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Jewish World Review March 10, 1999 /22 Adar 5759


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It’s George W.’s to Lose


It’s obvious that not much will be accomplished in Congress this year: President Clinton is a laughingstock, with a huge "R" for rapist plastered across his head, and has to take a poll even to decide when to move his bowels. He speaks in generalities about "saving" Social Security and Medicare, and the need to overhaul the country’s educational system, but he’s a scarred and diminished man who’s determined to simply fill out his term. Even a person with just modest courage would’ve resigned months ago and ceded power to his handpicked successor. However, Clinton has snake-oiled both his staff and the congressional Democrats into a rallying cry to "move on." And yes, he hopes that Monica Lewinsky has a "good life."

One senior aide told The Washington Post’s John Harris last week: "Bill Clinton has got a problem. If he weren’t president he would be in counseling... But I don’t think because he’s got a sickness, that corrupts everything about him... He is a great president."

Teddy Kennedy, of all people, had the chutzpah to tell Harris, referring to Monica Lewinsky’s Barbara Walters interview and the explosive Juanita Broaddrick allegations of rape: "Enough is enough. For most people there’s a certain fatigue that sets in on these matters." I guess that’s the same fatigue that set in after Chappaquiddick, revelations of his own sexual harassment in Washington restaurants and the Palm Beach escapade with his son and nephew.

Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, who was upbraided by Clinton for questioning his sexual conduct in a cabinet meeting several months ago, now is back on the team. While she takes Broaddrick’s charges "seriously," she told Harris, "I’m both a patriot and a professional; I serve the nation and the president." One could argue that if she were truly a patriot she’d have left Clinton’s employ long ago, but the time for expecting any show of integrity or independence from this administration is long past.

Meanwhile, while Clinton pays lipservice to all the buzz issues that the Barney Frank wing of the Democratic Party champions, he’s got nothing on his mind but restoring his reputation. One way to do that is making sure Al Gore becomes the next president and the Democrats regain the House (with three Democratic senators retiring, chances for a Senate takeover are slim).

Bob and Bubba
In fact, where was Clinton, aka Mr. Campaign Finance Reform, last week? Why, in New Jersey, headlining a big bucks fundraiser for Sen. Robert Torricelli, one of his biggest supporters and the man who claims credit for hatching the Hillary Clinton for Senate media farce. And wouldn’t you know it, Torricelli, his war chest now $2 million larger, won’t even face reelection for three more years! Goodness, our President has his priorities straight.

Trouble is, the Republican-controlled Congress, equally beholden to polls, and needlessly worried about the fallout from the impeachment trial, is shadow-boxing with Clinton and Dick Gephardt, abandoning principles daily. It’s puzzling. Granted, Trent Lott has been a disaster as Senate majority leader, demonstrating none of the abilities needed for that post. And where has Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles been hiding for the past three months? I had assumed that he’d be an able replacement, or at least a Jiminy Cricket for Lott, but maybe he’s under his desk, waiting for Larry Flynt to publish a story about how he banged a coed while intoxicated back in Oklahoma some years ago.

As for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, saying he’s a riddle is too charitable—he’s just another bureaucrat who’s puffed up with his new power and wants to be friends with everyone. At least that’s what I surmise from all his "bipartisanship" crap. But that’s a tactic that won’t work in today’s Washington political culture. As The Wall Street Journal editorialized on Feb. 23: "Bipartisanship in modern Washington simply means that Republicans must always give ground, while Democrats never concede a thing."

Latest example? As Paul Bedard reports in the current U.S. News & World Report, congressional Republicans are considering joining forces with Democrats to boost the minimum wage. All of Washington is hopeless; that’s why it’s so important that an outsider like George W. Bush is starting his campaign for president early. Let a successful GOP governor lead the way and whip Congress back into shape.

