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Jewish World Review June 27, 2003 / 27 Sivan, 5763

James Lileks

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On feet in Democratic mouths | Wonder how many people e-mailed Dick Gephardt a copy of the Constitution this week, with the subject line "FYI."

Reacting to the possibility that the Supreme Court might overturn affirmative action, the presidential candidate said, "When I'm president, we'll do executive orders to overcome any wrong thing the Supreme Court does tomorrow or any other day."

Winch your jaw off your sternum and read that again. Picture the glee that would sweep the Democratic National Committee if a Republican candidate said this.

They're always warning that Republicans will suspend the Constitution, repeal the Bill of Rights and strip the Declaration of Independence down to the letters G, O and D. Imagine if a GOP candidate said he'd personally overrule the Supremes if the fancy struck. It would be like getting old film of a Republican doing a blackface routine at a frat party, or doing a faux-Chinese routine with chopsticks stuck in his mouth like big buck teeth. The election would be a foregone conclusion.

Gephardt will survive, but for different reasons:

  • Most voters won't notice, and if they do, they won't care. It's not as if the nation is afire with Gephardt fever, you know. There were three cases of suspected Gephardt fever in Wisconsin, but it turned out to be monkeypox.

  • Gephardt has already "clarified" his remarks in a way that obscures what he actually said. Said a spokesperson: "Dick Gephardt knows the law. . . . The president cannot overturn a Supreme Court decision. That's not what he said. He was simply expressing his commitment to diversity and his willingness to use the tools of his office to promote affirmative action programs to the fullest extent possible."

Was he now. Unfortunately, Gephardt was explicit and clear. He said he would use his powers to "overcome any wrong thing the Supreme Court does." Like call the election for the wrong guy? If he'd been in power in 2000, would he have invalidated the decision that gave George W. Bush the win? That's a precedent we don't need, unless we want to be ruled by grim generals in mirrored sunglasses who grant themselves 10-year terms.

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Why are we bothering, anyway? It's Gephardt. He's not going to get the nomination. Howard Dean, though -- different story. And he said something interesting things recently as well.

Interviewed by Tim Russert, he brushed away charges that he wasn't up to speed on the details of American military deployments, insisting that a candidate no more needed to know that than he needed to know the name of the ambassador to Rwanda.

Hmm. Rwanda? Interesting choice. The first thing that comes to Gov. Dean's mind as a synonym for irrelevance is an African country.

What if a Republican had said that? Yes, yes, that's an old tiresome game, and it smacks of schoolyard whining: No fair! Do overs! But Republicans always have the RACE cloud hanging low over their heads. Don't think the Dems wouldn't capitalize on this one. You can see the ad:

Voice-over: "As governor, George Bush never went to Africa. As a candidate, he said he didn't need to know who was the ambassador to Rwanda. As president, he gave tax cuts to Enron while infant mortality in Rwanda continued to rise."

Picture of John Kerry, in dress uniform, with an eagle on his shoulder. "I'm John F. Kerry. In Vietnam I learned firsthand the consequence of not paying attention to the name of the ambassador for Rwanda. When I'm president, I'll know all their names and their birthdays, and which flavor of Chuckles candy is their favorite."

Given how the Dems hammered candidate Bush for his mistalkerating, it's only fair that the GOP hammer Dean et al. for theirs. But they won't. Not because they're genetically encoded for niceness -- no, they simply lack the political instincts to pound away at a faux pas, and they haven't a compliant media that will recycle the gaffe for a news cycle or two.

What does this all mean? Simple: It's the first true sign of the campaign season. The candidates are telling us what they really think, and their aides are assuring us they didn't mean that at all.

Only 16 more months of this to come! Enjoy it while you can.

JWR contributor James Lileks is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


06/16/03: The real story behind Hillary's book
06/09/03:America's new mission was and remains: Extirpating the flaming nutballs and the societies that nurture them
06/03/03: The Constitution as gag order
05/23/03: Sometimes the theme of world events is chaos itself
05/16/03: Newspapers are only human, after all
05/13/03: What McCarthy messed up
05/06/03: Still think the International Criminal Court was a good idea?
04/03/03: The world is ending, the world is ending! Doesn't anybody care!? Why won't anybody listen!?
03/14/03: Kerry and the Dems are banking on American electorate's tendancy to forget history
02/28/03: Roadmap to peace?
02/13/03: We live in an age where the poet has been cast out from the halls of power --- sob, sob
02/10/03: Found: League for International Justice and Peace talking points
01/30/03: The US can go to war whenever it likes for its own reasons, and all the UN can do is pass more worthless paper
01/23/03: People who'd volunteer for the Iraqi army if they saw Saddam wearing a "Free Mumia" button
01/16/03: One of those head vs. heart things
12/27/02: Whistleblowers?
01/06/02: The second year of this jangled millennium
11/16/01: Attack of the 'Patriotism police' and other Hollywood fare
11/12/01: From the bleats of dismay
10/30/01: Osama and the Genie
10/08/01: "We can stop the Bush Death Juggernaut"
11/04/01: America, loathe or it leave it
09/25/01: Do the Europeans actually think that the war on murderous zealotry will be furthered by undercutting America?
08/27/01: If the economy is in a funk, why aren't we dancing?
08/14/01: Dubyah's embarrassing presidential vacation
08/10/01: Hail to our co-chiefs?
08/03/01: Constitution: George the Uniter picked a doozy to unify detractors
07/25/01: The real reason why we need missile defense (What those uppity policy wonks won't tell you!)
06/18/01: Paining the egalitarian soul
06/01/01: One of the stranger indexes you'll ever hear about
05/21/01: One man's toke is another man's snort
05/08/01: Republicans want poisoned water
04/23/01: We bleat as we're sheared
04/10/01: Boys will be boys. And that's the problem
04/06/01: Pity the anti-American Left, they're gonna have a hard time on this one
03/26/01: You've been warned
03/16/01: The GOP's inexplicable desire to fold
02/23/01: Will the Jeb Bush administration attack Saddam in 2011?
02/09/01: In search of the the first ashtray thrown by a member of the First Family
02/06/01: Can you say 'Ayatollah Bush'?
01/24/01: The new Executive Orders
01/22/01: Hey, Dubya: Wanna save Ashcroft? Teach him to rap!
01/09/01: Bubba gets his last licks
01/05/01: The low-down on the coming recession (What those snooty economists won't tell you)
12/23/00: Memo to Dubya: Wanna show who is boss? Nuke 'em!
12/06/00: The Count of Carthage
At the Sore/Loserman Transition HQ
12/01/00: The Count of Carthage
11/28/00: Clinton knows history isn't written by the victors anymore
11/17/00: Chad's the word
11/08/00: The strangest political night
11/07/00: Get ready to return to the Dark Ages

© 2003, James Lileks