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Jewish World Review /Feb. 5, 1999 /19 Shevat 5759


Mugger A Slight Stumble for Bush

IT WASN’T EXACTLY A REPLAY of Roger Mudd’s interview with Teddy Kennedy in 1979, in which the Massachusetts senator failed to articulate any coherent idea of why he wanted to replace Jimmy Carter as president, but George W. Bush’s one-hour appearance on C-SPAN last weekend was inauspicious.

Even though he hasn’t announced his intention to run for the 2000 GOP nomination—in fact, his cousin John Ellis, a Boston Globe columnist, has suggested he might not—Brian Lamb’s chat with Bush wasn’t aired just because the Governor won a smashing reelection in Texas last fall.

Bush with wife
Bush badly needs some coaching lessons in speaking without a script; otherwise he’ll be creamed in the numerous debates that will take place within a short period of time next year. Asked by Lamb if he likes reading, Bush said, "Yes, a lot." Prodded as to what kind of books he enjoys he answered: "I love history. I just finished reading The Sword of San Jacinto about Sam Houston. I like occasional social commentary. I say occasional; I occasionally read social commentary. But I love history. I was a history major in college and I spent a lot of time on history. I’m trying to wrack my brain now that you asked me to think of all the great history books. Well, I mean, The River Also Rises, the book about the Mississippi River that flooded; the ’27 flood, I believe it was, of the Mississippi. It’s a great book... It’s amazing to be interested in history and living—making history. It’s an interesting coincidence."

As my friend Binyamin Jolkovsky would say: Oy!

However, when Bush works from text he can be the charismatic candidate that Republicans will rally around to recapture the White House. I saw Bush’s Jan. 19 inaugural address on the tube and he was spellbinding; passionate, attractive, conveying a youthful sense of hope that propelled JFK in 1960.

In part, he told the crowd in Austin: "Our diversity gives Texas new life, new energy, new blood…and we should not fear it but welcome it. People seeking to improve their lives and move up lift our entire economy. Societies are renewed from the bottom up, not the top down. This renewal will continue if government respects individuals, does not tax them too much and does not try to do for them what they ought to do for themselves. And this progress will continue as long as we do not allow race to divide us... There’s a trend in this country to put people into boxes. Texans don’t belong in little ethnic and racial boxes. There are such boxes all over the world, in places with names like Kosovo, Bosnia, Rwanda; and they are human tragedies. As we head into the 21st century, we should have one big box: American."

That sort of rhetoric wins presidential elections. But if Bush gets swamped in a debate with the automaton Liddy Dole, pitbull John McCain (who’s now said to have doubts about running) or even Lamar Alexander, who’s more practiced in tedious retail politicking, then all his money, family connections and buoyant conservative philosophy will be for naught.

The mainstream press, which is begging to forgive St. McCain any gaffe, won’t be so kind with Bush; he’ll enter the race as the frontrunner and the slightest Quayle-like slip-up will be exaggerated to the point that it might torpedo his campaign. I hope Bush runs: He’s easily the best candidate against a damaged Al Gore, who’ll be carrying so much Clinton baggage he’ll start the general election campaign at a 10-point disadvantage. But George W. needs some debating lessons. Bush has already been bashed by Alexander and Quayle for his slogan "compassionate conservatism," which I take as sour grapes from the two challengers because the Texas governor is topping the polls even before he’s announced.

Besides, Bush has demonstrated in Texas that there’re teeth behind those words. And just last week, Sen. Rick Santorum, a hard-line conservative who faces a tough reelection campaign next year in Pennsylvania, repudiated Alexander and Quayle in a letter to both candidates. He wrote: "The Republican Party has a proud tradition of being both compassionate and conservative, and we should embrace and promote both." According to Sunday’s Washington Post, Quayle’s camp was polite in response, simply replying, "Dan Quayle believes Rick Santorum is a fantastic senator and looks forward to campaigning for his reelection."

Alexander’s spokesman, reflecting his bitter boss’ pleasure at tweaking Bush, issued the following hyperbolic statement: "Gov. Alexander is pleased to have started a debate in the Republican Party over whether we will stand strongly and competently by our principles and articulate them forcefully or whether we’ll hide behind Clintonian-like weasel words which offer nothing more than a pale imitation of Democrat policies." So, now we know what Alexander has replaced his flannel shirt with this time around: the phrase "weasel words." Get used to it, because until he drops out of the campaign that’s all you’ll hear from the frustrated ex-governor of a tiny state.

