Jewish World Review July 22, 2003/ 22 Tamuz, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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Avert your eyes: Candidates at work | Watching a politician pander is like blundering upon a man and woman in the throes of naked passion: you can't avert your eyes fast enough and it's difficult to say who embarrassed whom.

We were treated last week to a spectacle of faking naked passion, by the seven dwarfs (and Carol Moseley Braun and Dennis Kucinich, who aspire to dwarfhood) at the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The dwarfs outdid each other with over-the-top tributes to some of the most accomplished shakedown artists this side of the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Anyone who wandered into the convention in Miami Beach would have been particularly embarrassed by the unraveling Joe Lieberman, who only yesterday was respected — revered, even — for his principled thoughtfulness, his decency, and his streak of semi-independence from the party line that appears to have doomed Democrats to a permanent home in the great dismal swamp of American politics.

Joe first sent polite regrets to an invitation to Miami Beach. It was probably a coincidence, but this was after Julian Bond relieved himself of some remarkable racist invective aimed at Republicans, who he said appeal "to the dark underside of American culture." This barely coded racism would have exiled a white politician to unmourned extinction. Coincidence or not, Mr. Lieberman said thanks but no thanks to the invitation to the candidate forum, but he was busy elsewhere. So did Mr. Kucinich and Rep. Richard Gephardt. And then the fat (probably pork, if Mr. Lieberman will forgive the analogy) was in the fire. You might have thought the three offenders had been caught driving down Robert E. Lee Avenue in an open convertible, whistling "Dixie."

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Their handlers hustled them onto the next plane to Miami Beach, and the three showed up at convention hall rubbing the seats of their pants. Mr. Kucinich stepped up with a six-minute grovel, and when he thought he was finished, the presiding parliamentarian ordered him back to his knees. He took the microphone for more humiliation: "I'm very sorry that I wasn't able to be here." Then, for good measure, he mocked the churchgoing folk in the hall, exploiting the favorite hymn of Christendom for a cheap political end, and garbled it for good measure: "Amazing grace, how sweet it is, once was lost, now I'm found."

That's a grovel hard to top, but Joe Lieberman gave it the old Senate try, all but promising Kweisi Mfume his first vacancy on the Supreme Court: "I remember the great work of this organization in registering voters in 2000 in fighting the outrageous injustices that occurred here in the state of Florida after the election was over, in investigating and making the case. We didn't realize it at the time, Al Gore and I, that we not only needed Kweisi Mfume fighting for justice here in Florida counting votes, we need him on the Supreme Court, where the votes really counted. Maybe that will happen some day."

What was left for Dick Gephardt to say? He seemed about to say that he had stiffed the convention because he wanted to spend more time with his family, and maybe write a book, but remembered no, that's the pol's post-indictment speech, and quickly retrieved a similar riff from the database: "I'm sorry I was not here when you had the joint appearance the other night. I had a long-standing conflict that I could not get out of, but I apologize to all of you, and blah, blah, blah."

That was not good enough. Shakedown artists are, after all, artists. They never let go of a mark. "If you expect us to believe that you couldn't find 90 minutes to come by," Mr. Mfume told the chastened trio, "then you have no legitimacy over the next nine months to come into our communities expecting our support." Then he added a mocking insult of Southern whites, no longer welcome in what was only yesterday the party of (Thomas) Jefferson and (Andrew) Jackson: "Your political capital is the equivalent of Confederate dollars."

But all's well that ends well. With the panderers having been put in their place, the convention settled down yesterday to receive tribute from corporate America. It was a remarkable sight: Corporate flacks — from American Airlines, Wal-Mart, Shell Oil, General Motors — with both swag and hat in hand. The size of most of the gifts ranged from $100,000 to $250,000. The gifts of misers, as it turned out.

The only really sincere tribute was presented by Wachovia, the North Carolina banking conglomerate, $1 million for the NAACP's "educational initiatives." These "educational initiatives" consist most prominently of preserving miserable public schools to trap hundreds of thousands of black children in drug-riddled schools with frightened and addled teachers who barely teach the kids to write their names, and opposing school vouchers, with which black parents yearn to liberate their children from the dreary cycle of poverty, ignorance and exclusion from the American dream.

But not to worry. A good time was had by all.

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

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