Jewish World Review June 30, 1999/ 16 Tamuz 5759
Gore Needs to Raise the Bar
Still, it was another disastrous week for the beleaguered Washingtonian: When a Democrat has to spend time in California, answering the sometimes hostile questions of gay and lesbian activists, something is very wrong with the campaign. He was also heckled by gays in New Hampshire and Tennessee. Granted, quitting his office (which he should’ve done last fall) is a tactic Bob Dole tried in ’96, to little effect, but Gore could finally become his own man and truly claim the moral high ground.
The media would eat it up.
And now President Clinton is mad at Gore for the traitorous act of stating on national tv that his boss’ conduct during the past year was deeply disappointing to a family man—a father of a very pregnant daughter, his handlers took care to point out—such as himself. An anonymous aide told New York Times reporters John M. Broder and Don Van Natta Jr. that the President was “livid” and “To the people who he is very close to [like who?], he’s expressing how hurt he is and his dismay at the Vice President. It is not a passing thing. He is very upset.”
It’s difficult to ascertain whether this was a shrewd tactic on the President’s part to help his understudy or whether he’s really steamed, given the twisted petty feuds and revenge that define the current White House; close call, but I’ll go with Clinton’s solipsism on this one.
On the other hand, it was a splendid week for Gov. George W. Bush, as he continued his whirlwind tour of the country, collecting endorsements and buckets of money, and also making his positions on the issues clearer.
The mainstream media, which is clearly befuddled by Bush’s remarkable rollout, was desperately looking for something to criticize the candidate on besides the empty charge that he hasn’t defined what “compassionate conservatism” means. So, when Bush went to Capitol Hill last week to meet with the legions of GOP legislators who’ve pledged their support, as well as hold a fundraiser that would drop another $2 million into his kitty, there was much gnashing of teeth over whether Mr. Outsider was getting too cozy with the Washington establishment he’s supposedly running against.
This is a stupid argument. First, the DC swing was just part of a nationwide tour that’s now included Iowa, New England, Pennsylvania (where he spent time with future vice president Tom Ridge) and Florida; as this issue hits the street he’s in California, laying the groundwork for a knockout electoral punch. Scoff if you will, given the GOP’s disastrous showing in the ’98 elections there, but Bush, who has a slim lead among California voters, according to an L.A. Times poll, has at least a 50-50 shot of winning the state, and thus the election. With California’s sizable Hispanic population, and rural areas that have traditionally been Reagan country, Gore can’t, unlike Clinton, consider the state a gimme. That’s why he speaks in pig-Spanish anywhere he can, regardless of the crowd’s ethnic makeup.
But there was nothing at all wrong with schmoozing for a period of 24 hours with the members of Congress whom Bush might be working with in 2001. Liberal strategists and pundits, clearly clutching at straws, had hoped Bush would be photographed with his arm around Tom DeLay, this year’s Newt Gingrich, or Bob Barr (who’s subsequently endorsed Steve Forbes, a mixed blessing for the increasingly bitter self-philanthropist), and provide dazzling advertising fodder for Gore in the general election. But Karl Rove, Bush’s James Carville (although not nearly as mouthy or hungry for public adulation), isn’t dumb: When Bush made his pilgrimage to DC, DeLay was “tied up” in meetings and couldn’t attend the festivities.
I can tick them off one by one: Richard Cohen, E.J. Dionne and Mary McGrory at The Washington Post; Maureen Dowd, Gail Collins, Richard Berke (a reporter in name only; he’s by far the most biased political writer in the country, which was only proven by the fact that Clinton called him to criticize Gore’s sluggish campaign) and Bob Herbert at The New York Times; Lars-Erik Nelson from the Daily News; The Wall Street Journal’s Al Hunt; Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter and Eleanor Clift, soon to be joined by the $300,000 biweekly columnist Anna Quindlen; and Time’s Margaret Carlson. Mind you, that’s just a partial list; I haven’t forgotten tv clowns like Peter Jennings, Bernard Shaw and Geraldo, to name just a few.
