Jewish World Review July 14, 1999/ 1 Av 5759
However, with President Clinton lapping the country on his belated poverty tour, while his wife commanded national media attention in New York, it was probably the best week this summer for Bush to make such a goof. Now, I can ask where NYC journalistic hack Randy Rothenberg has disappeared to and nobody would care; but where the heck was Al Gore this past week? I’m sure he was on the hustings, but you’d have to read the papers very closely, which I do, to learn of his itinerary. He did tell the journalists in Seattle that he never, ever wants to go back to recessionary times—delivered with that unctuous, prefab passion—but otherwise he was invisible, aside from photo-ops with his new grandson, conveniently born on July 4.
I can only guess that Gore was in a bunker somewhere, trying to figure out why his campaign is in such talk-of-the-Beltway free fall. But maybe the Vice President isn’t as bright as everyone’s given him credit for all these years: After all, in the past two months he’s authorized curious hires, the ethically challenged Tony Coelho and tobacco bill-killer Carter Eskew only the most egregious. Gore needs a vacation.
He should just take his attractive family overseas, preferably to a nonpolitical location, say Norway, and assess his fortunes and plan for the future. There’s no sense in spinning his wheels in the U.S., adding layer upon layer of bureaucracy to a mixed-up, feuding organization. Gore’s hit such a rough patch that even The Washington Post’s David Broder has taken pity on him. In a light-hearted (for Broder) column last Sunday, the veteran journalist claimed that Gore now has a leg up on his rivals because of his newborn grandson.
Talk about humiliating.
And The New York Times is getting nervous too about their favored successor to Clinton. In last Sunday’s lead editorial, headlined “The Burden of Inevitability,” the paper is so distressed by the current political climate that it lapses into cliche after cliche, closing with this beaut: “Presidential politics, a civic exercise that thrives on unpredictability, is once again providing its little surprises. The Republican race was supposed to be the busy one, the Democratic side a done deal. Now, it appears the scripts have shifted, as Mr. Gore looks for his footing outside Bill Clinton’s White House.”
Of course, the editorial writer refused to state the obvious: Gore has messed up. Regarding the addition of Eskew to the campaign, the paper’s criticism was mild: “[Eskew’s] tobacco credentials would seem to be at odds with Mr. Gore’s heart-wrenching story at the Democratic convention in 1996 about how his sister died of cancer from smoking.” Would seem to be at odds? Now that’s taking the Vice President to the woodshed with a feather in your hands.
Then there’s Bill Bradley, the grumpy goo-goo the media elite is ga-ga over this summer. There was a silly cover story in the July 12 New York by Meryl Gordon that treated the two-man battle for the Democratic nomination as an Upper East Side cocktail party gone awry, and included the absurd notion that Bradley’s is a 60s-style quiet revolution. Rich NYC boomers are stressed, Gordon writes, because they’re not sure which candidate to contribute money and time to; and if so-and-so found out who the recipient was, why that might jeopardize friendships, club memberships and private school applications. What is an affluent liberal to do?
Meanwhile, Newsweek’s Howard Fineman demonstrates in his July 19 article on the Bradley campaign, imaginatively called “A Man on the Move,” that he’s been spending too much time on the tube and letting his writing skills, such as they are, atrophy. Okay, Bradley was a basketball star.
Again: “Always a good ball handler, Bradley is trying to dribble left and right at the same time.”
And again: “Now he’s playing one-on-one in the biggest contest in American life—and professes not to be worried if he loses. But he’s a student of timing and rhythm, and clearly thinks this is his moment... It’s on the line now, and Bradley wants the ball.”
I preferred Tucker Carlson’s take on Bradley’s Los Angeles trip in the June 29 Weekly Standard. He was unimpressed by the challenger’s entire shtick: the windy speeches; the self-effacing barbs; the gun control “boilerplate”; the nastiness disguised as earnest thought; and his lack of manners (Bradley often forgot to introduce his wife at rallies). “At one point,” Carlson writes, “he talks about the importance in politics of being ‘true to who you are.’ It’s obvious he means it. Unfortunately, Bradley has decided to be so true to who he is that he has neglected to put on stage makeup. In the glare of the spotlight, his enormous forehead has become a mirror, reflecting a beam across the ballroom. He looks like a lighthouse. For Bradley, it’s a point of pride not to worry about details like shiny foreheads. And he may be a better, deeper person for it. On the other hand, this is politics.”
