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Jewish World Review Feb. 9, 2000 / 3 Adar I, 5760

Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly
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The GOP Pilgrims' Sad Tale --
WASHINGTON IS NATURALLY and properly a town without pity. But surely hearts even here are not so stony that they cannot harbor just one small soft, sympathetic spot for a group of decent men and women who never did anybody any harm, and who suffer, these days, horribly and silently. Let us pause to contemplate the plight of the many who took the early plane to Austin.

It seemed like a sure bet once--more than sure, absolutely necessary. The '90s were not kind to Republican establishmentarians. In 1992 the unspeakable Bill Clinton took the White House and in 1994 the unworkable Newt Gingrich took the House and in 1996 the unelectable Bob Dole took a long, odd walk mostly by himself. For the better sort of Republicans, it has been eight years of constant, wearying struggle to stay just barely on the A-list. Eight years of lunch in a think-tank dining room, eight years of Kennedy School seminars, eight years of accepting the sort of media invitations--"C-SPAN 2? Why I'd be delighted!"--that once wouldn't have made it past one's secretary's sneer. Eight years of not really having a good reason to own a cell phone.

And then--George W. Bush. It was just right. The son would recover for the patient establishmentarians the good life his father had cost them by his losing ways. The national media said it was very likely so. The son, they said, was a most impressive man: funny and charming and handsome; and he could talk Spanish and he was a pretty good governor of a very large place and he had a lovely wife and he wasn't at all a bad sort for a Republican.

That last point was critical: The national media, every Republican knows, greatly influence who wins and loses these things, and almost ubiquitously, the candidates the media want to win are Democrats and the candidates the media want to lose are Republicans. (This, the media assure Republicans, is not a matter of bias, only an endless coincidence.) But this year promised something novel: The media seemed to actually kind of like George W. Bush, or at least not to actively despise him.

So, quickly then, to Austin, for speed was of the essence. The crucial thing, when the time comes for the plucking of post-electoral plums, is to have pledged your troth to the great man before everyone gets their troth in. With Bush, that meant right away.

The pilgrimage to Austin a year or so ago was a historic flocking--the planes filled with think-tankers and policy-paperers, admen and advance women, strategists and tacticians. The greatest made the trip--ex-titleholders of every weight class, from senator to Cabinet member to general, lobbyists so lofty they didn't speak to congressmen and consultants so lofty they didn't speak to lobbyists. There were flights from Washington to Austin so filled with egos that flight attendants agonized in the galleys over which to stroke first.

Months and months before the first vote was cast, the whole thing was sorted out. Everyone was for Bush--not because they adored him or in many cases even knew him, but simply because he was going to be elected. No one figured on John McCain.

Who would have thought that there would ever be an election cycle in which the media liked two Republicans? Who would have ever thought that they would really like a Republican? Would fall in love with a Republican? Why, this had not occurred in living memory.

Nobody who went to Austin ever thought the media would not prove fickle in their modest affection for George W. Bush, but the rules were quite understood: Compassionate conservative Bush, preferred over plain conservatives, would retain the pack's approval until he had secured his party's nomination. There would be plenty of time, as always, in the general election, for the media to discover that the Republican candidate was not acceptable after all, and to transfer affections to whoever the Democrat happened to be.

A man like McCain is a terrible thing. Establishmentarians have needs too. They have McMansion mortgages to pay. They have prep school bills to meet. They need to have some assurance that the world will not run suddenly against all known laws. It has taken us thousands of years to build up a proper order of things, media; let's not get all giddy and trash it now for the sake of a spring fling.

Remember your place, remember your role. Quietly, all together now, let's ease back on the Bush wagon--and we'll fix it good in the fall.

Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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08/12/99:The Age of No Class
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