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Jewish World Review March 9, 2000 / 2 Adar II, 5760

Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly
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Consumer Reports



The Pinhead Factor -- WITH GEORGE W. BUSH and Al Gore the certain presidential nominees of their parties this election, it is time to discuss what may well be the deciding issue in the race: the Pinhead Factor.

It is manifest that George Bush is, as David Letterman has said, a pinhead. He has proven this redundantly, most recently in a remarkably lame attempt to be funny on, as it happened, Letterman's show. "A uniter, not a divider--what exactly does that mean?" Letterman asked. "When it comes time to sew up your chest cavity, we use stitches as opposed to opening it up," riposted Bush. This is something that could only have been said by someone who was seriously not bright.

Well, what of it? Seriously not-bright men have been elected president before. Yes, but Bush is not a pinhead in a vacuum. He will be running against Al Gore, who is in many ways unattractive but who is clearly smart. This matters because of basic election math. A bit more than a third of the voters will vote Democratic almost no matter what, and a bit more than a third will likewise vote lock-step Republican. The decisive 25 to 30 percent are the honestly undecided. They actually choose on merit, plunking for the candidate they believe, after study, is best qualified to lead the country.

Generally speaking, in the absence of an overarching issue and with two candidates of roughly equal merit, the honestly undecided vote will break in roughly equal amounts. But in a race where one candidate appears greatly superior on some fundamental question of merit, the honestly undecided vote will break lopsidedly for the better man. This is something Republicans recurringly fail to grasp. In 1996, against a reasonably popular incumbent president who was a spectacular political salesman, the GOP put forward Bob Dole, a decent, intelligent and experienced politician but a known hopeless case as a salesman. Now, in choosing Bush over John McCain, the party of perversity has done it again.

Had McCain prevailed, the greatly superior general election candidate would have been the Republican one: a smart, tough, funny, cool (the first cool Republican in living memory), experienced, forthright, genuinely attractive war hero, running against an inside-Washington, no-controlling-legal-authority-citing, Naomi-Wolf-hiring, interest-group-kowtowing, silver-spoon-gumming, establishment-perpetuating son of privilege.

Instead, the GOP put forward Bush. Bush, who proved with his bowing to Bob Jones III that he is as much a tool of his party's bigots as Gore showed himself to be in his bowing to Al Sharpton. Bush, who proved, with his vicious and knowingly fraudulent attack on McCain as an opponent of breast cancer research, that he is Gore's equal in cynical dishonesty. Bush, who rivals Clinton and Gore in his nakedly greedy pursuit of corporate cash.

Other aspects of person being more or less equal, the Pinhead Factor comes into play as potentially decisive. Contemplate, if you are pitiless, the Gore-Bush debates. In the primary debates, Bush demonstrated not only that he is not smarter than the average bear but also that he knows this, and is afraid of exposure. He regards even simple invitations to express his views not as opportunities but as looming disasters.

His debate performances revealed this in two ways. (1) Frequently, when it was his turn to speak, Bush would content himself with a few canned sentences and then snap his mouth shut, so no words that might make a fool of him could escape. (2) After uttering some platitude to which his fellow Republicans could not take exception--"Any one of us would make a better president than Al Gore," or some such--Bush would often look at the other debaters in an obvious bid for approval. These are the ingrained mannerisms of the student whose desperate wish is to get through class without being called on, and laughed at. In a debate with the razor-fanged Gore, such traits are going to show very badly.

Bush is not going to get smarter between now and November. His one chance is that the relentlessly smarmy Gore embodies the promise of a perpetuation of Clintonian sleaze. In the end, the undecideds may decide that, troubling as the Pinhead Factor is, the sleaze factor is worse.

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


03/01/00: The Christian Right: Past Its Prime . . .
02/24/00: McCain's Majority
02/16/00: Sharpton's Supplicants
02/09/00: The GOP Pilgrims' Sad Tale
02/02/00: Fodder For the GOP
01/26/00: Million-Dollar Mediocrity
01/19/00: Campaign Reform: Let's Pretend
01/12/00: Never Again? Oh, Never Mind
01/05/00: Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop In
12/22/99: Gore's TV Gambit
12/15/99: Campaigns Do Clarify
12/08/99: Kosovo's Killers
12/01/99: Not Ready for Prime Time?
11/24/99: The Company He Keeps
11/17/99: Republican Illusion
11/10/99: The Know-Nothing Media
11/03/99: Necessary Partisanship
10/27/99: Buchanan's Gift to George W. Bush
10/21/99: Who are the real friends of the poor?
10/14/99: Gore's 'courage'!?
10/08/99: Republican Stunts
09/23/99: Buchanan's folly
09/16/99: Beatty and Buchanan: That's Entertainment!
09/09/99: Puerto Rico Surprise (Cont'd)
09/02/99: Puerto Rico Surprise
08/12/99:The Age of No Class
08/05/99: Assessing Welfare Reform
07/29/99: On the Wrong Side
07/21/99: Mass Sentimentality
07/15/99: Blame Hillary
07/08/99: Guide to the Arts: For Your Summer Reading . . .
06/30/99: A Perfectly Clintonian Doctrine
06/25/99:Smorgasbord by the Sea
06/16/99: A National Calamity
06/09/99: Stumbling Forward
06/02/99: Commencement '90s-Style
05/26/99: Will we ever learn? Clintochio is a lying ...
05/19/99: Comforting Milosevic
05/13/99: Short-Order Strategists
05/06/99: Four Revolting Spectacles

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