Jewish World Review July 7, 1999/ 23 Tamuz 5759
Every time you think Clinton has redefined the word “hypocrisy,” he ups the ante.
At this point in his lame-duck term, the President is like a kid who’s been banished to his room for the remainder of the evening, yet reappears every five minutes for another stab at attention. I suspect that when the devil comes a-knockin’ and Clinton descends below, his funeral will be well attended but will bear a remarkable resemblance to Ebenezer Scrooge’s in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Eulogies will be given while the various guests look at their watches and wonder what kind of buffet will be laid out after the crocodile tears are shed.
Also last week, Gore’s campaign chairman Tony Coelho, who was an architect of the Democrats’ disastrous ’94 election effort, demonstrated his faulty political acumen by shaking up the Vice President’s staff. Coelho hired Carter Eskew as a consultant, a choice that’s curious for a couple of reasons. First, Eskew was once a business partner of Bob Squier, a close Gore ally, but the two had an acrimonious falling out.
The bad blood between them, as well as others in the Gore camp, like pollsters Mark Penn and Celinda Lake, guarantees daily fistfights within the organization. More importantly, however, Eskew, a partner in the firm Bozell Eskew, produced, according to the Associated Press, “a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign for the tobacco industry that is credited with helping kill the Senate’s tobacco bill last year.” Squier told The Washington Post, “He certainly would not have been allowed to represent a client like this inside our company.”
So, speaking of hypocrisy, it seems that Gore, who choked back tears at the ’96 Democratic Convention describing the lung-cancer death of his sister and vowed to fight the evils of tobacco until his final breath, has learned a lot from Clinton. Gore hasn’t commented yet on this compromise of his beliefs and I doubt he will: What possible explanation can he offer for such a bald-faced contradiction?
Buttressing my oft-stated view that Gore will go down in history as Bill Clinton’s last victim, Ed Koch, who’s endorsed Bradley, wrote in the Daily News last Friday: “The public sees the same Clinton swagger undiminished. He is neither cowed nor bowed, and there’s a sense that like O.J. Simpson, he flouted justice... If there ever were a whipping boy, a surrogate for the now unreachable, untouchable Clinton, it’s Al Gore. Gore’s decision now to condemn Clinton for his affair with Lewinsky, when he was so circumspect and resolute in defending the President during the impeachment proceedings, looks like an act of desperation by someone slipping in the polls.”
The delusional Gene Lyons, still suckered by Clinton, used his Arkansas Democrat-Gazette column on June 30 to offer advice to the pal he calls Al. “Only six months after the failed GOP impeachment effort, the episode has already taken on the feel of a half-remembered dream,” Lyons fantasizes. “Only two groups seem unable to let it go: crackpot Clinton-haters and the great majority of the Washington press corps. For the latter group, the failure of the nation’s first-ever TV coup d’etat constituted a terrible blow to their self-importance... Mr. Vice President, you have already apologized for Bill Clinton’s misbehavior a couple of times too many... Every time reporters badger you into deploring Clinton’s adventures with Monica, they succeed in making you look like a pantywaist who’s afraid of the Washington punditocracy.” Oh right, there’s that coup chatter again.
Back to reality. At least Gore can rely on The New York Times to ram his candidacy down its readers’ throats. Last Thursday, the day after Bush announced his fundraising total, the Times ran a sanctimonious editorial that was another de facto endorsement of the Vice President. Not that it was presented that way. The writer used Sen. John McCain’s speech in New Hampshire about the necessity for campaign finance reform as a vehicle for its pro-Gore sentiments. The Times advises Bush, as “the leader in the Presidential polls” to “shove his party’s leaders in Congress toward a fair and open vote on Mr. McCain’s legislation. If he chooses not to do so, voters will have a right to question whether his brand of conservatism offers its compassion first and foremost to big-money special interests.”
Gore has raised upward of $18 million for his campaign, which would’ve been a record haul if it had not been exceeded by Bush. What if the Governor had reported, say, $14 million? Would the Times have then made Gore the recipient of its high-minded lecture on the evils of “special interest” money? Not likely, even though Gore certainly didn’t raise that much cash by collecting nickels from kids all over the country, a la Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
But the Times wasn’t alone in criticizing Bush for raising money. In an outrageously one-sided editorial on July 3, The Boston Globe asked, “Is [Bush] trying to buy the election? Why should voters think otherwise?” Incredibly, ignoring recent history, the editorial continues: “Bush’s donor list, like those of other candidates, already includes hundreds of people with a financial stake in federal policy decisions. What are they buying? Will their contributions secure invitations to the White House?” When the Lincoln Bedroom was sold in ’96 for Clinton’s reelection effort, it’s simply amazing that a major newspaper can ask such questions without mentioning that campaign. In addition, Gore is never cited in the editorial: Could it be possible the Globe editors really believe the Vice President has had as little luck at shaking down contributors as Alan Keyes?