Dowd took top honors last week, in a very crowded field, for the stupidest column about Gov. Bush. Using Hollywood as a backdrop, for a change, Dowd last Wednesday compared the Bush family to The Godfather’s Corleones, a tortured conceit, and dredged up as many cliches as she could in 800 words. She likened George W. to hothead Sonny, for example, and then wrote: “It is entertaining to imagine the former President Bush as a preppy Don Corleone, sitting up at Kennebunkport overseeing the family councils, with Jeb as Michael, Neil as Fredo and Doro as Connie. [Dowd has no role for Marvin.] Don Georgio would receive political supplicants, dispense favors and ask for services from the vast group of politicos and policy hands under Bush family protection.”
If Cohen were a person, he’d be called “in denial.” For in fact, Gov. Bush won 49 percent of the Hispanic vote in his reelection last fall in Texas and attracted more blacks than any previous GOP candidate. Why do you think Gore is concentrating so hard on the Hispanic vote? And far from having a “crackup,” the Republican Party is fairly dancing in the aisles, finally proposing meaningful tax legislation and looking forward to reoccupying the White House. And as far as the 50s are concerned, Cohen might read some history of that era: Not only were scores of Democrats against integration, but John F. Kennedy, while president, wouldn’t make a move on civil rights without considering the Southern segregationists of his own party.
Cohen’s June 15 “With a Name Like Bush” minimizes Gov. Bush’s upset win over the popular incumbent Ann Richards in 1994, saying it doesn’t compare to FDR’s polio or JFK’s World War II combat. Of course it doesn’t: While Bush was enjoying “frat house bawdiness,” Clinton was getting his rear end shot off in Vietnam.
The columnist asks: “Could George W. Bush survive the equivalent of an impeachment or a war that seemed for a time to be going nowhere? It’s impossible to say, but it is possible to say that nothing in his experience has prepared him for what might be coming.” Terrific. Let’s all clap our hands that Clinton had the right stuff to survive impeachment. What a coup for the United States that was.
USA Today’s Walter Shapiro, a John McCain supporter (until Election Day, when he’ll vote Democratic), wails on June 23 that Bush’s campaign appearances are “more sizzle than steak.” He continues, writing about a speech in South Carolina last week, “That scene encapsulates the contrast facing GOP voters: McCain’s substantive rhetoric risks being drowned out by the hyped-up enthusiasm for Bush, a candidate who seems to equate vagueness with victory.”
That’s nonsense, as The Nation’s Eric Alterman pointed out in his July 12 column. Alterman, unlike this writer, believes that the elite media is enraptured by Bush, snowed by his good looks and aggressive campaigning. Near the beginning of his piece, Alterman is downright nasty, writing a paragraph that could be fighting words within the Bush family: “And ‘Dubya’ seems to get along well with his parents, at least when more than 300 reporters, including thirty television crews, are invited to watch.” He’s the first reporter I’ve read that actually questions Gov. Bush’s devotion to his family. Alterman might not believe it, but just as the Kennedys stuck together, the Bush clan will work like dogs to get their son and his brother elected.
But unlike the pundits who share space on tv shows with him, Alterman doesn’t think Bush is vague on the issues at all. He’s a “right-wing Republican,” the Nation scribe warns, who’s in favor of cutting taxes, privatizing Social Security and instituting school vouchers; he’s opposed to trivial lawsuits and won’t pay lipservice to environmental wackos. And Alterman’s correct: That’s why Bush will defeat Gore and his prediction that “The tin man wins in a walk” is all wet.
Let’s Party Down With Hillary
My thanks to Sam Schulman, an integral cog in Taki’s “Top Drawer”
section that appears weekly in NYPress, for intercepting the following
memo from Tina Brown about Talk’s upcoming party.
