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Jewish World Review May 12, 1999/ 26 Iyar 5759


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Sulzberger’s Redcoats Take Out The Muskets: Dick Berke Won’t Be Enough This Time Around

(JWR) ---- (
DESPITE THE ALLEGEDLY MISTAKEN bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade (for once, luck wasn’t on Bill Clinton’s side), the tornadoes in the Midwest and countless other fatal car wrecks and Jesse Jackson opportunistically basking in the glow of his meeting with Milosevic, The New York Times devoted much of its space this past weekend to the 2000 presidential campaign. Which meant, of course, the opening volley in their “Get George W. Bush” operation. The Times has historically trashed the entire Bush family, far more so than The Washington Post, for example, and as the contest continues, readers can expect a calculated effort to nuke the Texan governor’s candidacy.

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.

Danny Hellman
I assume the Times has already decided that the general election will pit Bush against Gore—the Bradley surge will fizzle out by the fall, I’d say, once the pundits are as bored with predicting an upset as they are listening to his listless speeches—and so even Berke’s story was grudgingly laudatory. Sure, he had the comments of a rival’s strategist, who said, “They’re panic-stricken on Capitol Hill and they’re afraid they’re going to lose their five-seat majority. And they’re looking for a savior. But in trying to preclude a contest from taking place before it’s even started, they’re putting an awful lot of eggs in the basket for a candidate they know absolutely nothing about.”

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.

Once Bush adjourns the Texas legislature, with what he hopes is a large tax cut that he can brag about on the hustings, he’ll start a very active campaign. All this braying from the likes of also-rans such as Gary Bauer, Lamar Alexander and John Kasich, who are understandably frustrated by Bush’s successful front-porch courting in Austin, are the whines from men who know that unless some major scandal erupts, they’re dead meat in 2000.

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.”

Fine, maybe Liddy has Dowd’s support (at least this week): She still doesn’t have the juice, or the money, to compete with Bush. And speaking of “cheap shots” at Hollywood, why didn’t Dowd mention both Clinton’s and Gore’s immediate scolding of their benefactors in the entertainment industry? They were just as “calculated” and “cheap.”

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.

Finally, no one with a heart would disagree that the near-death of the Gores’ son Albert III after being hit by a car at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium a decade ago was a catastrophe that would leave any parent reeling. But isn’t it odd that Tipper Gore revealed, in a USA Today op-ed piece last Friday, that she suffered depression after the accident and underwent counseling and took antidepressant medication? The Gore campaign must be so panicked by both the Bradley “boomlet,” as the Beltway crowd likes to call it, and the more serious Bush challenge, that they’ve already dealt the Tipper Card. Betty Ford, Kitty Dukakis and now Tipper, revealing that she isn’t perfect and just wants to help women who might have the same problem that she’s apparently now conquered. If Al Gore didn’t have a history of exploiting family tragedy, it wouldn’t matter much. But after his ’96 speech to the Democratic Convention, detailing his sister’s ’84 death from lung cancer (omitting, during his lackluster ’88 presidential campaign, that he proudly tilled tobacco for Southern photo ops), one has to wonder whether the man has any shame.

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.

Check out these examples. On April 20, Cohen bashes Dan Quayle, a legitimate candidate for president who doesn’t have a chance at the nomination because of his own miscues while vice president and the outrageous way in which the media exploited them. All because he’s a Republican. Cohen writes: “[Quayle] is now running for president on an almost nonexistent record of accomplishment. The best you can say for him—the best that he can say for himself—is that he won some races he was expected to lose... In contrast, I present Albert Gore Jr. This is not an endorsement, just an illustration. While in the Senate, Gore actually wrote an important book on the environment, ‘Earth in the Balance.’ He had other interests as well, but say what you will about him, no one can doubt his intellectual vigor and discipline. He has good and sufficient reason to run—as does, I might add, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) or Bill Bradley. They have done more than merely win.”

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?

But Jerry has no shame, even when there are so many causes that deserve more attention. Read this nonsense he wrote in Falwell Confidential: “Let’s keep the heat on Anheuser-Busch so that they understand that pro-family Americans are terribly concerned about homosexual images coming into our homes through reckless advertising campaigns.” God knows what skeletons lurk in Anheuser-Busch’s closet, but at least they’re not buckling under to the likes of Falwell, and no doubt GOP presidential candidates like Pat Buchanan, Gary Bauer, Alan Keyes, Liddy Dole and Robert Smith probably wish they’d thought of attacking the brewery and the free gay publication first.

