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Jewish World Review / Oct. 21, 1998 /2 Mar-Cheshvan, 5759


Mugger Bubba redux?
His uptick won't last

IT WAS A DISGRACEFUL WEEK FOR THE REPUBLICAN PARTY, permitting a disabled Democratic president to swindle them in the budget negotiations, but Bill Clinton isn't in the clear yet.

Watching Marcia Clark subbing for Geraldo last Friday night you'd have thought that the President had erased six years of ignominy: He'd outmaneuvered a limp GOP leadership, who were so terrified of another government shutdown that they forgot what the '94 landslide was all about; the Dow was in funny-money mode, helped along by Alan Greenspan; there was alleged progress in the Mideast negotiations -- how many times have you heard that before? -- and Ken Starr is now under scrutiny by the Attorney General. What's her name again? Right, Janet Reno.

Thomas Oliphant, Clinton's personal Pangloss, was downright giddy in a Boston Globe column last Tuesday, claiming the Democrats had regained the momentum and proved to the nation once and for all that Starr is the real villain of this strange election year. Acknowledging at least a slight GOP gain two weeks from now, Oliphant wrote: "For things of consequence to happen, the hands either reach across the aisle by the dozens in the House or by 10 or so in the Senate." Come again? If the Republicans can win five Senate seats, reaching the filibuster-proof number of 60, it'll be a major victory for the party.

Birds of a feather:
Two "winners," Bubba and Dick.
On the other hand, despite misleading polls in The Washington Post and New York Times that claimed a surge of Democratic votes, under the surface there was squabbling aplenty in the beleaguered ranks of Dick Gephardt and company. Don't believe for a minute the absurd spectacle of Gephardt and his 2000 rival Al Gore campaigning side by side in St. Louis, telling anyone who'd listen about their rich, 22-year-old friendship.

Clinton was there too, and had the audacity to proclaim, "Eight days of progress cannot totally erase eight months of partisanship. The Republican majority is now leaving town to campaign, but they're also leaving a lot of America's business unfinished." Now just who was the center of attention in that eight-month gap? Who caused the government to come to a standstill?

Sen. Chris Dodd told the Connecticut Post that Clinton was an "idiot."

"On issues," he said, "I've stood up and fought for things...and all of a sudden, the idiot throws [the Lewinsky scandal] in the midst of all of this. So instead of talking about the other [issues] we get questions about this stuff."

Dodd also denied a Roll Call report that he was "one of five senators working behind the scenes to help Clinton avoid impeachment." Sweet sounds from the cochairman of the Democratic party in '96.

South Carolina Sen. Fritz Hollings, facing a stiff challenge in a bid for a seventh term, had to apologize for calling his Republican opponent Rep. Bob Inglis a "goddamn skunk." Hollings, who at 76 might be fighting a losing battle as a Democrat in one of the most Republican states in the union, said he was frustrated "at the gross distortions of my record." He's a colorful redneck -- last year he said that Clinton was "as popular as AIDS in South Carolina" -- but when he responds to an opponent's request for a clean campaign by saying, "Kiss my fanny," that's a sign that Hollings is fighting for his political life.

Why Clinton was wasting time campaigning for Carol Moseley-Braun in Illinois is anyone's guess, since her own party has written off her prospects against Peter Fitzgerald. But there he was in Chicago, not mentioning the ethical charges against Moseley-Braun that've led to a 10-point deficit in the polls, saying, "Do you believe that if her opponent had been in the Senate, he would've voted for the Brady bill?"

Well, maybe not, but if that's the best endorsement Clinton can come up with for the embattled Senator, you know he's on the hustings just for the hell of it. He loves pressing flesh and raking in dollars; it's a hell of a lot better than lawyers grilling him on unpleasant subjects.

In Maryland, Gov. Parris Glendening had a sudden change of heart and decided he was "proud" of Clinton after all, and that the President has had "a great six years," welcoming him to an event at a Montgomery County elementary school. Last month, as you'll recall, the incumbent, who's in a dead heat with Ellen Sauerbrey, canceled a fundraiser with Clinton, whose personal behavior he found abhorrent. Clinton's in no position to hold grudges against Democrats, so he told the assembled that Glendening and his Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend were in charge of "one of the most innovative state governments in America." Generic praise, sure, but hypocrite to hypocrite, what's the difference?

