Jewish World Review May 12, 1999/ 26 Iyar 5759
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Richard Berke, a Times Washington reporter who regularly makes a mockery of the profession—and that takes some doing in the Beltway—has finally wised up that Bush isn’t a tool of the religious right. In fact, in his May 7 article, he was forced to admit the sheer breadth of Bush’s support—more than 100 House Republicans, a third of the GOP’s senators and more than half of the country’s governors. He doesn’t care to mention that Pete Laney, the Democratic House Speaker in Texas, has told the Associated Press, “He’s been a good governor. I think he would be a good president.”
Although the guts of Berke’s story was that the GOP establishment is solidifying behind Bush because of his organization, “compassionate conservatism” and the sheer desire to win in 2000—duh, Rick—even he seemed to be amazed that the Governor’s nomination is considered “inevitable” even though he hasn’t formally declared his candidacy yet or participated in the hoedowns currently being held in Iowa and New Hampshire. He writes: “Mr. Bush’s support is so vast that his endorsements already far surpass those of Vice President Al Gore on the Democratic side. That is remarkable given that Mr. Gore has only one opponent and has been the presumed Democratic nominee to succeed President Clinton since their election in 1992, two years before Mr. Bush was even elected Governor.”
Berke’s extensive piece on Bush simply proves that it takes a liberal reporter at least six months to figure out what’s happening in a conservative campaign.
And Haley Barbour, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, and a member of Bush’s “exploratory committee,” felt the need not to jinx the Governor’s remarkable solidity of support by saying that he won’t get the nomination on “a silver platter.”
Last Saturday, Times reporter Kevin Sack wrote an enormous article—“On the Record,” the beginning of the Times’ takeouts on presidential candidates; it was telling that Bush was first instead of Gore—about the business and political history of Gov. Bush and didn’t, try though he did, lay a glove on him. He detailed Bush’s Texan oil operations in the 80s and found that while not all of his transactions and mergers were successful, and that he had unusual access to capital because of his family, he did nothing illegal. Sack could find barely a person who had less than glowing comments about Bush’s work habits, ambition and energy.
Sack tried to give former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth the lion’s share of credit in the deal that led Bush and other investors, including the legendary Richard Rainwater, to buy the Texas Rangers. But it’s testimony to Bush’s involvement in the team, and the building of a new stadium in Arlington, that once he left active participation to become governor in ’94, the team’s consortium of owners began bickering among themselves, which led to the sale of the Rangers in June of last year to Thomas O. Hicks. The price was $250 million, which gave Bush a gross return of $14.9 million on his relatively small investment. Sure, there was luck involved, but nobody connected with the team denies that the future governor was an active owner who worked tirelessly to build the franchise.
The political landscape has changed so drastically even since ’92, with the front-loading of primaries, and the media’s eager acquiescence to the “permanent campaign” that Bill Clinton perfected, that the same rules don’t apply for the next election. So, despite all the opinions rendered now about the problems of past front-runners (say, Walter Mondale, Edmund Muskie and Phil Gramm), this nomination is all but wrapped up. Analysts like to point out Michigan Gov. George Romney as a Bush-like example who was ahead in the polls for the ’68 GOP nomination until his “brainwashing” comment killed his campaign. But Romney was never the sure thing that reporters seem to remember: Richard Nixon, although licking his wounds after his defeat by Pat Brown in the ’62 California governor’s election, was extremely active from ’64 on, raising money for Republican candidates and collecting chits along the way.
There was never any real doubt that he’d be the nominee that year. Forget all the GOP presidential candidates except Sen. John McCain and Elizabeth Dole. McCain, who received a tacit endorsement from George Will last Sunday (Will is another conservative who doesn’t trust anyone named Bush), was catapulted into the top tier by his straightforward speeches on the Kosovo crisis, all the more notable because of Clinton’s utterly slipshod war strategy. Will, after recounting McCain’s well-known POW status in Vietnam and repeated calls to eliminate Milosevic, wrote: “For some voters, the 2000 presidential election poses a single question: Which candidate is least like Clinton? Listening to McCain last week, some of those voters may have left the ‘undecided’ category.” Will is infatuated with McCain right now, the political equivalent of Cal Ripken Jr., I suppose, but he temporarily ignores the fact that McCain, aside from his sudden burst of leadership on Kosovo, will not resonate with Republican primary voters. Remember, it was McCain who tried to push through an enormous tax hike in his battle against the tobacco companies last year. In addition, his coupling with liberal Sen. Russ Feingold, a Democrat, on campaign finance reform, won’t win him any points once that’s highlighted in the race.