Barbara Boxer’s Bunk

THE HYPOCRISY OF THE SENATE knows no bounds. Last Thursday, writing in the San Jose Mercury News, California Sen. Barbara Boxer had the audacity to call for an end to the impeachment trial without revealing that she’s tangentially related to the Clintons: Her daughter is married to Hillary Clinton’s brother Hugh Rodham, Jr. "This has been a very difficult chapter for the country," Boxer solemnly reminds readers, "for Congress, for the presidency and for me. In my recent re-election campaign, I said I wanted to go back to Washington to legislate, not to investigate or humiliate. The time has come to do just that—to move on and do the people’s business." What pious manure.

It hasn’t been a "very difficult chapter for the country." Most people don’t care a whit about the proceedings in Washington, even if they do register approval for Bill Clinton’s performance as president (which sharply contrasts with their opinion of his personal morality). Those who’ve followed the Monica travails and Clinton’s succession of lies view it as entertainment; when it gets juicy every month or so, then it’s better than the usual fare of film or television. As long as the economy stays healthy and there’s no war to worry about, "the real people," as pundits like to say, are tending to their own business, looking at the trial as a mere sideshow.

In fact, most "real people" are woefully uninformed about the business of politics. Last week, WABC’s radio talk-show host Sean Hannity had a man on the street interviewing passersby to see if they could identify the vice president of the United States. Only about one in five passed the test. (Hannity, by the way, as I mentioned last week, is no mental giant himself. I got a call from a rival radio station employee who alleged that one time when Hannity asked who was appearing on a show opposite his and was told Gore Vidal, he said, "Who’s that?")

But back to Boxer. This is the woman who was elected in ’92, the Year of the Woman, partly on the basis of her pillorying Clarence Thomas, now a Supreme Court justice, a man accused of far less heinous behavior than Clinton. In addition, when Sen. Bob Packwood, who resigned in the wake of sexual harassment charges, was up before his colleagues, Boxer said: "I have to say, as one U.S. Senator who is going to vote on how to dispose of this matter in a fair and just fashion to all concerned, I do not want to base my vote on a stack of papers." But when it comes to Clinton, a Democrat, she says it’s time "to move on" and no witnesses are necessary.

Maryland’s paleoliberal Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who’s ready to rubber-stamp acquittal for Clinton, had a similar view when it came to Republican Packwood. She said: "It is that history and tradition that I believe that calls us now, as we get ready to vote, to honor the precedent of public hearings, for cross-examination of witnesses, to resolve discrepancies in testimony, to have a fair format."

Yeah, I agree, that statement was hard to decipher; her simple "no" vote on witnesses for the Clinton trial was more straightforward.

JWR contributor "Mugger" is the editor-in-chief and publisher of New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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01/27/99:This Is Not America: Clinton’s Set to Walk and Party On, Suckers
01/25/99:Sniffles and High Fever: Kids Say the Darndest Things
01/20/99: Whole Lott(a) Waffling Goin' On
01/14/99: Senator Hillary Rodham in 2000: The First Step Back to the Oval Office
01/08/99: Drudge Is the Hero
01/06/99 : MUGGER & the Martians
12/30/98 : Last Licks of ’98: Some Heroes, Several Villains & Many Idiots
12/17/98 : Boy Mugger's obsession
12/11/98: Irving’s the King Wolf
12/09/98: What do Matt Drudge and Tom Hanks have in common?
11/26/98: Starr’s Magnificent Moment
11/18/98: Who could have imagined!?
11/11/98: Send Dowd Down to the Minors
11/05/98: Feeding Gore to a shark named Bush
10/30/98: "Pope" Jann and his rappers speak ---it's time for fun again
10/28/98: Lowered expectations, but the GOP holds the cards
10/23/98: Speaking from Zabar’s: Michael Moore!
10/21/98: Bubba redux? His uptick won't last
10/16/98: Gore for President: The Bread Lines Are Starting to Form

©1998, Russ Smith