As Robert Novak reported in his syndicated column on Sunday, another bizarre twist to this year's campaign was Microsoft's Bill Gates making a joint appearance with North Carolina Sen. Lauch Faircloth last week. Gates, who keeps his political views rather shrouded, but is generally considered a subdued liberal, toured a Microsoft factory in Charlotte and praised Faircloth, who's in the midst of a tough reelection battle, saying, "In terms of technology issues, the senator has done fantastic things." Michael Kinsley, editor of Microsoft's Slate and America's number-one weasel, must've choked on his granola.

I spanked George Will last week for his valentines to Rudy Giuliani, but he's been on better behavior lately, writing a sensible column on the "hate crimes" controversy and simply eviscerating embattled California Sen. Barbara Boxer this past Sunday. "There's no doubt that Boxer is in trouble against Republican Matt Fong and Will takes a rusty knife to her sanctimonious heart: Boxer has been called the 'Democrats' Jesse Helms, the senator best at bringing Republicans to a boil. She lives across San Francisco Bay in Marin County, where political paleontologists go to study the fossilized remains of liberalism." Boxer will likely lose her seat; here's hoping that a depressed Democratic turnout in California will rescue GOP gubernatorial candidate Dan Lungren, who can't seem to muster the stuff to knock off the drab Gray Davis.

And it was a little weird seeing the President hosting a fundraiser for Chuck Schumer in New York City, while the Congressman was back in Washington, spooked by Al D'Amato's TV commercials about Schumer's high number of votes missed in Congress. Democrats are confident that D'Amato will finally be sent back to Long Island, but I wouldn't bet on it: The incumbent has five times as much cash to spend in the last two weeks and unless Schumer can somehow bring out a huge vote in Manhattan, it'll be D'Amato by a nose. There's no getting rid of the Fonz, and that's fine by me.

Not that New York's Michael Tomasky would agree with that assessment. In this week's issue, Tomasky doesn't hide his preference for Schumer, tracing his political career back to his days at Madison High School, through Harvard and Harvard Law School, to his first election victory, at 23, as a New York state assemblyman from Brooklyn. Tomasky's portrait of Schumer is one of a workaholic who's been unfairly tarred by D'Amato in this campaign as a lazy congressman who misses votes. I agree with Tomasky; while Schumer has a reputation for being a press and TV hog (as if that's unusual in Washington), even Republicans admit that he works long hours. Not the kind of guy you'd want to have a beer with, but so what.

I grew queasy reading Tomasky's partisan conclusion, and wondered how he'd follow up next week with his profile of D'Amato. Tomasky wrote: "D'Amato probably has a late surprise in store—he's got two weeks to save an eighteen-year career, and there's no limit to what he might pull under those circumstances. But Schumer understands this, and probably has a surprise of his own. 'I haven't had a day of regret about this race,' he says, 'and I haven't had a day when I thought I'd lose.' Still the cocky kid of 1974? He may have reason to be.” Care to place a $25 wager on this race, Mike?

Gail Collins, one of the dimmest members of the Times editorial team, wrote a silly piece on the Senate race last Sunday. Blame it on the cooking sherry, but this was Collins' contribution: "It has been a long time since New York has hosted an election in which we did not know the name of the winner weeks before the first absentee ballot hit the mails. It is worth hearing a lot of nasty commercials to get a contest in which everyone can imagine that his vote might really count."

First, the electorate, whether they admit it or not, love "nasty commercials" almost as much as the press. Second, where was Collins in '94 when George Pataki pulled a last-minute upset over Gov. Mario Cuomo? And in '92, Clinton's year, when D'Amato's reelection over Bob Abrams was hardly a foregone conclusion?

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


10/16/98: Gore for President: The Bread Lines Are Starting to Form

©1998, Russ Smith