Carlson concludes with an anecdote about an old friend of Bradley who echoes the thoughts of many: that he was “destined for greatness.” Yet, after watching the candidate perform, this fellow confessed to the journalist that Bradley “[I]s a bit like a warmed-over Paul Tsongas.”
And that’s why I think once the media has its fill of Bradley, gets its middle-aged jock envy/hero worship out of the way, reporters and pundits will fall back in line with Gore. As will the sheep-like Democratic voters. Right now, I’d put Bradley’s odds at capturing the nomination at one out of five: not too shabby, really, but still unlikely.
Yet right now, Gore is being victimized by his fair-weather friends, the Clintons. Any normal person would beat themselves silly wondering why, after he’s been such a loyal soldier, irreparably damaging his reputation, the First Couple has decided to torpedo his candidacy. The President has occupied the Oval Office for seven long years, and now he decides to don his Cesar Chavez/John Steinbeck/Bobby Kennedy costumes and visit impoverished areas of the United States. That’s Bulworth for you. I don’t buy the pundit spin that Clinton is working on his legacy: It’s simpler than that. With his wife attracting so much media glory, Bill wants his share, too. So he travels to Watts, an American Indian reservation in South Dakota, Appalachia, promises a few piddling monetary grants, and manages to sneak into the news cycle. You can never be too cynical in questioning Clinton’s motives.
Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter, who writes like a grandfather, bought the whole routine. He was along for the ride on the Poverty Charade and says, in a July 19 column, that he emerged “strangely hopeful,” despite the desperate settings. “The source of my good feeling was, of all people, an upbeat Jesse Jackson. God isn’t finished with him yet—he’s turning the reverend into a proud capitalist. ‘This isn’t a War on Poverty, it’s a War for Profits,’ Jackson told me on Air Force One.
Meanwhile, in the Bush campaign, I have to guess that topic number one is the possibility of a viable third party candidate. No, I’m not referring to nutty Bob Smith, the New Hampshire senator who is polling miniscule numbers in his home state; his resignation from the GOP is meaningless, and his U.S. Taxpayers Party candidacy will probably win the same amount of support as Ralph Nader or Michael Moore might.
(Sorry to say, the latter possibility is not a figment of my imagination: It’s said that Moore might represent the Green Party in the 2000 presidential election. As repellent as that image is, the good news is that Moore probably will win a few votes, and guess what: They’ll all come from Gore’s base.)
The Bush brain trust must have two men on their minds right now: Steve Forbes and Jesse Ventura. I don’t think Forbes presents a real threat, even though he’ll spend a lot of money on attack ads, which are due to begin any day now. In the end, he’ll wind up as a Bush supporter and might be rewarded with some post in that administration. (Depending, of course, on how nasty his ads are.) Now, Ventura is a horse of another color: He’s been making the cable tv rounds lately and comes off as a likable, no-nonsense libertarian who could potentially demolish Bush, and Gore, in a debate should he decide to carry the Reform Party’s banner. It’s true that Ventura pledged to Minnesotans that he’d complete his term, but given political history, that’s a promise that could be broken without difficulty. The times have changed, my friends, we need a real leader who isn’t an establishment insider, blah, blah, blah.
Bush, if he’s smart, will cozy up to that bear of a Jesse and make him part of his kitchen cabinet. Praise the work the first-time governor is doing in Minnesota. Knock back a few Cokes and then go out hunting on the sly. Reach out to his constituency. Mi casa es su casa. Nothing becomes a front-runner as much as being complimentary to his adversaries.
On the Hillary front, I’ll try to be as long-winded as possible about her dizzying media orgy this past week in upstate New York. Hypocrisy is a Democratic disease and Sen. Pat Moynihan is only its latest victim. I don’t know if it’s drink or senility, but something must explain his behavior in championing the woman whose health-care boondoggle he held up to public ridicule six years ago, not to mention the welfare bill passed in ’96 that he opposed. Now he supports her all the way, as he retires to his farm, and puts politics, but not Jim Beam, behind him.