As for Dole, she’s running for vice president (a slot Bush will never allow her) and is getting desperate in her increasing schedule of appearances. She may have caught the Times’ Maureen Dowd’s fancy when she advocated limited support for gun control, a position that drew boos as well as cheers in a New Hampshire appearance, but she’s too stiff to go the distance. Dowd wrote last Wednesday: “In the aftermath of Littleton, when other Republicans have taken cheap shots at Hollywood, Mrs. Dole was the only one in this mediocre mob who had the courage to stand up to the N.R.A. saying special interests should not dictate policy... Mrs. Dole’s position may have been calculated, but it was also correct. And this bite wasn’t dainty.”
Jill Abramson’s Times Magazine piece on Gore last Sunday was mostly unremarkable, a stew of anecdotes from supporters who claim he’s not as “wooden” as his public image, jibes at his habit of telling the same stupid jokes at stump appearances and of course the quandary he faces in fundraising, given the illegal campaign contributions of the ’96 Clinton-Gore campaign. Not that that has deterred the Gore money machine from raising more than $8 million in the first quarter of ’99, a record amount. Buddhist nuns? History.
There were two bits in the Abramson story that I found interesting.
First, David Geffen, the billionaire who plays kingmaker in his t-shirt and jeans and is tone-deaf to Democratic scandals of any kind, gave this astonishing quote to Abramson: “I view this as an important election. We’re going to work very hard to elect Gore and replace the most radical House and Senate in history.” That’s a laugh. The GOP-controlled Congress, ostensibly led by pork-slobbering hacks like Trent Lott and Denny Hastert, is a listless bunch; in fact, this “radical” body is unlikely to pass any legislation of merit in the next 18 months. That’s why it’s so important for the Republicans to elect a president who can actually lead, enact a conservative agenda and get along with the Democratic minority as well.
Second, one of Gore’s Harvard roommates, John Tyson, “an international business investor,” has solicited money from their class of ’69.
Abramson writes, without editorializing: “At a recent gala in Washington, Tyson solicited $20,000 from the class of ’69, and is now expanding his efforts to other classes.” For Gore’s sake, I hope other Harvard grads are more generous; $20,000 from a group of influential men is bupkus.
Robert Squier, a political consultant who’s working with the Gores, can shout all he wants that such cynicism is unwarranted—“She has tried to lay this out in a context that is understandable to others; she ought to be applauded for it”—but I’m convinced that Al Gore has learned more from his slimy boss than he’d like to admit.
Memory? What’s That You Asked?
The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen is the epitome of the Beltway pundit who draws a fat paycheck for tapping out opinions two or three times a week. He may be the only writer in America who uses the word “I” more than MUGGER. He flipflops, takes internal polls in his head and has a checkered personal life. No wonder he’s written so many positive columns about Bill Clinton, just like other boomers who lead less than virtuous private lives. I’d mention a fiftysomething writer at The New Yorker, but that would be rude. And MUGGER is never, ever, rude. After all, I’m just a hayseed from Baltimore.
Cohen wrote two columns in the space of nine days that were completely contradictory. I don’t know if his work is factchecked or even read by editors at the Post. I know it must be an onerous task to take on that duty, but one would assume it’s somebody’s job.
Nine days later, Cohen has decided that Gore doesn’t have the right stuff. “Now I come to Al Gore, who spoke at the Columbine High School memorial service. He was not up to the task. He was stiff and uninspiring. He seemed to lack empathy. If he hurt, you could not tell it. If he was sad, he did not show it. He seemed to be there because that, after all, is what vice presidents do—not because he had something to say and felt compelled to say it. On that day, Gore showed that he and the presidency he seeks are not a perfect match.
“...[Gore] is a good man, a good and decent man, and in many respects he would make a good president. But the Columbine speech, more than any other recent event, shows his limitations. It was, at best, vice presidential—no higher.”