Perhaps the most pleasing result of Bush’s $36 million report last Wednesday was seeing the temper tantrums by Beltway beat reporters, who aren’t used to GOP candidates playing smart politics. The Bush campaign purposely downplayed estimates of their fundraising, knowing the press would distort the total and declare it a “disappointment.” All David Beckwith told the media was that Bush would exceed the original goal of $15 million and expected more than $20 million. He told the truth. Yet, according to Howard Kurtz’s Washington Post story last Friday, several reporters were seething at what they interpreted as deception on the part of Bush’s staff.
Kurtz quotes John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal: “I think they were spinning. It’s dangerous when you’re talking about a moving target and a campaign that has an interest in low-balling you.” Good guess, John. Kurtz continues: “The Bush campaign ‘has not established a good track record of credibility with reporters’ in describing its finances, said Susan Glasser, who covers money and politics for The Post. ‘In presidential fund-raising, a difference of $13 million in one day’s time is an extremely misleading thing to say to reporters that cannot be justified as a press strategy.’” The New York Times’ Don Van Natta Jr. added, “I don’t quite understand why they’re doing it... They’re playing a game with us.” Only the Los Angeles Times’ Mark Barabak admitted the press was outfoxed, saying, “They left themselves a certain wiggle room, an almost Clintonesque kind of thing... You sort of have to tip your hat to them.”
Not surprisingly, Bush’s GOP challengers for the presidential nomination were not pleased by the front-runner’s financial report. Elizabeth Dole, interviewed by Judy Woodruff on CNN’s Inside Politics last Wednesday, was downright silly, saying that gosh, with all that money going to Bush’s campaign, Americans won’t have enough left to buy Christmas presents! It was Steve Forbes, of all people, who registered the most outrage. The millionaire publisher, who’s never held elective office, lashed out at Bush, saying that the Texan is now a captive of Washington insiders. As reported by The Washington Post last Friday, Forbes claimed that Bush’s contributors are “substantial people, lobbyists, part of the establishment…who are backing him because they know that this way there is not going to be real, substantive change.” Juleanna Glover Weiss, a spokeswoman for Forbes, told The Washington Times’ Ralph Z. Hallow, “This is self-mutilation that Bush is engaged in. He has stepped into a big bear trap.”
I expect Dole to drop out of the contest before the New Hampshire primary. A picture in Monday’s Times, showing Bush with his arm around her at a New Hampshire rally, says it all: Liddy’s lobbying for a cabinet post in GWB’s administration.
And McCain, despite his POW credentials and forceful statesmanship during the Kosovo intervention, will never be the GOP nominee, mostly because the usually conservative Senator has engaged in some wacky behavior during the past year. Forget his legendary temper, and impolitic, off-color jokes; McCain’s real sin with Republican primary voters is his campaign finance reform crusade and sponsorship of anti-tobacco legislation last year that would’ve resulted in a huge tax increase. Last Friday, in The Wall Street Journal, columnist Paul Gigot speculated that McCain’s views are colored more by his desire to finally cleanse himself of his limited involvement in the Keating Five scandal in the late 80s. McCain said in a speech last week: “The people whom I serve believe that the means by which I came to office corrupt me. And that shames me... Their contempt is a stain upon my honor, and I cannot live with it.” Gigot writes: “In that sense, campaign finance is a metaphor for the entire McCain candidacy. It’s more about the man than the message. The senator’s fiercest convictions are about his personal character, not his ideas.”
And that’s why the media’s favorite Republican (although they’d never vote for him over Gore or Bradley) doesn’t have a shot with the GOP’s rank-and-file voters. Still, the Daily News’ Lars-Erik Nelson continues to plump for the ethically challenged Senator. In his July 4 column, like Jim Bowie at the Alamo, Nelson writes: “But McCain has something even more powerful than money. He has a story as old and as beautiful as America. With luck it will be the story of the next year: a courageous, scrappy underdog fighting the most powerful special interests in the country so that this nation of ours works for the benefit of all its citizens, not the 75,000 richest.”