Moynihan, whom Hillary condescendingly called “the wisest New Yorker that we can know of at this time,” when she couldn’t answer a specific question that related to New York, forever disgraced himself by voting to acquit President Clinton earlier this year in the impeachment trial.
Future historians will take note of that decision and cross out Moynihan’s name when they come to listing statesmen of the late 20th century.
There was a telling story in the New York Post last Saturday by Brian Blomquist, who interviewed the sheriff in Moynihan’s county. According to Blomquist, Thomas Mills said he had an offhand chat with Elizabeth Moynihan, the Senator’s wife, while she was mulching trees on their farm. Mills told the Post reporter that Mrs. Moynihan said, “We do not approve of her running, we just wish that—she’s not even from New York.” Mrs. Moynihan wouldn’t comment on her conversation, but the Senator’s chief aide, Tony Bullock, put on his Mike McCurry/Joe Lockhart hat and denied the remarks, saying that both Moynihans are “totally supportive” of Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy.
Morrow repeats the current conventional wisdom that New York’s media are really pussycats and won’t beat up on the First Lady. Well, sort of, Lance: It is true that ever since Watergate, when future lawyers or doctors turned to journalism instead, fouling a once-honorable craft, city newsrooms have turned as sterile as those of a quality hospital. He writes: “The nasty New York press is said to be ready to eat Hillary alive. Nonsense. The New York press is a scarecrow. Its famous brutality is mostly saloon bragging by tabloid drunks on their 10th beer... After all, Ted Kennedy ran off a bridge a long time ago, and a woman drowned, and he’s had 30 happy years in the Senate since then.”
I’m with you on Teddy, Lance, although Chappaquiddick, along with no coherent reason for running, doomed his presidential bid against incumbent Jimmy Carter in 1980. But Morrow is wrong about the “scarecrow” media in New York. In a scan of newspaper stories I found the coverage pretty even, meaning that while Clinton sycophants like Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw and almost all of CNN shined up the First Lady, others were more harsh.
Before proving Morrow wrong about the local media, let me share my favorite Hillary quote of the week. In The Washington Post’s July 8 edition, Michael Grunwald reports: “She laughed heartily when a reporter suggested there might be an element of chutzpah to her quest to represent a state in which she has never lived, and even conceded there probably is. ‘I understand that characteristic is not all bad, in certain parts of New York,’ Clinton said with a broad smile. ‘I may need a lot of that.’”
The New York Post’s Deborah Orin, who I doubt consumes 10 beers in a saloon after hours, is one of Washington’s hardest-working and most respected White House reporters. On July 9, she wrote: “Until she began eyeing New York’s Senate seat, Mrs. Clinton had broken publicly with her husband on only one issue beyond Monica Lewinsky: She backed a Palestinian state in May 1998 and won plaudits in the Arab world. Then yesterday, Mrs. Clinton broke with her husband again, this time in the opposite direction. She now takes Israel’s side and favors an ‘indivisible’ Jerusalem as its capital and wants the U.S. embassy moved there... No wonder Arab-Americans accuse Mrs. Clinton of pandering. Her positions on Jerusalem and a Palestinian state sure seem contradictory.
The open question is whether the switch wins her votes or backfires.”
The day before, Orin was even more critical: “What’s in it for New York if Hillary Clinton becomes the Empire State’s next senator? Most likely, nothing but tsuris. Which, for visiting Arkansans who don’t know Yiddish, means a whole lot of trouble... Polls say the most likely next president will be a Republican named George W. Bush who has no love for the Clintons—and Republicans will keep control of both the Senate and the House. Which means Mrs. Clinton would be a junior senator in a minority party in a country with a new president elected on a pledge to move in a non-Clinton direction. In other words, Sen. Clinton would have zero clout.”
The Post’s Andrea Peyser, who is admittedly a bit more hysterical than Orin, got her own shots in on July 7, unleashing a torrid attack on Hillary that must’ve been brewing for months. “There is a name for someone like Hillary,” she writes. “There is a name for someone who exaggerates accomplishments. Who believes her innate superiority entitles her to obfuscate, evade and lie... [T]here is a deeper disorder afflicting the First Lady, a woman so deluded, she believes she can bend the rules, stomp on friends and squander taxpayer money without penalty. It is what led her to put her name on a book she didn’t write, while refusing to give her ghost writer any credit. It is what made her not only fire staff, but trash their reputations.”
