Jewish World Review August 2, 2000/ 29 Tamuz, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- I FULLY UNDERSTAND that as these words are written-noon on July 31-Gov. George W. Bush is near the peak of his polling dominance against Vice President Al Gore. The Texas Governor's preconvention "bounce," a new twist, catapulted him to a 14-point lead in the Time/CNN poll by last weekend, which is in addition to an 11-point advantage in the USA Today/CNN/Gallup results. Just seven days ago, Newsweek was crowing that the presidential election was "tight as a tick," and The New York Times, the Redcoat Army of this year's contest, editorialized that the two candidates were running neck and neck.
The gap between Bush and Gore will inevitably shrink, as the Veep commands his own convention, picks a runningmate and dazzles a prime-time audience with his inspirational rhetoric two weeks from now. (Although it's possible that the young anarchists, nostalgists and girls-with-flowers-in-their-hair-and-condoms-in-their-pockets, who created such a ruckus in Seattle and DC last spring, might disrupt the Democratic gathering in Los Angeles to such an extent that Gore will emerge every bit as impotent as Hubert Humphrey in 1968.)
The fractious group that comprises Gore's cheerleading squad-millionaire consultants like the devious and disgusting Bob Shrum; ostrich-head-in-the-sand Democrat strategists such as Mark Mellman, who's grown lazy from two successive Clinton victories; and of course the DC-Boston elite media-continues to insist that it's Gore's election to lose. They cite professorial studies showing that an incumbent administration is rarely booted out of office when the economy is strong; the foolhardy decision of Bush to tap Dick Cheney as his number two; and, the constant, Gore's sheer intellectual superiority over the Governor.
Laughably, some partisans still argue that flawed candidate Michael Dukakis was ahead of Vice President Bush in the summer of '88 and that the tide will inevitably turn once Americans get to know the real Gore.
At their peril, these early Alzheimer's cases forget that Dukakis campaigned from his modest Massachusetts home with a campaign apparatus that looked like a Little League team compared to Bush's loyal and aggressive commandos in Austin. Also, if Americans don't know the "real" Gore after seven and a half scandalous years enabling President Clinton, he's got a problem that won't be overcome in four months. As Sheila Redman, director of the Saginaw Art Museum in the crucial state of Michigan, put it two weeks ago at a Gore town meeting: "I wasn't sure I would vote for you. I didn't know if you were strong enough to compete."
In fact, Gore is well-known, and voters don't like what they see. From all accounts, to be charitable, the Washington/Tennessee favorite son was once a man who could tell right from wrong. That perception has been erased in the past decade. Gore is a Machiavellian hack (and a not especially adept one) who, despite his costume changes in the last year, hasn't gained the trust of Americans. Consider: his reincarnation as John McCain's 'Nam buddy; his focus-group-inspired morphing into a rabid populist who despises big business-despite the fact that his family's personal wealth is tied up in Occidental Petroleum-and the embarrassing race-baiting tactics that he slips into whenever he's before a black audience.
Why Julian Bond or Kweisi Mfume, both admirable public servants, haven't chastised Gore for his condescending preacher cadences before church groups, when he was the one who gave wishy-washy Clinton the final go-ahead to sign the welfare reform bill in '96 that both Bond and Mfume opposed, is just a sign that political hypocrisy is color-blind. As for Jesse Jackson and his understudy Al Sharpton...well, there's no hope for redemption there.
Gore, when before black audiences, castigates Bush for not insisting last spring that South Carolina remove the Confederate flag from its statehouse. The implication is clear: Bush is a racist. But as Karl Rove, Bush's campaign chief, said last weekend on CNN's Evans & Novak: "Al Gore went to South Carolina nine times as vice president of the United States while that flag was flying atop that Capitol and never said word one about it. Now if it was so important for him, that he-don't you think he should've said something as vice president and not just as a candidate?"
Looking back at Gore's performance this year, I believe that two seminal events illustrate completely what a shallow, craven man the Vice President is. During the primary campaign, Gore repeatedly, and intentionally, distorted Bill Bradley's record on race relations and healthcare. Bradley, an elitist fifth-rate Adlai Stevenson, wasn't up to the challenge of forcefully refuting Gore's charges, but he did memorably say the following at one of their debates: "If you can't trust people to tell them the truth in a campaign, how are they going to trust you as president?"
Bingo! Instant GOP commercial this fall.