It’s a shame that John Kasich is making a quixotic run for the White House: He’s by far the most forceful advocate of the 10-percent tax cut that the GOP proposed, and quickly jettisoned, a month ago. He’s explained with clarity and concision the benefits of such legislation, a trick that no other man or woman in his party has managed to pull off. Look, I’m as sick of his I’m-the-son-of-a-mailman shtick as the next American, but it helps when the Charlie Rangels and Teddy Kennedys in the opposing party demagogue that any tax cut is just for the rich.

Kasich, when pounded by hostile liberal pundits on the talk shows about a tax cut favoring the affluent, simply explains that such a measure is fair and will help everyone. Journalists like Lars-Erik Nelson thunder that even a 10-percent tax cut will just benefit the fatcats on Wall Street, ignoring the simple fact that those people he denigrates pay the vast majority of taxes in the first place.

Nelson is so doctrinaire in his socialist views that he’s even opposed to a reduction of estate taxes, perhaps the most heinous form of government interference into the lives of citizens. Why should a man or woman, who’s worked for 40 or 50 years to provide for their family, whether he or she is a stockbroker, a farmer or mechanic, have their savings plundered by the government upon their death?

It’s ironic that one of the sharpest contenders for the GOP nomination doesn’t have a prayer of winning. I’m not speaking of Alan Keyes here, although I hope there’s a spot for him in Bush’s cabinet, but rather Dan Quayle, the one-term vice president who’s still the butt of third-rate comedians. Quayle, who was his own worst enemy while in office, providing a verbal gaffe once a month for an eager mainstream press, has been more articulate about foreign and domestic policy than any other declared or presumed candidate.

But aside from a bloc of extremely conservative voters, often members of the currently less influential Christian Coalition, Quayle simply doesn’t have the support that Bush commands. He insists that his past whipping-boy status can be overcome, telling Dan Balz of The Washington Post last month that "The American people are very fair…they love a comeback... They support underdogs. This time around, since I’m not the front-runner the media may be more inclined to be a little bit helpful." I don’t recall when Quayle was ever the front-runner, but that aside, it’s only a man who’s in a bubble of presidential aspirations who can’t see the futility of his own campaign.

Aside from Tucker Carlson’s March 1 cover story in The Weekly Standard, "Quayle Gets Serious," in which his famous, and prescient, "Murphy Brown" speech was given a lot of play, as well as his foreign policy agenda, Quayle’s candidacy hasn’t generated much heat. Even the Standard story has to be a little suspect, especially when Carlson praised Quayle for hiring a "smart" staff. As everyone knows, at least in the Beltway, Carlson’s boss, Bill Kristol, was the vice president’s chief adviser during President Bush’s administration, a fact the author should’ve, but didn’t, mention. Quayle’s still remembered as the grown-up who couldn’t spell potato.

That’s a shame, because Quayle is hardly bereft of important ideas. On the topic of taxes, for example, he cites Presidents Kennedy and Reagan in the value of lowering them, especially in light of Clinton’s drastic increase of 1993. Writing in The Wall Street Journal on Jan. 25, he proposed the following: "We need to change the tax code radically.

Whether we ultimately wish to adopt a flat tax or a national sales tax is an open question—and a long debate. In the interim, we must abolish the marriage penalty and death tax, cut corporate and individual capital gains taxes by 30%, and neutralize the current bias against investment by reducing the top corporate income tax rate to 28%... Furthermore, I propose that we simplify the tax code by eliminating most tax preferences, credits and deductions, while preserving core incentives such as interest on home mortgages, charitable contributions and health-care, retirement and education expenses."

Matt Drudge posted an exclusive report on his website on Feb. 28 that one of the presidential contenders’ staff is searching for a long-ago photo, if in fact it exists, of the politician dancing on the top of a bar with no clothes on. A "well-placed campaign source" told Drudge, who calls the pol a "hotshot": "Not that it matters after what we’ve been through with Bill Clinton, but we do need to know what could be used against us. We do not even know if there is a picture out there...we’re getting to the bottom of it."