Henican: “Who cares where you come from? You’re in New York now. We’re all immigrants here. And a lot of us came from a whole lot farther than Arkansas and Washington, D.C. None of our big-time politicians actually live here. As far as anyone knows, they live on television.”
Breslin: “Right now, I am not sure whether she actually will run or not—and I’ll bet this Clinton woman isn’t sure either.
“It is the most bizarre thing we have seen in politics in some time.
“After the last four years, with her husband rolling around the White House hallways with Monica Lewinsky, after all this cheap, grubby lying, after Hillary Clinton’s smug deviousness and untruthfulness, after all these character collapses, it is implausible for her to run for the United States Senate from New York.
“Clinton and his wife spread a layer of soot over this country and now she comes around without even brushing the soot from her sleeves, smiling all over the place as if it never happened, as if New Yorkers are the same as those in Appalachia or Arkansas or any of those other low-IQ areas in which the Clintons do best... And the most hideous thing about it is that she is the only candidate alive who Giuliani can beat. Otherwise, Giuliani, this surly cadaver, would lose to any decent citizen from the United States Postal Service.”
Breslin was less ballistic on July 11: “As they show you, Clinton and Giuliani are the same candidate. Right now, she is most active in the field of fraud. In a couple of days this week, she came out for Hasidic Jews against everybody else, and for cows ahead of children. She wants the upstate milk cartel to get price rises that will cost children in Harlem 20 cents more for milk and she will defend them. She has no idea of what she was doing, and that is fine with everybody else.”
Message to Lance Morrow: Breslin’s been sober for years.
On the same day, Breslin’s Newsday colleague, Larry Levy, a Hillary devotee, voices his concern that she’s making promises that can’t be kept. Levy loved all the pomp and rural splendor of the upstate whirlwind, but wrote: “Every time she chose to talk instead of just listen, she raised expectations she’ll eventually have to meet. Even when she merely offered supportive platitudes...she was signing political and policy due-bills.”
The New Yorker, under the editorship of both Tina Brown and David Remnick, hasn’t done its civic duty in exposing the fraudulent First Couple, larding its pages with laudatory, and sometimes downright sickening, praise for this policy scam or that Ken Starr bromide. However, Elizabeth Kolbert, writing for the July 12 issue, wasn’t as polite as former New Yorker political columnist Sidney Blumenthal, now an administration tool, would expect. Like most cynics, she explores the possibility that Mrs. Clinton is using this convenient open Senate seat as a stepping stone back to the White House, whether to resurrect her husband’s legacy (the masochistic view) or create one of her own (the more sensible position). Kolbert explains that this rather blatant scenario—never mind Clinton’s statement in Utica last week that if elected, “I intend to serve out the entire term,” a vague response that means nothing, especially coming from a Clinton—has some state Democrats nervous.
Kolbert writes: “The possible effects of such speculations on a candidacy already burdened with carpetbaggery have made some Democratic leaders nervous. ‘If I were the state Party chair, I would go off the wall,’ one told me.”
The current New Yorker’s cover is an endorsement of Hillary’s candidacy: an illustration by Harry Bliss entitled “The Tough Guy and the Tourist” which depicts the First Lady as a tourist about to be mugged by Giuliani. Inside, however, Kolbert’s brief article about last week’s events are noncommittal. While conceding that Hillary’s jaunt was a success, Kolbert also wrote that it was a snooze, and, between the lines, a scam. She mentions the confusion of the press: “Had we gathered for the most sensational political story of the year, or was it more like one of those sting operations that proffer free Yankees tickets to gullible fugitives?”
The New York Times, predictably, was solidly in the Clinton camp. Their beat reporter for the race, Adam Nagourney, fairly gushed in the July 8 edition as he described the First Lady’s visit to Moynihan’s farm. “Mrs. Clinton then plunged into her first day on the campaign trail for herself, as opposed to being the candidate’s spouse. [I suppose all those visits earlier this year, when she toyed with Rep. Nita Lowey, didn’t count as campaign appearances.] She visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, ate lunch at a barbecue restaurant in Oneonta, and savored the generally large and enthusiastic crowds who turned out to catch sight of the First Lady and her entourage at every stop. She also held the first of the orchestrated ‘Listening to New Yorkers’ forums that are to anchor her schedule this summer, listening intently and taking notes during a long discussion about education.