“To: Talk Staff
“Now I must say a few stern words. If the rest of staff were as loyal as you, Sam, this ghastly thing with the party venue would not have happened. In fact I must confess my disappointment that in this moment of crisis, I had to turn to Maurie Perl, of all people, still at Conde Nast, for the brilliant suggestion of an alternative venue, which I understand is one of the most Talked-about places in fashionable Long Island.
“Eavesdrop: Sam has provided a form to report comments on Talk or its editor by Conde Nast personnel. Please attend Sam’s Profile Recognition Sessions.
“Stay in the background. Do not approach Miramax or Disney talent or executives. These people are here to help our enterprise, not to be bothered by insignificant nobodies.
“Be kind to Hearst people. They are not like us, I know, but they are our partners in this millennial venture, and they are extremely sensitive to fancied snubs. Sam, darling, this means you too.
“Give Ron elbow room. Ron needs his personal space—his work at this event will be intense. Those of you who have worked with him before do not need to be told this. Do not bother him with greetings. Wait until he summons you.
“Secrecy. Do not reveal who our surprise Cover Girl (or guy!) is to anyone.
“That’s all, ‘Talkies.’ Now let’s make this a success.”
The New York Post’s Keith Kelly wrote a “Counting Down to Talk” article on June 22, reporting on the competition between George and Talk for the privilege of plastering Hillary Clinton’s mug on their September issues. Guess who won? After all, George is about to go down the tubes, and Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein is close to the Clintons (and a significant contributor to Democratic candidates). So close, in fact, that Rudy Giuliani nixed the magazine’s planned soiree at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, presumably because the city doesn’t sanction “political events” on public property.
In the unlikely event that Talk editor Tina Brown was as gushy about the Mayor as she is about Hillary, and planned a story on him, there’s little doubt that rules would’ve been bent. Nonetheless, everyone from Liz Smith (who shills for both Brown and the Clintons) to The New York Times declared Rudy’s outburst as another Talk publicity coup. I shouldn’t forget The Wall Street Journal’s Al Hunt, who remarked on last Saturday’s Capital Gang that Rudy’s pique had only served to further Brown’s interest, because “I don’t think anyone heard of that magazine before Rudy did that silly, silly thing...” Sure, Al. As the court jester of Beltway media social life, it’s really believable that you and your dining companions haven’t succumbed to the Tina-Hillary lovefest.
After all, you’re on the same sordid side as those two despicable characters.
CG guest Rep. Charlie Rangel (a pinko, certainly, but a darn entertaining one) chimed in: “[T]he Mayor feels very, very awkward with people and especially women and especially bright people. You know, that guy has never been down to Washington, never met with the delegation. He hasn’t the slightest clue as to what’s going on in the Senate. I think we have an exciting potential candidate and she’ll win and win big.” The National Review’s Kate O’Beirne added: “How should I feel? [Giuliani’s] always seemed comfortable with me. I’m not bright enough, I guess.”
In fact, the Times, in a stupid June 23 article by Dan Barry describing the contretemps, actually discovered a new word: “[Giuliani’s] decision has done more than temper excitement over yet another lavish party in the big city; it has also blessed Talk magazine with the all-important element known as buzz [italics mine].”
Welcome to 1987, Times men and women.
But once Talk’s party is held, and fawned over in the gossip columns, Brown’s hangover won’t come from too much champagne. Although her obedient minions are remaining intractably tight-lipped about anything that concerns the venture, this is a publishing disaster that will quickly unfold within the industry. As I wrote two weeks ago, the lack of a direct-mail pitch to entice charter subscribers is baffling; the reliance on a Brown video pitch isn’t likely to persuade many potential readers.
But here’s the Brill’s scoop that’s so damaging to Talk’s credibility: “According to Sidney Blumenthal, a special assistant to President Clinton and a close adviser of the First Lady, the First Lady’s press office was assured by ‘people at the magazine’ that the article would be ‘friendly’ and ‘sympathetic.’ Blumenthal added that Mrs. Clinton had personally asked him to allow Franks to interview him for the article.”
Not surprisingly, “Franks did not return calls seeking comment on any such agreements.”
