Jewish World Review Jan. 23, 2004/29 Teves, 5764

Wesley Pruden

Wes Pruden
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

The perils of chasing election-day phantoms | John Kerry is the happiest man of the week, Howard Dean the glummest, and George W. Bush is the most surprised.

The president and his men were dead certain sure they had the right man in their cross hairs. But they didn't, and now it's back to Karl Rove's drawing board.

The senator from Massachusetts may well turn out to be that right man, but that's not dead certain sure, either. Winning the New Hampshire primary would be nice, but it's not everything, despite the grasshoppers of press and tube who hop about to crown the winner in a new Pundit Primary once every week. Sometimes more often than that.

A lot of the smart money, most of which was on Howard Dean only a week ago, now goes down on Mr. Kerry. Some of it stays on the governor, and some of it, just to keep the bets covered, is laid on Wesley Clark. The prudent man will put down a modest sum on a late-arriving Hillary, a long shot but by no means a sucker bet. All the Clintons need for the restoration is a chaotic free-for-all, and you don't have to be Shakespeare to write a script for that.

The sucker bet, as it turns out, was everything bet on Howard Dean before Iowa. Since his opponent was to be the former governor, who could be effectively portrayed as Freddy Krueger from the "Nightmare on Elm Street," enough to scare the pants off a spinster schoolteacher, the president's men thought he could safely ignore his conservative base because his best friends wouldn't have anywhere else to go. Conservatives would reckon they couldn't even indulge the luxury of staying home on Election Day. The president could chase voters elsewhere.

Donate to JWR

George Bush the elder succumbed to similarly expensive wisdom in 1988, when his wise men told him to tone down who everyone thought he was, raise taxes and go gentle into the stormy night with Bill Clinton. The rest is history. Nicked by Pat Buchanan in the primaries and wounded by Ross Perot in the autumn, the 41st president watched as his doomed attempt to win a deserved second term dissolved in the heat of late September and October. He told me a year later: "I got bad advice, and took it."

The gap between the red states and the blue states is deeper now, and George W. won't have the help of a third-party candidacy to drain disaffected Democrats. John Kerry, his Frenchified demeanor and European haircut to the contrary notwithstanding, would go into the general election season with certain advantages Bill Clinton did not have.

The explosion of federal spending - the second Bush administration has increased discretionary domestic spending by more than 8 percent annually, considerably more than any of his six most recent predecessors - infuriates many of his conservative friends. Even Bill Clinton cut the number of federal employees; George W. added 80,000 new bureaucrats just last year. Every single state recorded an increase.

There are early signs that the Iowa result got the attention of the White House. The president, in his State of the Union address, did not even mention the scheme to send a man to Mars, and just as well. The first measure of public support for the scheme showed that 62 percent of Americans think it's a bad idea. The president mentioned his amnesty scheme for the millions of illegal aliens, which has upset his most fervent friends with unexpected intensity, but only in passing.

The pessimists among the president's best friends see an eerie similarity in the election-year prospects of father and son. The elder Mr. Bush went into 1988 with sky-high approval ratings, which collapsed with his pursuit of votes he was never going to get. George W.'s approval rating sparkles at 60 percent or so, enough to fuel a landslide if it holds up. But that's a big "if," because he, too, is chasing phantoms at the expense of turning out big numbers from his base. Almost any reading of the senior-citizen constituency finds that seniors are counting on Democrats, not Republicans, to expand the drug-prescription program.

Hispanic voters see the Republican resistance to amnesty and expanded illegal-immigrant rights, notice that the president couldn't get away from the subject fast enough in his State of the Union address, and put it down to half-hearted pandering. The first President Bush signed on to many of the Democratic favorite things, too, environmental, civil rights and disabilities initiatives, and all he got for his trouble was personal satisfaction.

Liberal voters treated him to Bronx cheers on their way to the polls. Many of the voters who wanted to be his friends felt snubbed and frost-bitten by what they regarded as a cold shoulder. If history repeats itself, the result this time will be tragedy, not farce.

Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

Wesley Pruden Archives

© 2004 Wes Pruden