No one doubts that the presidential aspirant in question is Gov. Bush, who’s made no secret of his heavy drinking and wild bachelor days a generation ago. But Drudge’s campaign source is correct: Clinton has lowered the bar for personal behavior so dramatically that even a pedophile wouldn’t automatically be ruled out for public office. That’s hyperbole, of course, but what’s a nude picture compared to charges of rape, serial adultery, shady financial transactions, a pathological inability to tell the truth on even the most trivial matter and a pattern of obstructing justice?

Hostile members of the press, who prefer Gore but won’t say so, and praise Republican John McCain because of his war record, denigrate Bush’s high numbers in the preliminary presidential polls by claiming that people are confusing him with his father, the former president.

"What do we know about Bush," is the common refrain, "where does he stand on the issues?" Well, what the hell did these same pundits know about Bill Clinton when they anointed him the Democratic front-runner in late ’91 before a single caucus or primary vote was cast? They did know that he gave such a long-winded speech at the ’88 Democratic convention that people applauded when he was finally through. They knew of womanizing rumors but didn’t follow up on them, leaving that sort of trash to the "supermarket tabloids." Had the press been more vigilant eight years ago it’s likely Clinton would still be in Arkansas.

George Stephanopoulos, the Clinton aide who’s now making millions as a pundit, author and lecturer, says in a March 15 Newsweek interview, promoting his book All Too Human, that his former boss "threw it all away."

Asked if Clinton is fit to be president, Stephanopoulos, no longer on speaking terms with the President and Hillary, says: "He’s too fit to be removed, but knowing what we know now, I don’t think he’d be fit enough to be elected." Glad you cashed in, Furious George, but you’re full of shit. Anyone who worked as closely as Stephanopoulos did with Clinton in the ’92 campaign knew about Gennifer Flowers, Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones, Whitewater and a slew of other crimes and scandals that would’ve eliminated Clinton from the running if only a besotted press had dug deeper. Stephanopoulos’ dissembling about believing in Clinton’s message doesn’t wash: A man of his intelligence had to know that Clinton had no message.

What is known about Gov. Bush is that he shuns the social demagoguery of the extreme right-wing; he’s pro-immigration and has a strong record on education in Texas; he’s pro-life but won’t make that the centerpiece of his campaign; he’s in favor of tax cuts; he supports a foreign policy that is firm and doesn’t coddle dictators; and that his slogan is "compassionate conservatism."

Many have mocked this phrase, including the bitter, perennial candidate Lamar Alexander, who calls them "weasel words." That’s nonsense. In an election year where Republicans are seen as evil, an unfair tag affixed to them by an adept White House War Room and compliant press, it’s important that the GOP nominee prove what Republican governors have across the nation: that limited government and letting Americans having more of a hand in determining their own fate is not evil.

Even Robert Scheer, the 60s time traveler who writes for the Los Angeles Times, praises Bush, demonstrating just how much trouble Al Gore will have if he ultimately faces the Governor. From Scheer’s Feb. 9 column: "Bush’s reelection in Texas demonstrated strong appeal across party lines precisely because his message was one of inclusion. He refers to himself as a ‘unifier not a divider.’"

Wisconsin’s Gov. Tommy Thompson, a man whom I respect, gave his impressions of the leading GOP candidates to the Associated Press last month. Often mentioned as a contender himself, Thompson didn’t have many positive things to say about the front-runners. On Bush: "He hasn’t really done much as a governor in regards of doing anything new or innovative." That’s nonsense and Thompson knows it. I’m afraid he’s just annoyed that because he looks like Fred Flintstone he’ll never be the GOP nominee.

The New York Times, in editorializing on March 3 about Bush’s formation of an exploratory committee, was typically contradictory. On the one hand, the writer says Bush is "unknown" and vague on domestic issues; on the other he’s "been an unusually effective Governor with a record of spending money on education and showing tolerance toward minority groups, homosexuals and immigrants."

