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Jewish World Review Sept. 1, 1999/ 20 Elul, 5759


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David Broder Can Bebop, Too!

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- Chris Caldwell, writes in his "Hill of Beans" column in this week's NY Press that most of the Beltway pundit class is vacationing with him in Delaware currently, filing thumbsuckers studded with cliches like "silly season" and "August story" just before reaching for another cocktail or steak from the grill. Some columnists, like the Times' William Safire, are smarter—they simply don't write anything at all until after Labor Day.

But there was plenty of political news last week. I'd been hard on The Washington Post's David Broder for several years, tired of his "on the one hand..." mushy sermons, but Bill Clinton's behavior in the past 18 months has seemed to give the veteran reporter a second wind. His Aug. 29 column, on the subject of drugs and violence in America's cities, was first class, if only for kicking his colleagues in the shins.

Broder writes: "The pontificators in my world of journalism have been having a field day speculating about Texas Gov. George W. Bush's possible use of cocaine earlier in his life. They are so fascinated by the question that they have neglected the most basic obligation of our craft—finding the facts and assessing the evidence. Without any substantiation, the relentless questioning of the Republican presidential contender is nothing but harassment."

Broder's sensible position isn't good enough for Jesse Jackson. Last Friday, at a meeting with reporters, Jackson said Bush must answer the question as to whether he's ever used cocaine. "There is no place in the law for youthful indiscretion in the consumption of cocaine," Jackson said, ignoring the fact that not a single person has alleged Bush ever sniffed the drug. "Here is a rich favorite son who is now caught in a poor man's trap," Jackson continued. Hypocrisy on the reverend's part? I'd say so. After all, Jackson never insisted that Clinton must answer questions about whether he raped Juanita Broaddrick, even though she publicly accused him of that crime. Nothing like bonding over the Super Bowl and meaningful pray-uh to let things slide.

The Boston Globe ran an equally slimy editorial last Sunday on the same subject, saying, "There is no evidence that Bush used cocaine, but if he really wants to be a positive role model, he could find useful ways to come clean." Well, if there's no evidence, what is there to "come clean" about? The editorial suggests that Bush "share insights on something the public knows about: his past drinking." He has: the terrible hangover the day after his 40th birthday and the subsequent religious conversion.

By now, it's the oldest story in the world and I've had my fill. Bush is correct in maintaining his silence about his "reckless" youth a generation ago. As polls bear out, the public isn't as interested as the New York Times-owned Boston Globe.

Ken Bode, the deposed moderator of PBS' Washington Week in Review, shows how out of touch he is in a Sept. 13 New Republic article about Bush's supposed drug use. He writes: "Also, in the young Bush's elite circles—Andover, Yale, Harvard—coke tended to be a social drug available at parties, where people used it in groups. So, chances are there actually were multiple witnesses." Bode, who turned 60 last March, doesn't know much about the drug culture. Bush began his undergraduate career at Yale in '64, when marijuana was only being used by hip cats who grooved to Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. Bush didn't fall into that category: As Democratic partisans in the press, and Marilyn Quayle, like to say, he was a "frat boy," and those dudes were square, man; they drank bourbon and beer. Cocaine didn't reach the mainstream until the 70s. That's one of the reasons I don't think Bush touched the stuff. He wasn't a pioneer.

Mickey Kaus, in a piece on his entertaining new website, kausfiles.com, agrees with my last point, but wants to put on the record that Bush "is clearly hiding something." Kaus is an intelligent writer, but he's spent too much time with Slate's Michael Kinsley, and now he wants to cause some mischief. So, ignoring the journalistic ethics that Broder advocates, he speculates: "What if it was LSD? What if it was amphetamine or—this would be too good to be true—heroin?" Bush had the good fortune last week to be bumped off the front pages in favor of John McCain's fabulous flip-flop on abortion, when he told the San Francisco Chronicle that he wouldn't support the repeal of Roe v. Wade. Taken out of context, an unintended comment, sputtered McCain's staff when the right-to-lifers huffed and puffed like the Big Bad Wolf.

No skin off my nose—I'm pro-choice—but the Christian right, seeing their political clout wane as the presidential election nears, wants it to be known that they're still a force to be reckoned with. Uh, no, I don't think so.

Anyway, on the McCain front, I'm so fed up with guilty boomer journalists trotting out the Arizona Senator's "story," his heroics in Vietnam and the character that demonstrated, that even if I thought McCain was Oval Office material, which I don't, I'd look at other candidates just in protest. McCain has just released a book, Faith of My Fathers, which Lars-Erik Nelson, in last Sunday's Daily News, praised as "a harrowing account of his five years of beating, starvation and disease in North Vietnamese cells...[the] best possible reply to his Republican rivals for the nomination who try to win votes by wrapping themselves in Christianity. In prison, McCain lived—and survived because of—his Christian faith."