Wasn’t corn pone like that made illegal at least three decades ago? Ignore for the moment that Arizona beat reporters, who know McCain a lot more intimately than Nelson, will tell you another story—and it’s not pretty—about this “scrappy underdog.” I have a question for the naive News pundit: Sir, do you really believe that if McCain could raise as much money as Bush, making him the prohibitive favorite for the GOP nomination, that he’d turn it down?
It’s open season on Bush for reporters, which explains the thin article published in the Los Angeles Times on July 4 questioning whether the Governor received preferential treatment 31 years ago in the Texas Air National Guard. Reporter Richard A. Serrano writes: “While there is no evidence of illegality or regulations broken to accommodate Bush’s entry and rise in the service, the documents do show that doors were opened and good fortune flowed to him at opportune times.” Fair enough: President Bush was a congressman at the time and it’s not surprising that Guard officials might grease the wheels for his son. Just as they did for the son of Democrat Lloyd Bentsen, the Texan who ran for vice president with Michael Dukakis in 1988.
Serrano interviewed retired Col. Walter B. Staudt, who said, “Nobody did anything for him. There was no...influence on his behalf. Neither his daddy nor anybody else got him into the Guard.” And Willie J. Hooper, a retired major in the Texas Air National Guard, said, “He did the work. His daddy couldn’t do it for him.” Bush told the press in New Hampshire on Sunday: “I wanted to fly fighters. I applied and I was accepted. I’m very proud of my service.”
Of course, The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne, on last Sunday’s Meet the Press, furrowed his brow when speaking about Serrano’s story, saying that, well, I don’t think it’s fatal to the Bush campaign, but it certainly raises questions. The Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot quickly batted him down, insisting that the only slight beneficiary of the “revelation” would be POW John McCain, and his campaign is going nowhere anyway.
Bob Beckel, Walter Mondale’s campaign manager in ’84, wrote an op-ed piece for the L.A. Times on July 4, making the preposterous claim that “Bush has yet to prove he has any base outside Texas.” Say what? Where is all this money and adulation coming from, then? In fact, Bush hasn’t even tapped into many lucrative markets yet for donations; he’s expected to raise big bucks in Denver, Seattle, Virginia and even reliably Democratic Baltimore. Why, even lifetime liberal Warren Beatty attended an L.A. fundraiser for Bush that netted $2 million and spoke with the candidate, introducing himself as “Bulworth.” According to the Daily News’ Rush & Molloy, Beatty showed up at the home of Warner Bros. executive Terry Semel—a longtime Democratic contributor—where the candidate said, “My job is not to hold up anybody for scorn... There’s a lot of reasons why we have violence in our society.”
Even Dee Dee Myers, former press secretary for President Clinton, who now holds a position at Vanity Fair (honorific, if you ask me, but that’s another story), was complimentary about a Bush appearance she witnessed in Los Angeles before a teachers’ group. She told Washington Post reporter Dan Balz: “He’s utterly Clintonian in his style. It’s a totally Democratic audience and he connected with them.” She added that Bush’s campaign apparatus was “at almost a White House level of execution.”
Beckel also repeats the tired claim that no one knows where Bush stands on the issues: “Bush is a likable yet unproven candidate with an unknown record. Already, he has made several mistakes, from gun control to abortion.” What were the “mistakes”? He’s been clear about abortion: He’s pro-life but won’t impose a litmus test on the issue for Supreme Court nominees. You’d think Beckel would applaud that stance, even if right-wing nuts like Gary Bauer don’t. As for gun control, Bush has signed a bill in Texas that makes it difficult for gun manufacturers to be punished by frivolous lawsuits. Beckel obviously doesn’t agree with that, but it’s not a “mistake,” not a “gaffe.”
Syndicated columnist Robert Novak, a hard-line conservative, had a different spin on Hatch’s candidacy. Writing on July 4, he said: “Longtime friends say Sen. Orrin Hatch is running for the GOP presidential nomination because of intense personal dislike for his colleague and now presidential rival Sen. John McCain... His friends contend Hatch wants to divide support that might make McCain an effective challenger.” According to Novak, Hatch has another goal in mind. By helping Bush, and “keeping fellow Mormons from backing conservative candidates Pat Buchanan and Gary Bauer,” he hopes to be rewarded with a seat on the Supreme Court.
In addition, Novak pushes the chances for Michigan Gov. John Engler as Bush’s veep selection. Novak’s soft on Engler, but I don’t think that will influence the Bush campaign to deviate from their plan of tapping Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a pro-choice Vietnam vet. In the general election, Ridge’s Rust Belt state is just as crucial as Engler’s, and his stance on abortion will be a plus for swing voters.