The Times, which would prefer Gore (or, if the Vice President is too damaged by his association with Clinton, Bill Bradley), makes too much of Pat Buchanan’s candidacy, probably because they hope to promote a bitter fight within the Republican Party. But Buchanan, while intelligent and entertaining—who can help be charmed when he cracks up at his own jokes?—is yesterday’s news. He’s a candidate who speaks, in economically flush times, to a small constituency: Buchanan’s passionate stands against free trade and immigration, and his pandering to the Christian Coalition, won’t attract many voters.

It was fascinating to see how the rival dailies New York Times and Washington Post played Bush’s announcement of his exploratory committee over the weekend. The Post’s Dan Balz, on Sunday, writing about the phenomenal amount of support Bush has already attracted from GOP officials across the country, said: "The Texas capital is in the grip of a phenomenon that may be unique in the annals of presidential campaign start-ups. As a slew of other Republican candidates make pilgrimages to Iowa and New Hampshire and struggle for money, media attention and political support, the world is rushing to George Bush’s door in what has become the information age equivalent of William McKinley’s front-porch campaign of 1896."

The Times, in a reprise of its biased news coverage of President Bush’s unsuccessful reelection effort in ’92, ran on Monday with a picture of Bush’s announcement in Austin, with the derisive headline, "How Many Does It Take to Decide?" The fact that a cross section of GOP leaders, including Rep. J.C. Watts, Gov. John Engler, Sen. Paul Coverdell, George Schultz, Haley Barbour and Rep. Jennifer Dunn, were all on hand for Bush’s announcement didn’t impress the Times.

As an economic hawk who is live-and-let-live on social issues, let me repeat one more time why I support Bush: He can win. Alexander, Buchanan, Quayle, Keyes, Kasich and Bob Smith don’t have a chance and will be footnotes by next March. Elizabeth Dole’s a nightmare; in addition to the baggage of her husband peddling Viagra, she’s a robot who’s never been elected to office and has articulated just one campaign theme: integrity. Well, after Clinton, dear Liddy, no shit. In a Manchester speech last month, Dole took a swipe at Bush, saying, "America needs leaders, not labels." Steve Forbes is a decent, honest man with brilliant economic ideas, but is unelectable because he looks and speaks like a geek and the Democrats will class-warfare the bejesus out of him. He’d make a fine secretary of the Treasury.

McCain is a time bomb who racks up favorable press from baby boomers who feel guilty they didn’t serve in Vietnam. His baggage in Arizona will catch up to him, once the press decides to do its job. Right now, liberals like The Wall Street Journal’s Al Hunt and The Boston Globe’s David Nyhan are sucking up to McCain, citing his POW confinement (Hunt says five and a half years, Nyhan claims six and a half), and willingness to buck the Republican Party on campaign finance reform and tobacco legislation. It’s all disingenuous, for these two columnists would surely vote for Gore or Bradley over McCain: Their interest is in stopping Bush. Nyhan even has the audacity to write on March 5, in praising McCain’s call for a clean primary fight: "It’s just that I’ve seen more of the destroying than the disarming in national politics of late. The politics of personal destruction has been riding tall in the Washington saddle. And the party of impeachment does not exactly come to this election with clean hands." I wonder if Nyhan splits his Globe fee with David Bonior, the paleoliberal Michigan Democrat who doubles as his ghostwriter.

The Washington Post’s Mary McGrory thinks that McCain might do well with New Hampshire voters. On March 4, she wrote: "The fact that he is out of step with his Senate colleagues on such subjects as campaign reform and tobacco may serve him well in a state that has gone from a Republican majority to a preponderance of independents."

That’s wishful thinking: New Hampshire citizens are furiously anti-tax, unlike Beltway pundits, and I doubt they’ll agree with McCain’s position on tobacco. McGrory goes on to quote Warren Rudman, a former New Hampshire senator who backs McCain: "Rudman concedes that Bush has enormous and obvious advantages—good looks, pots of money, a famous family name, great appeal to right and left, an excellent record as governor of the nation’s third-largest state. He is antiabortion but also pro-immigrant; he is militant about educational reform. ‘But how can you say he can unite the party when he has yet to open his mouth on any national issues?’ asks Rudman." Say what? What are immigration, abortion and education if not "national issues"?