Bully for him.

Let's get a few facts straight. McCain, specifically because of his captivity and torture during the war, is a horrible choice for president, not only for Republicans (his tax-bloating tobacco bill is just one reason for opposition), but for all Americans. Those five years understandably dented McCain's mind, which is why he's such a hot-headed loose cannon, making inappropriate jokes and ill-considered policy proposals. That's why he's considered a "maverick" by the Beltway media elite. But do you really want a commander-in-chief who's still demonized by his wartime experience? Seems to me he'd be more apt to, in the words of Randy Newman, drop the big one than other men who weren't on the brink of death at the hands of foreign enemies.

I guess Thomas Oliphant, who serves as both a Boston Globe pundit and court jester to the Clinton White House, would think I'm daft, since McCain (who, on the off-chance he wins the GOP nomination, won't get Oliphant's vote; that's reserved for Al Gore or Bill Bradley) is The Natural. Completely behind the curve, Oliphant wrote the following drivel on Aug. 30: "If McCain were [campaigning] the shallow way like Bush, he would travel the country as the Vietnam War hero and prisoner who endured unimaginable torture, and ride the image the way Bush rides his political media status. But he doesn't; he almost never brings it up. [That's why he wrote a book about it, I guess.] It's simply there, offering him instant respect and a hearing. So, also, is his extensive record as a very tough conservative and an independent cuss with a knack for making big things happen bipartisanly—the sort of stuff presidents do."

What? Tommy Boy, your "independent cuss" hasn't made a damn thing happen. Don't you read the papers? Rat-a-tat McCain's tobacco bill failed. His campaign finance reform bill failed. Didn't your science teacher tell you never, ever, to put anything larger than a football between your ears?

I find Steve Forbes' vanity campaign more irritating daily, but even this pander bear didn't deserve the rude treatment doled out to him by Lawrence O'Donnell on the Aug. 19 edition of Hardball. O'Donnell, subbing for the vacationing Chris Matthews, is a proud Democrat—bad enough—but is also a grating television host. In reference to the New Jersey court decision about allowing gays in the Boy Scouts, O'Donnell grilled the doomed presidential candidate.

O'Donnell: "What about gays in the Boy Scouts?"

Forbes: "[I]n terms of the Boy Scouts, I think that was a wrongly decided decision. It is not a public accommodation. It will go to the Supreme Court, and I'm confident they'll overthrow that decision."

O'Donnell: "OK. But if you were joining the Boy Scouts and you had a friend or someone close to you joining the Boy Scouts at the same time who was suspected of being gay and they excluded him, or if you had someone who you thought would make a good Scoutmaster and they excluded him because they thought he was gay, would you have had some difficulty with that?"

Forbes: "One always wants to be with one's friends and to help them out.

But, again, this is a decision, not for the courts, not for the government. This is a decision for a volunteer organization, the Boy Scouts. If they have certain rules and you don't like them, you don't have to be part of it."

O'Donnell: "So if the Boy Scouts had said, 'We don't want,' for example, 'your father to be a Scoutmaster or to sponsor a Boy Scout troop,' because your father, as The Economist called him, was one of America's richest and most flamboyant closet homosexuals, I mean, isn't this an awkward issue for you personally to take this position on?"

Forbes: "Lawrence, if the organization decides to have certain policies and they're not a public accommodation, they're free to do them. I don't have to agree or disagree with everything every organization does in America. This is what freedom is about. And also, too, in terms of my father, I'll remind you, Lawrence, I'm running for president, not my dead father who's been dead for 10 years. Let's play it straight, Lawrence."

I don't agree with Forbes' stance on that particular issue, but it was refreshing to see him stick it to O'Donnell, a man whose manners are more lacking than even David Bonior's.

Get Your Red Hots!
Skip the Library, Max

I like Max Boot, the editorial features editor of The Wall Street Journal. He has impeccable taste in choosing writers for his page and is an accomplished author, with Out of Order, a scathing study of the judicial system, published last year. But Boot, like many serious journalists—Michael Kelly and James Pinkerton come to mind—just strikes out when it comes to satire. Boot writes the "de gustibus" column in the Journal's Friday weekend section, and in the last two weeks he's come up with duds. On Aug. 27, in a slap at animal rights activists, Boot imagined the future, as a grandfather, and delivered a predictably trite piece, despite the agreeable political stance. He doles out allowance to a grandchild: "Sure, honey. Here's $3,000—go see a movie. Too bad 'Porky Pig' cartoons have been outlawed. You know, currency just ain't what it used to be, either. 'Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad'? I can remember when the bills still said 'In God We Trust.'"