So, I guess for now Cohen is on the Bradley team. Not to mention the obligatory obeisance to McCain, the Republican 90 percent of the Beltway pundits revere, because of his wartime record, but will never vote for. But give Cohen time—say 10 days or so—and he’ll be back cheerleading for Al and Tipper.
The Loon Needs to Retire
I wish Jerry Falwell would retire to a Virginia farm and just shun the media spotlight. He feeds the prejudice of liberals around the country, ready to pounce on him even if a statement he utters on Larry King Live is as benign as, “I don’t care what the doctors say, I’m not giving up grits for breakfast!” And then there are his stupid crusades: The latest is his battle with Anheuser-Busch for a beer advertisement in a Midwest gay publication that depicts two men holding hands. Jerry, calm down.
This is called marketing to a specific demographic; and besides, the ad is partially sponsoring a gay pride festival in St. Louis on June 26 and 27. What’s the harm in that?
I’m a lot more concerned about other images “coming into our homes” than two guys holding hands. Say Rosie O’Donnell’s tv show, Margaret Carlson and Al Hunt on Capital Gang, any number of sitcoms that New Yorker writers like to review, Alan Dershowitz, the entire O.J. Simpson spectacle and toy commercials aimed at gullible kids. Not to the mention the sound of WEVD’s Jay Diamond.
Bill Kristol Needs a Vacation
It’s no secret that I’m an unabashed fan of The Weekly Standard, the best magazine that’s been launched this decade. Still, the cover of its May 10 issue was way over the top, a People-like deification of Cassie Bernall, the unfortunate girl who was killed in Littleton. The headline read “Do You Believe in God?” “Yes.” Matt Labash, whose acerbic writing enlivens the weekly on a regular basis, drew the assignment of traveling to Colorado to report on the makeshift shrines in honor of Cassie, reprinting a poem she wrote, and wondering whether she’ll “enter the pantheon of the faith’s great martyrs.” It’s an undeniable tragedy that this good teen met such a premature fate, as it is for the other 12 victims, but Labash’s prose makes me wonder whether the Standard will just stop the conversation within their offices and endorse Gary Bauer for the GOP presidential nomination right here and now.
The events in Littleton made an understandable splash in the media, and touched a chord with the American public, but I don’t believe it’s the watershed tragedy that will define the country’s culture in the coming years. More likely it will be forgotten soon, if not already, and then reprised as the end-of-the-year magazine retrospectives are released. Getting back to the writing that one’s accustomed to when reading Labash, his Standard colleague Andrew Ferguson contributed an hilarious book review of Christopher Hitchens’ new Verso screed on Bill Clinton in the May 24 Fortune.
While saying that Hitchens didn’t fully succeed in nailing the criminal president—“[His] case is hobbled by his own leftism”—Ferguson concludes with yuks-filled praise for the author, who’s currently more famous for his courageous ratting on Rat Sidney Blumenthal than his scabrous political essays. Ferguson: “Nothing written by Christopher Hitchens can be utterly without pleasures. The prose is polished to a luminous glow, and the invective is of a high humor. How can you dislike a writer who calls Alan Dershowitz a ‘loophole artist for rich thugs’ or Arthur Schlesinger a ‘polka-dotted popinjay’? Hitchens is fearless and erudite and blessedly untainted by conventional wisdom.”
It’s a Lazy Day in Howell Raines’ Office
One more piece of evidence that almost all daily newspapers employ way too many incompetents. What else can explain the mindless editorial about John Elway’s retirement in the May 4 New York Times? Sure, Elway, the star quarterback who played 16 years for the Denver Broncos, was a superb athlete. He won two Super Bowls and was especially adept at rallying his team in the fourth quarter of a game. All of that was explained on the sports pages.
Frankly, I don’t give a hoot about Elway’s golfing prowess, and reading
about it on the editorial page of The New York Times is simply an
abomination. I’d much rather see an admission of why the Times’ news
coverage is so biased against Republicans and the Bush family in
particular, or even another Mobil ad, but I suppose you can belly up to
the martini bar more quickly by writing such twaddle about a sports star
rather than on issues of
05/07/99: There Will Always Be a Washington, DC