this volatile election. All he has to do is sit back and let events unfold instead of inflaming Bush's base, not to mention undecided voters who aren't inclined to back someone with a hair-trigger temper. Hugh Hewitt, writing for the Weekly Standard's website on April 1 nailed Kerry, using a reverse Frank Rich/Maureen Dowd tactic by making an analogy to pop culture. Hewitt: "John Kerry is M*A*S*H's Major Frank Burns, returned to bluster and badger and arrogantly attempt to command his betters. To those below him, Burns was a constant pain. To those above, he was obsequious in the extreme. Towards his teammates whom he could not believe were his equals he was always condescending, the perfect combination of insecurity and inflated self-esteem."
Let's Make Lots of Money
Just for the record, I couldn't care less that Bob Dylan's appearing in a television ad for Victoria's Secret. It would've been weird if he'd shown up in a Seven-Up commercial 35 years ago, a mistake that might have short-circuited his career. But picking up a few extra bucks as a senior citizen in 2004? Not an issue. The perturbed notion that Dylan of all people! has "sold out" is as dated as the critics peddling that sense of outrage.
Seth Stevenson, writing for Slate on April 12, was on the money (even though he claimed to be "hallucinating" upon seeing the "countercultural artist" promoting undies), when he wrote the following: "[Dylan] may just think it's funny to be in an underwear ad and that flying to Venice to leer at models could make for a diverting weekend."
An April 14 Boston Globe editorial, presumably written by a Boomer, took a relaxed attitude, exonerating Dylan by citing his history of confounding fans, a calculated strategy that lost me an owner of about 100 Dylan bootleg recordings in the late-70s with his Vegas concert routine and subsequent born-again Christian phase. But you'd think this editorialist might want to shore up his or her credibility by getting the facts straight: Robbie Robertson, not Dylan, wrote "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."
Leslie Bennetts, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, the glossy that now combines Nation-like politics along with fawning celebrity profiles, coverage of sensational criminal trials and page after page of advertisements for items that only those in John Kerry's income bracket can afford, was beside herself over the Dylan spot.
Writing last Friday in The Los Angeles Times, Bennetts despaired that Dylan was guilty of "garden-variety avarice," as well as participating in a commercial "[that] looks like a recruiting tool for pedophilia." She questions the "geniuses" who dreamed up the campaign, saying "Guys, let me give you a clue: Nymphets are not lusting after Bob Dylan these days. Even 60-year-old grandmothers are not lusting after Bob Dylan these days." I'll grant her the point on young women, but I'll bet there would be a line of nostalgic Boomer grandmothers from Harlem to Battery Park City who'd just love to bang craggy old Bob.
Bennetts continues: "I suppose even Dylan has the right to pad his retirement account, but it's hard to defend his status as an enduring icon of moral outrage and political integrity when he's shilling for bras and panties." Talk about selective memory. Who exactly is holding Dylan up as an "icon" of "moral outrage" and "political integrity"? Certainly not the songwriter, but maybe Bennetts is confusing him with lesser talents such as Jackson Browne or Eddie Vedder. She further whines, after her husband played some classic Dylan records for their adolescent daughter, "I listened as I read the morning paper, and thinking about the parallels between Vietnam and the bloodbath in Iraq against a soundtrack of Dylan songs was almost too painful to bear. How many times, indeed?"
She ignores that Dylan, during the mid-late 60s, never spoke out about Vietnam, and in fact, wrote "Blowin' in the Wind" when another icon, John F. Kennedy, was just starting to ramp up the war. In fact, at the height of the protest movement, Dylan released Nashville Skyline (1969), a terrific album that featured a duet with Johnny Cash (back when he was considered a cracker by the counterculture) and sang exclusively about romance. And if Bennetts is talking about the lost sense of "moral outrage" of the new Victoria's Secret pitchman, she might remember that Dylan was exposed as a wife-beater during his divorce trial in the mid-70s.
I'll tell you what's a puzzling advertisement: Orioles slugger Rafael Palmeiro pitching Viagra. Here's a fellow destined for the Hall of Fame, barely into middle age, and he's on national tv discussing how the drug enhances his sexual performance. Talk about groveling for a few extra bucks.
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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.
© 2002, Russ Smith