So Sidney’s out of the doghouse, and all is forgiven (at least temporarily) for the dustup he had with Christopher Hitchens earlier this year. It must make Talk staffers proud that their magazine will be performing the same function for Hillary Clinton that The New Republic does for Al Gore. What a way to start a magazine! In fact, a publishing executive based in Manhattan who has close ties with several Talk employees told me recently that the monthly’s shop is not a happy place to work right now, especially with Brown’s (and, one would surmise, her husband Harry Evans’) political agenda so bald-faced.
But let’s skip the bubbly and get back to the New York Senate race.
The June 28 New York Observer ran a fascinating juxtaposition of opinion on pages 4 and 5. In an editorial, which I assume was written or dictated to an underling by owner Arthur Carter, the paper called for Rep. Rick Lazio to cease his self-aggrandizing publicity tour in support of a possible GOP primary challenge to Giuliani. Lazio has little to lose—save angering the Mayor—by making noises about running for Senate.
The Observer’s editorial is somewhat less forgiving of Lazio: “The Long Islander seems suspiciously willing to allow his potential candidacy to be used by Mr. Giuliani’s detractors. No doubt he is unaware of the havoc he could cause for his party [is that an Observer typo, or does the writer really think Lazio is that dumb?]... Mr. Lazio certainly shows signs that he’ll be an important player in state politics in the not-very-distant future. But he’ll throw it all away if he continues to undermine Mr. Giuliani. Does he really want to help elect a scandal-tainted interloper instead of his fellow Republican?”
Amen, Brother Carter.
On the following page of the Observer there’s a mystifying column by Ronald Goldfarb, headlined “Echoes of Kennedy In Hillary’s Run,” which equates the First Lady’s greedy grab at power with Bobby Kennedy’s successful Senate run against Republican Ken Keating in 1964. (Mind you, this is no brief for the Kennedy clan’s own naked ambition, just a comment on how silly Goldfarb’s comparison is.) I don’t give a hoot about the carpetbagger “issue,” even though Kennedy was certainly more familiar with New York than the First Lady. Granted, Bronxville and the Carlyle Hotel aren’t exactly New Paltz, but Kennedy knew his way around the state better than Hillary. Goldfarb was a speechwriter in RFK’s campaign, so I imagine he’s getting on in years, and is a rabid Democrat to this day, which perhaps explains his myopia. In explaining his boss’ run, he conveniently omits the fact that Kennedy first had his sights on becoming Lyndon Johnson’s veep for the ’64 election, and when the vindictive LBJ turned him down he came to New York to pick up a consolation prize. But there’s no doubt that Kennedy, who was his brother’s closest confidante, as well as attorney general, was vastly more qualified to sit in the Senate than Hillary Clinton.
Yet Goldfarb writes: “Both had attractive and lucrative opportunities aside from the Senate. Both would face ugly charges and a bruising political fight. Both would run on their own records but bear the burdens as well of the glamour of their Presidential mentors... Both faced critics’ concerns about the undesirability of family dynasties.” Now, as my mother used to say, hold the phone, Jack. What “record” does Hillary Clinton have except for those Rose Law Firm billing documents she hid in the White House? What “glamour” does her husband possess? And who the hell has ever spoken about a Clinton “dynasty”?
Last week’s LA Weekly (a Village Voice-owned alternative paper) ran an interview with Germaine Greer, conducted by Barbara Ehrenreich, and the portions devoted to Hillary Clinton aren’t pretty. And remember, Greer and Ehrenreich aren’t to be confused with Tom DeLay and Bob Barr. Greer isn’t a Hillary fan, saying, “She shares a bed with the head of state, maybe, sometime. And, so what? She’s an attorney. Big deal. There are women attorneys all over this country. She gets a job of huge importance...”
Ehrenreich then asks, “You mean health reform?”