Even more indicative of Gore's lack of morality, and lack of the political wizardry that's the single strength of his boss, were his answers to two questions posed by Tim Russert on the July 16 edition of Meet the Press. Gore was obviously ill-prepared for Russert's tenacious questions, answering slowly, as if he'd had too many iced teas the night before, and the hour-long session was a bomb. In addition to his absurd insistence that the White House "coffees" in '96 were not "fundraisers," and dodging Russert on Social Security handouts that were inspired by Bush's proposal to partially privatize the system that was inaugurated in the 1930s, Gore gave astonishing answers such as the following:
Russert: "Right now there's legislation which says that a woman on death row-if she's pregnant, she should not be executed. Do you support that?"
Gore: "I don't know what you're talking about."
Russert: "It's a federal statute on the books that if a woman is pregnant and she's on death row, she should not be executed."
Gore: "Well, I don't know what the circumstances would be in that situation. I would-you know, it's an interesting fact situation. I'd want to think about it."
Bush, whose liberal critics dub him "the high priest of execution," when asked his opinion on the subject, immediately said that a woman carrying an innocent child shouldn't be put to death. It's what's called a "layup" question and Gore botched it, much as Dukakis did when asked what his reaction would be if his wife Kitty were raped and murdered back in an '88 debate. Instead of saying, "I'd choke the man with my own hands!" the Duke philosophized about crime. He never recovered.
Even worse in the Meet the Press interview was Gore's outright mocking of Russert when the host asked the Vice President to explain the outlandish mewlings of his press secretary, Chris Lehane. Lehane accused Sen. Arlen Specter of "McCarthylike tactics" for mentioning a potential probe of his boss' '96 moneygrubbing operation.
Russert: "Senator Specter, who's Jewish and very sensitive to that charge-will you apologize to Senator Specter this morning for accusing him of McCarthylike tactics?"
Gore: "Has he no shame?"
This was an astounding and tasteless rejoinder. Gore, who was smiling as he answered the question, was obviously referring to Army chief attorney Joseph N. Welch's legendary and devastating humiliation of Sen. Joseph McCarthy 46 years ago. Gore refused to repudiate the callow Lehane's stupid and hyperbolic comments about Specter and said, in fact, that he stood by them. Subsequently, Lehane has scarcely been seen on tv, replaced by the smoother Mark Fabiani, who's press-friendly and thus given a wider berth than the creepy Lehane. Still, even Fabiani doesn't have much to work with.
Anyway, the upshot of Gore's smart-aleck behavior on Russert's show is that he really doesn't care about his staff's indiscreet behavior, is willing to alienate and insult members of the Republican Party on the flimsiest of excuses and doesn't believe he has to explain to anyone all of the unethical, and possibly criminal, acts during his tenure as vice president.
It boggles the mind, especially when the press makes great sport of saying that Bush is neither smart nor politically savvy enough to hold the office that Bill Clinton has desecrated. It's clear that Gore is now a skeleton devoid of principles. If I'd been Russert in that interview, I'd have asked a follow-up question: "Mr. Vice President, is there anything you believe in other than it's your rightful turn to occupy the White House? Is there no campaign slur or tactic you won't use to reach that goal? Is there any family member you won't exploit to further your ambition?"
Even Gore's daughter, Karenna Gore Schiff, the adviser who introduced Naomi Wolf to her father's campaign, seems to know the jig is up. In a July 24 Newsweek story, Schiff told reporters Bill Turque and Debra Rosenberg: "It's more important to us that he be true to himself than that he wins."
CHENEY: THE SMART PICK
Alas, Ridge's short-list status was leaked too early in the process, which gave Catholic bishops, Luddites like James Dobson and Paul Weyrich and everyone's favorite 16th-century orator, Pat Buchanan, plenty of time to squawk. As a result, Ridge withdrew his name from consideration four weeks ago, citing "family considerations," putting his own ambition second to Bush's chances for victory in the fall.
In the interim, Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating was a leading contender (a true nightmare, given his lack of experience and penchant for verbal gaffes). Liddy Dole was then floated but mercifully batted down, as if her empty Oprah sloganeering had any place in a 2000 election battle.
