Jewish World Review Oct. 14, 2003/ 18 Tishrei 5764


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13 months & counting | There's no dispute among historical scholars, as I've written before, that one characteristic common to all great politicians is a lucky streak. Luck comes and goes, but when it really matters, a leader makes the most of it.

Imagine, for example, if the midterm elections were held this fall rather than a year ago. Is there any doubt that George W. Bush, despite bundles of cash and clever strategists, would see his party suffer severe defeats to the Democrats at both the Congressional and statewide levels? As it is, the president will begin his reelection campaign in earnest next summer with (barring another terrorist attack) a stronger economy and the beginning of Iraq's democratic structure more stabilized and assured. The latest Gallup poll, released on Monday, shows Bush's "favorable" rating has jumped over five points (56 percent) in early October from mid-September.

Bush could help his own cause as early as this Thanksgiving, for example, if he took the advice of JWR contributor Frank Gaffney Jr. (10/3) and traveled to Baghdad. A dramatic, if possibly dangerous, trip like this would achieve a number of objectives. One, the national media would be forced to accompany the president's entourage and possibly report what Democratic Reps. Norman Dicks and Jim Marshall found out on a recent fact-finding mission: There is no "quagmire" in Iraq.

Marshall, upon his return, wrote in the Washington Post: "Our news coverage disproportionately dwells on the deaths, mistakes and setbacks suffered by the coalition forces... Democrats should carefully avoid using the language of failure [ahem, Dick Gephardt]. It is false. It endangers our troops and our effort."

A week-long visit from Bush, accompanied, perhaps, by a few cabinet members, entertainers and skeptical Democrats, would undoubtedly cheer the vast number of Iraqis who — 'surprise! — 'welcomed the toppling of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime and are eager to accelerate the pace of increased electricity, commerce, free speech and safety that's occurred already since last spring. It would also raise the morale of the American and British troops stationed in Iraq, dodging the last-gasp remnants of Hussein's loyalists and imported terrorists, while being condescended to by the reflexive protesters in the U.S.

Obviously there's a political equation as well. Bush hasn't yet summoned the rhetorical skill to explain to Americans what exactly is happening in Iraq. A live address from Baghdad would give those who supported the war the assurance that his decision to take action was the correct one.

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In addition, I'd bet 50 bucks that Howard Dean, the ballsy, if at times incoherent, Democratic presidential candidate, is making plans for his own visit to "buck up the troops" in the near future. If he goes, who can doubt that his challengers, who, like sheep, embarrassed themselves by appearing with California's dead duck Gray Davis when it was all but apparent that voters there had no intention of retaining him as governor.

Bush is also lucky that the field of potential challengers is so anemic. Sen. John Kerry, who must be baffled that Democratic voters are not simply rolling over for him, is running one of the worst presidential campaigns in recent memory. He can't leave Dean alone, even questioning the former Vermont governor's claim that he's a Red Sox fan. According to an Oct. 8 Associated Press story, Kerry, pinching a 2003 Sox rallying cry, plans to launch a "Cowboy Up for Kerry" pitch to voters. The reporter, Ken Maguire, noted that the Massachusetts junior senator is "better known for sailboarding and ice hockey than for baseball banter."

Can anyone argue that Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, Bill Clinton's cash bagman when it was easier to legally (or not) obtain huge sums from contributors, is acting as if he were a double agent for the Republicans? McAuliffe's naivete is astonishing: One need only remember a year ago when he promised that Florida's Gov. Jeb Bush would go down to an ignominious defeat. McAuliffe, who apparently ignored the polls and diverted money to that race instead of closer ones, so insistent that the humiliation of President Bush's brother was crucial to the Democratic cause, looked pretty silly when the younger Bush was reelected handily.

McAuliffe was the laughingstock of cable television on the night of Oct. 7, appearing on different shows and expressing confidence that Davis would defeat the recall election. At this point, everyone but Don Zimmer knew that Arnold Schwarzenegger would become California's next governor, and it was a sight watching the pundits attempting to conceal what they already knew from exit polls. Late that night, 20 minutes before the results were in, McAuliffe said: "It's clearly not good news for George Bush. I'm telling you, the message across this country is that [people] have had it with George Bush's economic plans… George Bush should be very nervous."

Who knows? If Bush's approval ratings are in the mid-20s, like Davis' these past several months, next September, McAuliffe will be right. Anyone willing to make a wager on that?

James Bowman, in the October issue of the New Criterion, had a different take on McAuliffe, portraying him as a fool, but at least an honest one. Recalling Terry the Pirate's recent appearance on Meet the Press, in which he predicted major Democratic gains in 2004, Bowman wonders why the man ought to be believed. Host Tim Russert pointed out that McAuliffe was wrong on almost every national election in 2002 and asked the DNC frontman for a response.

It's a classic: "I am the national party chairman. I am not going to go on television, you know, three days before an election, and say, 'Oh, no, Tim. No, Mr. Russert, we're not going to win these elections.' My job is the chief cheerleader of the party. We're going to win everything. That's my job."

The smartest first move of the eventual Democratic nominee would be to fire McAuliffe. Don't count on it, not if he wants even nominal support from Bill and Hillary Clinton.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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