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Jewish World Review August 7, 2002 / 29 Menachem-Av, 5762

Michael Kelly

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Consumer Reports

Truth be told | Pundits who wish to be regarded as scrupulously fair and honest folks like to occasionally toss into their verbal wake a parenthetical clause known in the trade as the Full Disclosure.

A typical Full Disclosure usage reads something like this: "Jones may be the most incompetent -- and is certainly the least impressive -- judicial appointment put before a Senate since Caligula trotted out his horse. (Full Disclosure: Jones offered a somewhat negative review of my most recent collection of essays, characterizing my work as 'the driveling drool of a diseased and degenerate mind'.)" Or, conversely, "Jones is an extraordinarily able nominee -- a man of great probity, learning and humanity. (Full Disclosure: Jones, my college roommate, is married to my beloved younger sister, and he and I have played tennis together almost every Saturday morning for 17 years.)"

As full disclosures go, these are no Monties. And this is pretty much as far as it goes. Pundits do not operate under truth-in-packaging rules. What if they did? Herewith, for the remainder of this column, an experiment in true Full Disclosure:

WASHINGTON -- In a climate where the "dismal science" seems ever more aptly named, Wall Street's relapse into the land of the diminishing Dow has sparked fears of a so-called double-dip recession -- fears that are quite justified and have their roots in a systemic and decade-long abuse of the public trust by corporate malefactors and their political enablers.

(Full Disclosure: The author knows diddly about the stock market. He went through college on a journalism program, for God's sake. He last understood the mathematics curriculum in the fourth grade. Like most journalists, he only vaguely and dimly grasps the economics of his own business. He did not know the difference between a bull and a bear market until he was in his mid-thirties. His father-in-law has several times explained to him the concept of a "put," yet it remains to him a mystery. His wife handles all aspects of the family's financial life. He does not even have his own checkbook. He has an ATM card, which he frequently loses.)

And this gnawing fear over the nation's prosperity joins an equally grave, and likewise growing, worry over its prospects for peace. George W. Bush's "war on terror" started out "mitt a bang und a boom" over Kabul, but it is now some months later, and Osama bin Laden is still out there and no doubt planning some more bangs and booms of his own. Meanwhile, Pentagon planners squabble-by-leaking over the plans for a war with Iraq the president seems determined to pick, even though he doesn't have a plan for waging it.

(Full disclosure: The author has never served in any branch of the armed services. He was never even a Boy Scout. He has fired a gun precisely four times in his life. As a boy, he was taken rabbit hunting and the slaughter of the bunnies greatly upset him -- indeed, still bothers him. As a reporter, he has observed some combat, but he is aware that being in combat is to observing combat as being in an orgy is to being the guy who stands by the CD player and changes the discs. The author has no secret sources in the Pentagon and everything he knows or thinks he knows about war plans for Iraq, he gets from reading the same newspaper accounts that you read.)

The double whammy of a double-dip recession and a seemingly dippy war has had a predictable -- but not, except in this space, predicted -- effect on the political game. What had seemed only months ago an impossibility now seems to many -- even Republican stalwarts -- a real probability: Come this November, the Democrats may well take back the House.

(Full Disclosure: The author has never worked in a political campaign. The closest he ever came was a brief stint selling "Nixon Eats Grapes" bumper stickers in support of the 1968 campaign of Hubert Humphrey for president. He contributed half of the proceeds of the sales, $17, to the Humphrey campaign, and in return received a nice genuine cloth handkerchief signed by a machine with the initials HHH. In his first political assignment as a reporter, the author covered a campaign speech by Jimmy Carter in 1976, at the University of New Hampshire, for the school paper. Afterward, he was heard to say, authoritatively: "That man will never be president." On the other hand, the author believed Michael Dukakis stood an excellent chance of being president. He also liked the odds for Bob Dole in 1996.)

Well, I don't think we'll be trying this again.

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

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