Greer: “Mm-hmm, and screws it up. Surprise, surprise, because that job should not have been given to someone in Hillary’s position in the first place. So why is NOW so indulgent to Hillary and Bill? I just don’t get it, you know. I really sympathize with Elizabeth Wurtzel when she said it was a big failure of American feminists that they didn’t defend Lewinsky. That they didn’t see how vulnerable she was, that they didn’t see her pathetic willingness to deceive herself about her relationship with the president as symptomatic of what women do all the time. And then they say, well, he’s pro-choice. He’s pro-abortion, in the way that every libertine is pro-abortion. And how pro-choice is he when he allows the United States to go on starving the United Nations of funds, because the United Nations is thought to support abortion programs in the Third World? There’s nothing to be expected from this man. And that NOW should be pussy for him drives me nuts.”
“I was incensed when she was allowed to address a plenary session for the U.N. Women’s Year in Beijing. Every time I’ve been to a Women’s Year Conference, we’ve had the wife of a head of state telling us what was what, reading a prepared speech from nowhere—and that included, I may say, the great Imelda Marcos. And we had to applaud. And of course Mrs. Clinton. Get out of my face. Now there are women all over the world who’ve kept their own burrow, who should be there talking to us. Not the widows or wives of politicians.”
The Journal’s Al Hunt, sensitive 80s guy that he is, simply isn’t on the same page as the gutsier Greer. In a fawning, greasy paean to the First Lady on June 24, urging her not to run, Hunt argues that the Senate isn’t good enough for a saint like Hillary, writing, “Is Hillary Clinton really ready to devote hundreds of hours to public-works projects or in government affairs committees? Or to spend her weeks shuttling to Buffalo or Syracuse on cramped commuter planes?”
The answer, of course, is no. Clinton wouldn’t care a bit about small-bore issues in Buffalo; she’d take for granted seniority status to speak out about NATO, illiteracy in Bombay and lob grenades at GOP senators.
Here’s the part of Hunt’s column where my new best friend Germaine and I will excuse ourselves to barf: “Hillary is the Clinton of both substance and character. She is deeply committed to issues like children’s health and welfare but isn’t the ideologue so often depicted by critics. She has achieved almost iconic status to many women.” Yeah, she’s got so much character that she’s let aides wallow in legal bills while protecting her lying, scumbag husband. She’s so committed to welfare that she went along with the President’s GOP-inspired paring down of that wasteful entitlement. What garbage!
Bill Monahan, who originally asked for the assignment of covering the Rudy-Hillary race for NYPress, has begged off. He wrote the other day: “Belay the Hillary offer. Just say she’s bogus and leave it at that. I have a theory that she’s actively attempting to exhaust disgust. When critics are speechless and everything’s been said she’ll just waddle on to victory. She loses in New York, she notches up a defeat for women everywhere, thereby winning. She has no brains whatsoever. It’s...unwatchable.”
Sick of Hillary-talk? Tough luck: The ice-cold mama is with us for the next 16 months. I’ll finish with the prim George Will, writing more delicately in the July 5 Newsweek. Will doesn’t agree that Giuliani will own the GOP primary: He’s speculating that both King and Lazio will enter the race, even forcing Rudy out of the race. Balderdash.
Nonetheless, read Will for his superb comments on the First Lady: “[S]he needs a self-esteem infusion. She is running because running is what the Clintons do. Campaigning may be a metabolic necessity for them; it certainly is their lifetime vocation. He has been campaigning since law school. Tagging along, she has led an entirely derivative life, from rainmaker for an unsavory Little Rock law firm to unmaker of health-care reform. But now she inherits the family business, which consists of living off the land, nomadically soliciting money to fuel campaigns.
Well-known not for any achievements but only for her well-knownness, she personifies the politics of celebrity. Does she worry that by keeping the cloud of Clintonism on the public’s horizon, and by siphoning up Democratic money, she will hurt Al Gore? Are you kidding? A reasonable surmise is that she wants him to lose, so she can fulfill her manifest destiny in 2004.”
Are you listening, all you Upper West Side liberals who believe Hillary
is “charismatic” and the future of the Democratic
06/25/99: Summertime Cruise