But that was Jonathan Swift compared to his effort from Aug. 20, in which Boot rants about how boring baseball is. Boot and George Will, the self-appointed deacon of the American pastime, actually have a lot in common. I can see them both at Camden Yards, in corporate seats, dressed in creased chinos, polo shirts and sensible shoes, chatting about Medicare and the First Amendment-busting folly of campaign finance reform between innings. But then a batter comes to the plate and Will studies his scorecard, pencil in hand, to chart the progression of an infield out, while Boot rolls his eyes and returns to the international section of The Economist.
Danny Hellman

Boot writes: "Even baseball's most ardent defenders implicitly acknowledge its somnolence. Why else is there increasing moaning about games that run an average of three hours? If those hours were diverting, who would object? Nobody ever complains about having too much ice cream, but then watching a game isn't like eating a sundae; it's more like swallowing tofu. Have you been to the ballpark lately? Neither have I. But whenever I've gone in the past, I've discovered that those in attendance were awfully busy chatting to each other, munching hot dogs, solving Fermat's last theorem—doing just about anything to avoid watching the on-field action."

Max: Ease up on the starch in your boxers. I can't think of a better diversion than having a team to root for all summer long; waking up and checking the box scores before subjecting yourself to a Times editorial or Bob Herbert op-ed column. Now that's somnolence. As regular readers know, I root for the Bosox, and have since I was seven years old. Right now, the team's in a wildcard race with the hated Blue Jays and Oakland A's; the Yanks have pretty much locked up the AL East Division. Boston's Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez might not be heroes of the magnitude of Churchill, but their performances on the field brighten up my day, and both of my sons', and that's no small pleasure.

Besides, while most sports reporters can't write worth a lick, the top of the class make for far superior reading to James Atlas, Bob Woodward or Martin Amis. For example, Tom Scocca had a scorching column in Baltimore's City Paper a few weeks ago that trashed Mark McGwire, the whitebread home run king who'll never be as fascinating a player as Babe Ruth, Bill Lee or Reggie Jackson. While Scocca does get on his high horse about steroid abuse—I don't particularly care if McGwire has 18 shots of tequila before he gets up to bat, it's his own business—he just obliterates the notion that this better-than-average slugger is in the same league as Cooperstown's immortals. Scocca told me he was shin-deep in hate mail for his "Incredible Hulk" column, and this passage is just a sample of why that is. He's telling the truth. Scocca writes: "As of Aug. 15, McGwire had hit 47 home runs this year. That puts him on the same pace as last season. By extension, it demonstrates just what a load of crap last season's accomplishment was. Nobody, in more than a century of baseball, had ever hit 70 home runs. Now this guy is in a position to do it twice in a row. That's not evidence of how great he is; it's evidence of how cheap home runs are."

I also like The Boston Globe's Michael Holley, who doesn't stint in the least in giving the home team a raft of grief. In an Aug. 18 column headlined "Yankees should be first priority," Holley says: "Since the Oakland A's and their fans aspire to be the American League's wild-card team, I have two words for them: Congratulations, guys. Some people are unrealistic about their goals, but not you. This system was created for those who dream as you do.

"And since the Red Sox and their fans have also mentioned the wild card a few times, I have some words for them as well: Yo, what's wrong with you?

"The wild card is to baseball what welfare is to the rest of the United States. If you're on it, you are certainly glad the option is available, but you don't want to be weaned on it forever."

Guess I'm guilty of complacency, too, on the wildcard front. But it doesn't look like the Sox can top the Yanks this year, at least in regular season play. Anyway, that column caused some catcalls from Oakland fans. Last Tuesday, Holley reported that a woman named Joan e-mailed him, saying, "It's soooo nice that the Red Sox have soooo many World Series trophies. How many? Let me see. Two? No. One? No. Let me guess!! None. Wow, they really have something to be proud of." Holley, who even admits the Bosox aren't his team, which is pretty cool writing in a Boston newspaper, responds: "As for the Sox, all they can do is beat up on the bad teams in front of them and hope that the A's handle the baseball the same way their fans handle history. It's been a long time, but the Sox do own some World Series titles. Five of them. The first one was in 1903. And there were even some fans there to watch it [Holley had made fun of the A's low attendance]."

Finally, after the Sox swept the Angels this past weekend, Holley wrote on Aug. 30, in a positively giddy mood: "The Red Sox should be hearing voices this morning. They spent their weekend beating up on Angels, so now they have caught the attention of the baseball gods... All of this began yesterday when the Sox beat the Motown Angels, 7-4 at Fenway Park. About an hour later, the A's lost to the White Sox and began preparing for a four-game series in Yankee Stadium. At the same time in Minneapolis, the Royals lost to the Twins and started heading east to Boston... I know [Sox manager] Jimy Williams likes to give credit to every team in the majors, but the Royals are terrible... Kansas City is the birthplace of bebop legend Charlie Parker. It is also the Midwestern land where a baseball team frequently gets bebopped upside the head... At this point, the gods are playing air guitars and yelling like thrash-metal vocalists."

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.

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©1999, Russ Smith