“It was, by any measure, a remarkable day in the politics of both New York and the nation.”
While Nagourney dutifully reported all of the phony-baloney of the “Listening Tour,” Gail Collins, writing on the same day, attacked Giuliani on the editorial page of the Times. “The Mayor is a native New Yorker,” Collins admitted, “but lately he seems compelled to gild the lily. To hear Mr. Giuliani tell it this week, he is a cross between Johnny Appleseed and an upstate Amway salesman. He has not only campaigned in upstate New York, he used to work there! In a bunch of different places! He is expert in state geography and an outdoorsman familiar with the local flora and fauna.” After gleefully explaining the gaffe the Mayor made about the location of the Orange County town Monroe, confusing it with a northern county, Collins continued: “He managed to make Hillary Clinton look like the candidate who is best at handling the carpetbagging issue.”
Collins will be first on line to vote for Hillary come November of 2000, but she’s correct that Giuliani’s harping on carpetbagging is counterproductive.
But even the Times editors realize there must be at least 10 percent balance in their coverage of the campaign, if only to still claim their paper is “objective.” On last Wednesday’s op-ed page, Matthew L. Lifflander, a lifelong Democrat who’s worked on, and raised money for, local campaigns for 40 years, registered his disapproval of Clinton’s candidacy. He’s disgusted that his party couldn’t find a New York resident to run against Giuliani, saying, “this is a shameful show of political bankruptcy at a time when the Democratic Party is by no means politically bankrupt.” Being polite, and a man of the 90s, I’ll tell Mr. Lifflander that we can agree to disagree on that statement. However, he continues: “Spare us Mrs. Clinton’s patent patronizing and give the opportunity to a real New Yorker—somebody who already understands that upstaters are concerned about mid-size cities, jobs, the flight of industry, taxes and the plight of dairy farmers. We cannot take pride in a party that sells its soul to an outsider whose major credentials are that she can raise a lot of money and that people feel sorry for her.”
Over at the Daily News, columnist Jim Dwyer, maybe only on his fifth beer, wrote that while Clinton was doodling in a notebook upstate, Giuliani was being mayor. In a July 8 piece headlined “Blackout Shows Rudy Has the Power,” Dwyer wrote: “What better moment for a small, manageable catastrophe to strike New York City than the very day that Hillary Rodham Clinton went to an upstate farm on her gimmicky Listening Tour. Rudy Giuliani, blackout boy, was back in Washington Heights on a Doing Tour. Surrounded by his armies, he had rolling command posts in Winnebagos, walkie-talkies on every belt, cell phones in every palm, briefings on the hour. Emergency lighting, food, generators. Even an emergency lawsuit.”
(Which, interestingly, puts her in the same camp as Republicans Pat Buchanan, Gary Bauer, Lamar Alexander and Dan Quayle, for probably the first and only time in her life. Politics can be very cool.)
She writes: “The question of the first lady’s legislative track record seems irrelevant to the fantasizers. Bottom line, Schumer’s calling card was his nine terms as a congressman. Mrs. Clinton’s is her presumed ability to win. Whenever a liberal dinner party strays into a Hillary discussion, the conversation inevitably ends with, ‘But she can beat Giuliani.’ Never mind the fact that she’s never held office. Never mind the question of why she suddenly deserves this office—and why New York. Besides, her experience as a single-minded advocate wouldn’t necessarily translate well in a body where compromise is key.”
As for the weeklies, The New York Observer’s Joe Conason, in the July 12 issue, goes back to the well of Giuliani’s youthful writings in his college newspaper, the Manhattan Quadrangle. Giuliani was blustery even back then, as Conason points out: “The young Rudy had little sympathy for the extremists who took over the Republican Party in 1964 with the nomination of Barry Goldwater, whom he considered a right-wing ‘patsy,’ a sycophant of the John Birch Society and ‘an incompetent, confused and sometimes idiotic man.’” It’s interesting, but not exactly cricket to dissect the political views that someone held 35 years ago. After all, in ’76 I wrote in my college paper an endorsement of Fred Harris for the Democratic nomination, with heaps of abuse for Jimmy Carter. God knows what Conason was writing at such a tender age. Besides, today’s Giuliani is hardly a creature of the hard-right: He’s pro-choice, pro-gay rights and in favor of immigration, positions that would get him thrown out of Sen. Bob Smith’s house.
