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Jewish World Review Feb. 17, 2000 /11 Adar 1, 5760

Thomas Sowell

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Is there a republic party? -- WE WERE TAUGHT in school that there is a two-party system in America. Increasingly, however, is seems as if there is just one and a half parties. Is there really a Republican Party? Or just a collection of individual egos and rule-or-ruin splinter groups who have simply agreed to be disagreeable with one another?

Just a couple of months ago, the Republicans were odds-on favorites to recapture the White House. Texas Governor George W. Bush was so far ahead of any Democrat (or Republican) in the polls that he had an aura of invincibility about him. But that aura is gone forever, once you have been vinced.

Senator John McCain's victory in the New Hampshire primary has been hyped out of all proportion by media pundits, who have been for McCain all along.

It has even been called a "landslide" -- making it the first landslide in history by someone who failed to get half the votes. But when George W. Bush won a majority of the votes in the Delaware primary, that was never called a landslide. It was barely even called a victory by the media.

Senator McCain is the darling of the media, at least until we get closer to the November elections. They always like Republicans who talk like Democrats -- and McCain is for gun control and campaign finance reform and against "tax cuts for the wealthy."

But, when crunch time comes as we get closer to November, media people who have voted 89 percent for the Democrats in the past are hardly likely to go Republican in their coverage. In the meantime, however, the media will continue to contribute to McCain's image as a man who doesn't pander to anybody -- precisely because he panders to the media.

If Republicans let non-Republicans choose their candidate for president, then what does the GOP stand for? Do Protestants elect the Pope?

If the Republicans are prevented by state laws from restricting primary voters to people who are in fact registered Republicans, then they can go to some other system for selecting candidates of their own choice. We hear a lot about the bad old days when party bosses in smoke-filled rooms picked the parties' candidates.

But, if you look beyond image to realities, those party bosses picked Harry Truman to run as vice-president with Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944, at a time when insiders knew that FDR was in such bad health that he would probably die in office. Truman was incomparably better than the then-current vice-president, Henry Wallace, who was a classic left-wing "useful idiot" that Communists could play like a violin.

If Wallace had become president instead of Truman, none of the worldwide resistance to Communist expansionism that President Truman first organized would have gotten off the ground. Instead of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, by now we might instead have had the collapse of democracy in Western Europe.

Speaking of democracy, there is nothing democratic about having a major party's presidential candidate chosen by a relative handful of people who turn out for primaries, especially when these voters include many who are not members of that party. Whatever else party bosses want, they want to win. And they have a much clearer picture of what that takes than people who are voting on the basis of image and media hype, rather than based on knowing the actual people for what they are. Many of those who know the real John McCain -- whether in the Senate or in Arizona -- are endorsing George W. Bush.

Senator McCain is running a classic image campaign. Ask McCain supporters just what substantive issue causes them to want to vote for him. Chances are you won't get much, except for the appearance that the man presents, the air that he exudes and the nice things the media say about him.

Being President of the United States is not about airs and poses. It is not even about how fast you are with a pithy response. It is about facing concrete issues and challenges that have to be dealt with, one way or another.

Senator McCain has been in Washington 17 years, so it should be no mystery what he has done -- if he has done anything worth taking any special notice of. George W. Bush has been governor of a state that is larger than France and he has a record of achievements that can be compared to McCain's. But no one seems to be making that comparison. Instead, they are talking about campaign ads and everything else except what matters in the end.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate