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Jewish World Review / Nov. 5, 1998 /15 Mar-Cheshvan, 5759

MUGGER

Mugger Feeding Gore to a shark named Bush


IíVE MAINTAINED FOR MORE THAN A YEAR that Al Gore will be President Clintonís last victim; after all the other advisers and FOBs have walked the plank, racked up legal bills defending their lying boss, Gore will inherit a disorganized Democratic Party, as well as a recession, to enter the 2000 primaries with. Goreís known as a middling-smart politician, but his actions in the leadup to the midterm elections certainly donít prove this is true.

Last Friday, speaking in Washington, Gore led fellow Democrats in protesting the latest volley of Republican attack ads, claiming he was "shocked" that Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was involved in planning the strategy. "These attacks," Gore said, "personally devised by Speaker Newt Gingrich, are wrong... The American people have served notice that they donít like that."

Does Gore have amnesia? Was his boss not intimately involved in the campaigns of the í92, í94 and í96 elections? Did he not have pollsters working around the clock determining how dirty commercials could be and how they would be received in different regions of the country? Does Gore not recall how Clinton distorted challenger Paul Tsongasí record in the Florida primary of í92, or that he threatened to punch out Jerry Brown when the prescient California pol had the guts to mention Hillary Clintonís involvement in the Rose Law Firmís shady dealings?

And besides, as leader of his party, why wouldnít Gingrich be involved in a last-minute blitz of commercials aimed at electing as many GOP candidates as possible? Itís politics as usual, and Gore knows that. He was just trying to demonize the unpopular Speaker, thinking that would distract voters from the content of the ads.

The reaction of The New York Times showed the Democratsí concern: They headlined their front-page story on Thursday with "Gleeful Democrats Assail Ads," an unconvincing message that simply proves the acumen of Gingrich and his associates. Washington Times editor Wesley Pruden was on the mark when he lampooned White House operative Paul Begalaís reaction: "'Not only is it dirty, I think itís dumb, frankly, itís just dumb. The better description is ill-advised... I wish Jim Nicholson would run that ad all over the country, I wish he would spend $20 million in special interest money instead of just 10.í"

In fact, I think the Republican message was too soft: They shouldíve run one spot, an image of Clinton wagging his finger for 30 seconds (when he claimed he didnít have an "inappropriate relationship" with Monica) while an announcer ticks off the accomplishments -- such as they were -- of the Republican Congress. The finger-wag is the icon of the year: When Time names Clinton as its "Man of the Year," possibly in a split with Ken Starr, if they have any imagination theyíll use that image for their cover.

Writing in the Oct. 26 New Yorker, Louis Menand doesnít share my assessment. Continuing in the Joe Klein-Sidney Blumenthal-Tina Brown tradition (which doesnít augur well for editor David Remnickís stewardship there) Menand lionizes Gore in a profile thatís meant to prepare readers for the Vice Presidentís Oval Office run in 2000. Despite his partisanship, he makes several correct points: Foremost, Gore is a far more courageous man than Clinton and inherently has more character than his boss. For example, when Clinton was figuring out how to dodge the draft in the 60s (not an unwise decision, in my opinion, but his later dissembling about the action was typical of his life of deception), Gore enlisted in the Army and served in Vietnam.

He wasnít in favor of the war, but his father was running for reelection to the Senate as a dove in hawkish Tennessee in 1970 and Gore Jr. didnít want the image of a coddled Harvard boy avoiding service while his fatherís less privileged constituents were sent abroad. Gore Sr. lost anyway, but the Vice President served out his stint and then went to work as a journalist before joining the family calling of politics.

But Menand makes a number of mistakes in his piece. He claims that Gore, who, at the age of 40, made an unsuccessful run at the presidency in í88, stayed out of the í92 race because of his sonís almost-fatal accident three years earlier. Possible, but itís more likely that Gore, like other prominent Democrats, declined to run because President Bush was so popular in í91 after the Gulf War victory. Clinton, showing his canniness, and guts, entered the primaries, figuring it was at least a dry run for í96, and then hit the lottery: The recession caught up with Bush, Pat Buchanan distracted conservative voters and Ross Perot further confused an unsettled electorate.

Menand also makes this silly statement, which demonstrates he has a shaky understanding of the presidency and campaign politics: "The despicable campaigns run by Lee Atwater and James Baker in 1988 and by Baker again in 1992, when the Bush campaign tried to make it seem that Clinton was a traitor because he had gone to Moscow as a student in 1969, arguably bear a lot more responsibility for the degradation of national politics than Watergate." Say what! Nixonís multilayered campaign of paranoia and dirty tricks in í72 set the modern standard; Clintonís in í96, as outrageous as it was, is only a close second.

But Menandís biggest error is in portraying both Clinton and Gore as throwback Democrats, more in sync with the Roosevelt-Truman-Kennedy tradition than the politics that followed the tumultuous year of 1968.

He writes: "So Clinton and Gore are not, in the general sense, sixties Democrats; they are, much more specifically, Kennedy Democrats. For all their futurist-sounding talk about the New Democrats and the Third Way ... they are really trying to go backward, to reknit a ravelled tradition. They think the Democratic Party went down the wrong road after 1963, and persisted on it for almost thirty years. A national majority party transformed itself into a minority party. Nineteen sixty-three to 1992 was the Interregnum. Clinton and Gore mean it to be the Restoration."

Menand then goes on to say that Clinton had an "antagonistic" reaction to LBJís Great Society policies. If thatís true, why did Clinton try to push through a national health care program that wouldíve harnessed 14 percent of the nationís economy? Why, until the GOP landslide in í94, was he the most liberal president in memory? Finally, why has he been such a two-bit crook?

In an Oct. 7 Washington Post column, Michael Kelly explains why Menandís conclusions are so off-base. He writes, in lashing into the President for his conduct of the last six years: "This is where the party of Franklin Roosevelt wishes to stand? On the ground that it is permissible" under certain circumstances, you seeófor a president to lie under oath, to obstruct justice, to break the law? To stand for this is to stand for Ďnothing but an appetite,í to borrow Jesse Jacksonís description of what lurked in the core of Clintonís soul. A party that stands for that must fall."

Roosevelt and Kennedy had their faults, as Kelly, a pre-í68 Democrat would admit, but theyíre towering figures when compared to a Liíl Abner hayseed like Clinton. For Menand to claim otherwise is just an example of his own self-delusion. Perhaps thatís why he would feel so comfortable in the company of Blumenthal, Klein and Brown.


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

Up

10/30/98: "Pope" Jann and his rappers speak ---it's time for fun again
10/28/98: Lowered expectations, but the GOP holds the cards
10/23/98: Speaking from Zabarís: Michael Moore!
10/21/98: Bubba redux? His uptick won't last
10/16/98: Gore for President: The Bread Lines Are Starting to Form


©1998, Russ Smith