Milbank trudges on: “This should be a potent argument—except that, if the 2000 campaign has taught us anything so far, it’s that voters don’t care much for the experienced candidates. The most experienced guys in the race are Hatch, Al Gore, Bill Bradley, Lamar Alexander and, to be sure, Dan Quayle. Just look how they fare in matchups against Bush. Experience, it seems, is a liability. No wonder there’s a clamor for a Jesse Ventura candidacy.”
The clamor for Ventura, if you ask me, is strictly in Milbank’s programmed mind. The New Republic, as well as Democrats in general, just can’t stand that Bush has become so popular. Contrary to what the Beltway insiders would have you believe, it’s not the Republican Party that’s heading for a crack-up, but rather the Democrats. And there’s ample reason for concern: With Bush creaming Gore in national polls for the past several months, leading in California and running neck and neck in New York, it’s not inconceivable that there’s a GOP landslide on the horizon. Unlike the mistaken opinion that this campaign resembles the ’88 race, where Vice President Bush was temporarily trailing sad sack Michael Dukakis in the polls, it’s more similar to the Tony Blair-John Major faceoff in England two years ago. Major was baffled: The economy was strong, yet voters were ready for a change after years of Tory control. While Major was personally popular, and considered a man of integrity, unlike Bill Clinton, Britons simply wanted to clean the government’s house.
Another common theme sounded by pundits is the disingenuous complaint that this year’s campaign has started so early. That’s silly. Any time there’s an open seat in the White House the race begins shortly after the current president’s reelection. For example, it was in May of ’87 that Gary Hart, the leading Democrat, was banished because of his exposed philandering with Donna Rice; it was in September of that year that Joe Biden had to withdraw because of plagiarism charges.
Liberal journalists are so confused, and miffed, at Gov. Bush’s dominance this year that some have resorted to praising his father, the former president who was reviled by the media in his unsuccessful reelection bid against Clinton in 1992. In Slate, for example, David Plotz writes an essay posted on July 1 that compares father and son. Not surprisingly, he finds the latter lacking. He writes: “The elder Bush enlisted in the Navy in 1942, became the service’s youngest fighter pilot, flew 58 missions in the South Pacific, was shot down over enemy waters, and won the Distinguished Flying Cross. The son also became a fighter pilot—for the Texas Air National Guard. He spent the Vietnam War flying ‘missions’ over the Texas scrub... (Americans tend to forget the heroic life of President Bush. This was one of his unfortunate talents: He could make the extraordinary seem mundane.)”
How times change. Why, it was only seven years ago, writing in The New Republic, that Sidney Blumenthal besmirched President Bush’s combat record and all but called him a phony war hero. Never mind that the Beltway media swooned over Clinton in ’92, who wasn’t even in the National Guard during Vietnam, even though he gave ample evidence of all the lying during that campaign that would define his presidency. I don’t know that Plotz was writing about politics in ’92, but I’ll bet he was a Clinton supporter.
Nevertheless, he now praises President Bush as a noble man who achieved “high-status accomplishments.” Gov. Bush, by comparison, Plotz implies, is a lucky guy who’s lacking in brains, courage and the gravitas of his old man. Plotz concludes: “George W. Bush jokes that his father’s idea of a perfect son is Al Gore Jr. This may be America’s choice in 2000: the George W. Bush who isn’t George H.W. Bush, or the Al Gore who is.” As Jay & the Americans sang back in the 60s, “Only in America.” It’s true that the country’s voters feel a certain nostalgia for President Bush: Jumping out of that plane a couple years ago was merely symbolic of the change in heart; the comparison to Bill Clinton is the substantive reason. But when journalists, so dismayed that Gore is flaming out, resort to comparing Gore to President Bush, you know the Vice President is in serious trouble.
The newspapers on July 4 ran a lot of hokum about the Fourth of July and continually invoked “the Founders,” presumably to knock down Bush. Mary McGrory’s column in The Washington Post was typical. She wrote, in a piece headlined “Not What the Founders Had in Mind”: “Voter participation in presidential elections is shamefully low... Our highest office is for sale, and the process has become too crass for most Americans—but they have refused to do anything about it. Where is Jefferson when we need him?” Well, aside from being corpses, I don’t imagine Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton, Washington or any of the other 18th-century American heroes would have much to say. After all, the Declaration of Independence was written more than 200 years ago and the country has evolved at a prodigious pace. It’s not as if “the Founders” were from Mt. Olympus; there were plenty of scandals, moneygrubbing and slave ownership back then.
It’s absurd to even contemplate what those
men would think of our present political
07/02/99:Make Room for MUGGER