Today, Cuomo insists it’s not analogous, because Hillary Clinton has a “philosophy” and won’t be using her own money to fund her campaign. “To the extent she has the resources to run it will be because people from New York have the confidence in her to give her the money.” Sure. It’ll be fascinating when contributions are made public to see exactly what percentage of her war chest is from this state.
The Nation’s Christopher Hitchens was having none of Hillary’s bull. In the July 26 issue he thundered: “In almost two decades of unstinting service to The Nation, I have never quite penetrated to the pulsing quick and core of New York liberalism. I understand dimly that Mrs. Clinton must have somewhere to live. I also quite see that she must have something to do, and somewhere to sit. I haven’t yet had it convincingly explained to me why this is all up to us, or why a nomination to the United States Senate is not just hers for the asking, but hers even without the asking.”
(Hitchens, by the way, is a besotted journalistic whore to his core. Not only does he write for any publication that’ll pay him—except NYPress, because of his feud with Alex Cockburn—but in the grand British tradition he shops his material around two or three times. The Nation article I quoted was available to the public last Friday; on Monday, it popped up once again in Salon, almost word for word, with no explanation that the piece first appeared elsewhere. Are Salon’s editors so dim they don’t mind being snookered by a creep like Hitchens? Never mind. That was a dumb question.)
I met Bobby Kennedy once and he seemed like a decent guy. I’m stunned that he’d besmirch his father’s memory by comparing an opportunistic, hypocritical woman like Clinton to him. Now, let’s amp up to the hard stuff. I’m glad that Peggy Noonan, who wrote a piece about Hillary Clinton called “The Natural” in last Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, is fidgeting with her worry beads. That keeps the rest of us who are so disgusted, and at times complacent, about the prospect of a Sen. Clinton on our toes. Noonan watched the commencement of the “Listening Tour” on cable and was impressed by the First Lady’s preparation and automaton grace. Noonan’s doomsday thesis is that Hillary is shoring up her left-wing base currently, getting the usual sad-sack liberals whipped up and then steeling herself for a steady assault from reporters. She writes: “A year from now, when it matters, if New York’s pundits—the Dunleavies and Dowds, the Brookhisers and Breslins—are still attacking her, they will look obsessed and winded. She will look long suffering and glistening. The criticisms of ’99 will be but a memory.”
Yet Noonan concludes that last week’s love-fest might be a reminder to Republicans, “in the same way that an alarm clock going off at the right time is good news. It rings, you hear it, you wake and get dressed and stop dreaming and go to work.”
The Journal’s Paul Gigot, in his “Potomac Watch” column last Friday, was gloomier still. Gigot sticks to the majority view that Rep. Rick Lazio, with Gov. Pataki’s blessing, is really going to challenge Giuliani in the GOP primary next year, thus dividing the party and exhausting the winner’s resources for the general election. “This is the first lady’s dream,” Gigot speculates, “and maybe even her expectation. And why shouldn’t it be? If her husband can make a career of beating dumb Republicans, so can she.”
I appreciate gallows humor as much as the next guy, but I believe Gigot
is dead wrong. Watching Pataki on Wolf Blitzer’s CNN Late Edition last
Sunday, there’s no doubt in my mind that Giuliani will not have a
primary challenge. Despite the fact the Lazio says he’s running, there’s
plenty of time before he must actually commit to the race. And while
Pataki sleepwalked through the usual platitudes—anyone can and should
test the waters, there are a lot of qualified candidates, Lazio’s a fine
man—his final remarks to Blitzer made it quite clear what’s really going
to happen. The Governor said that while Lazio is running now, people do
change their minds, and at the end of the day, he’s sure the Republicans
will be united behind one candidate. Which means, as I’ve written
before, Pataki’s feud with the Mayor (and forget Al D’Amato, he’s not a
player anymore) is small change compared to the wrath he’ll incur from
President George W. Bush if he doesn’t control his own party in New York
and make sure that Giuliani’s
07/09/99:Hillary & Sharpton: So Happy Together