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.

Labash writes: “The third thing one notices is the presence of God, who has surely pitched camp in Littleton. Even the agnostics approach this hallowed ground with the reverential awe of a high priest entering the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. You see it too with the often ill-mannered reporters, who don’t know whether to roll tape or to remove their shoes and walk in backwards.” Either the author has undergone a supreme conversion—I find it hard to believe that the obscene number of media who converged upon the massacre site were really on the good behavior Labash describes—or he stole a speech written for Al Gore to read at one of the many funerals he attended.

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.

But some editorial writer, twiddling his or her thumbs, had to offer this opinion: “Elway says he will now spend more time with his family and on the golf course, which should be a lot easier on his 38-year-old body. Despite limited playing time, he regularly shoots par, and has driven a ball 380 yards in Denver’s rarefied air. Television viewers may not have seen the last of his toothy grin and competitive fire.”

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 substance.

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


05/07/99: There Will Always Be a Washington, DC
05/05/99: Colorado Exploitation: Why Can’t CNN Just Go Home?
04/30/99: John John: I’ll Moonlight, Too
04/28/99: T.J. Walker’s The Man!: A Former Clinton Disciple Repents
04/23/99: Baseball and Politics
04/21/99: Sharpton’s Nostalgia Trip Is a Bust: The Backlash Is Immediate
04/16/99: Notes From A Baltimore Hick: Pressing My Nose Against the Window
04/14/99: The Bush JugGoreNaut Continues; Send Sharpton to A Rwanda Fat Farm
04/09/99: John McCain’s Moment
04/07/99:The Media Flips: It’s No Longer "Just About Sex"
04/05/99: The Gore Republic Gets Dressed Up. So What?
03/29/99:Louder Than Bombs: Jetlag and English Manners
03/26/99: Hollywood’s Horror Show
03/24/99: Black Ops Mark Vietnam War, Class War & the POW/MIA Issue
03/19/99: The Wealthy Survivor
03/17/99: Clinton’s a Broken Man: The GOP’s Huge Opportunity
03/12/99: Like Father, Like Son: New Hampshire in Another Era
03/11/99: Who is Dorothy Rabinowitz?
03/10/99: It’s George W.’s to Lose
02/26/99: Springsteen Ain’t No Chopped Liver; Vanity Press Musings
03/05/99: This Must Be the New World: The Mainstream Is Left Behind
02/26/99: Hillary, Juanita & Rudy Kazootie; First Baker, then Rich and Soon Lewis
02/24/99: The New Yorker Takes the Local: Mister Hertzberg Strikes Out; A Search for the Clemens Upside
02/19/99: The Howell Raines Conspiracy
02/17/99: History Lessons: An Immigrant’s Advice
02/12/99:The Man Who Owns the World
02/10/99:The Impeachment Trial Splatters: Lindsey Graham Emerges a Hero
02/05/99: A Slight Stumble for Bush
01/29/99: Rich Is Back in the Tank
01/29/99: Not So Fast, Mr. & Mrs. Pundit
01/27/99:This Is Not America: Clinton’s Set to Walk and Party On, Suckers
01/25/99:Sniffles and High Fever: Kids Say the Darndest Things
01/20/99: Whole Lott(a) Waffling Goin' On
01/14/99: Senator Hillary Rodham in 2000: The First Step Back to the Oval Office
01/08/99: Drudge Is the Hero
01/06/99 : MUGGER & the Martians
12/30/98 : Last Licks of ’98: Some Heroes, Several Villains & Many Idiots
12/17/98 : Boy Mugger's obsession
12/11/98: Irving’s the King Wolf
12/09/98: What do Matt Drudge and Tom Hanks have in common?
11/26/98: Starr’s Magnificent Moment
11/18/98: Who could have imagined!?
11/11/98: Send Dowd Down to the Minors
11/05/98: Feeding Gore to a shark named Bush
10/30/98: "Pope" Jann and his rappers speak ---it's time for fun again
10/28/98: Lowered expectations, but the GOP holds the cards
10/23/98: Speaking from Zabar’s: Michael Moore!
10/21/98: Bubba redux? His uptick won't last
10/16/98: Gore for President: The Bread Lines Are Starting to Form

©1999, Russ Smith