As voters will find if McCain’s candidacy survives until New Hampshire, his strengths lie mostly in the adulation of reporters. One newspaper writer in Tucson told me last week: "McCain looked stupid on CNN last night with Wolf Blitzer. He took ‘personal responsibility for the failure of his first marriage.’ I mean, who gives a darn? Charlie Keating’s ex-daughter-in-law tried to sell me pictures of McCain and Keating dressed up together as pirates in the Bahamas at a party. I fucked up and didn’t buy them five years ago."

Bush is a popular governor of the country’s third largest state; he’s photogenic and can deliver a rousing speech; he has access to the money needed to contest seriously for the nomination; he has a loyal family that will campaign with the same gusto that the Kennedy clan did in 1960; he’d be the first GOP nominee under 60 in a generation and, unlike previous candidates, will draw women; and he already has the support of half the GOP’s governors.

Granted, Gore is a fierce and smart competitor in debates, as he proved against Quayle and Ross Perot. And he’ll certainly have the mainstream press behind him; hell, he already does. What other daily but The New York Times would’ve run this ludicrous headline on Feb. 17: "Lewinsky Ordeal May Have Put Gore on Firmer Ground for 2000"? Reporter Richard L. Berke, whose prose reads as if it’s from the pages of The Nation or Mother Jones, writes that Gore is the inevitable nominee, probably true but an unremarkable conclusion, partially because of his "cautious navigation of the Lewinsky scandal."

At The New Republic, owner Marty Peretz’s desire for a Gore presidency chugs along. His reporter Dana Milbank, who drew the short straw this year in acting as Peretz’s lapdog while covering the Gore campaign, admits in the March 22 issue that the "JugGoreNaut" has hit a snag: Bill Bradley. Gore’s candidacy was so overwhelming, so inevitable, says Milbank, that everyone but Bradley was scared out of the race.

Unfortunately, he writes, the "JugGoreNaut" strategy might’ve worked too well. Milbank’s conclusion is suspect: "If there’s one bit of good news for Gore in his looming slide [in the polls] it’s that the same thing will happen to George W., who now leads Gore by wide margins. A Fox News poll in February put Bush at 55 percent support to Gore’s 34 percent. Already, though, Gore is closing the gap to within the margin of error in various other polls." And those "various other polls" Milbank doesn’t cite; probably they were taken at The New Republic’s office or don’t really exist.

What will Gore say when asked in a debate about his statement that Bill Clinton is "one of the greatest American presidents"? How will he explain away Clinton’s scandalous personal life, as well as his own illegal campaign contributions in the ’96 campaign? Bush is the one candidate who can destroy Gore, who can symbolize the change that Americans want in the White House.

JWR contributing columnist Russ Smith --- AKA "MUGGER --- is the editor-in-chief and publisher of New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


02/26/99: Springsteen Ain’t No Chopped Liver; Vanity Press Musings
03/05/99: This Must Be the New World: The Mainstream Is Left Behind
02/26/99: Hillary, Juanita & Rudy Kazootie; First Baker, then Rich and Soon Lewis
02/24/99: The New Yorker Takes the Local: Mister Hertzberg Strikes Out; A Search for the Clemens Upside
02/19/99: The Howell Raines Conspiracy
02/17/99: History Lessons: An Immigrant’s Advice
02/12/99:The Man Who Owns the World
02/10/99:The Impeachment Trial Splatters: Lindsey Graham Emerges a Hero
02/05/99: A Slight Stumble for Bush
01/29/99: Rich Is Back in the Tank
01/29/99: Not So Fast, Mr. & Mrs. Pundit
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

©1999, Russ Smith