And finally, John McCain's boosters tried as hard as they could to place the not-so-reluctant gadfly on the Bush team. McCain, who still hasn't come down to Earth after his ego-gratifying bus trips of last winter, had his champions in Weekly Standard publisher Bill Kristol and New York Post columnist John Podhoretz, on the theory that the man whom the media proclaimed the most popular politician in America would give Bush a slam-dunk win in November. It's fortunate that Bush's Austin brain trust prevailed against this awful scenario: it's easy to see how McCain (who, typically, addressed lunatic Arianna Huffington's "Shadow Convention" last weekend) could create a problem a week for Bush during the campaign.
The antipathy between the two men is no secret, and one can envision McCain calling an impromptu press conference to disagree with part of Bush's agenda. It's even easier to tally up the damaging jokes he'd make to a willing squad of reporters/ groupies eager to record his every word. Since McCain prides himself as always speaking "on the record," you can imagine bad jokes about "coons," "gooks" and "queers." All in good fun, of course, with no intention to harm the campaign.
After Dan Rather's July 24 "scoop" that Colin Powell was back in play (a completely fabricated story that might've been planted by the aging CBS anchor) the announcement of Dick Cheney as Bush's runningmate seemed anticlimactic. Immediately, the Democratic hatchet men came out-even though Cheney was widely lauded as President Bush's defense secretary, winning the praise of Al Gore, among others-citing votes cast by the Wyoming Congressman more than a decade ago when America was a different country. The fact that Gore's views often coincided with Cheney's-pro-life, anti-gun control-made no difference to the likes of Sen. Tom Daschle, Rep. Dick Gephardt and Sen. Barbara Boxer; the Veep's flip-flops were just evidence that he'd "matured."
Cheney was pilloried for a nonbinding '86 vote on the fate of Nelson Mandela that Democrats claimed showed his right-of-Gingrich conservatism. In fact, as Los Angeles Times Washington bureau chief Doyle McManus explained on CNN's Reliable Sources, the measure wasn't solely about freeing Mandela. Rather, it was also a call to begin negotiations with the Communist-controlled African National Congress. Cheney, along with half the House, voted against the bill. McManus said: "[I]t was kind of a trick vote, too, frankly. It was one of those procedural motions... So that one wasn't wacky right wing."
Nonetheless, pro-Gore pundits like Time's Margaret Carlson willfully ignored the nitty-gritty of that vote and simply condemned Cheney for voting to keep Mandela behind bars. Parrying with Carlson on the July 26 edition of CNN's Inside Politics, The Weekly Standard's Tucker Carlson said: "Well, I guess it is significant that Dick Cheney single-handedly kept Nelson Mandela in prison all those years. But I do think, even something as heinous as that, as Margaret points out, doesn't mean much... [Cheney's] the vice presidential nominee. And all the time they spend attacking him, you know, is time they could spend attacking Bush. And attacking Bush is what moves numbers, not attacking Cheney. So, ultimately, I just am not convinced that anything Cheney does, short of murder, is going to affect the election."
In fact, as the week wore on and Cheney was all over the tube, presenting a firm but restrained conservative point of view, his selection seemed more and more adept. Unlike Gore, Cheney was unflappable and not giving an inch to the Democratic patriots. ("To arms, to arms, Dick Cheney's coming to imprison all women, gays and trial attorneys!")
True, Cheney's not telegenic (he appears a decade older than his 59 years), but outside of New York, DC and Los Angeles, that's probably a plus. On last Wednesday's Hardball, Mike Barnicle, the affluent former Boston Globe columnist who now writes a tourist column for Mort Zuckerman's Daily News, was enthusiastic about Bush's pick. He also belittled those in his profession who made fun of President Bush's obvious loyalty to his oldest son. Barnicle: "I think that the country is a lot less partisan than these shows and certainly the members of Congress that you have on. And all of this talk about the father...I think it's a huge plus for George Bush Jr. I think people like people who love their fathers."
Barnicle then spun off what I thought was the funniest line of the week: "The only thing that concerns me about Dick Cheney is he looks like he's spent the last five years at McDonald's. I mean, he looks as if [if] he cut himself in the morning, gravy would come out."
Part of the Democratic rhetoric of last week is that Cheney's elevation
signals a return to the 80s, that Bush is relying on "Daddy's men" to
tutor him and launch us back to the horrendous Reagan years. Personally,
I'm far more worried about a return to the 90s, when Bill Clinton, who
stood for nothing but Me, Myself and I, made a joke of the White House.
Besides, it's absurd to claim that Bush is looking backward when he's
the first politician to offer a coherent plan to save Social Security
and save it from certain