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Jewish World Review June 28, 1999 /14 Tamuz 5759

Tony Snow

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Used tires and hope -- GEORGE W. BUSH hit the capitals of the Confederacy and the Union last Tuesday, hoping to console the poor, collect from the rich and breathe some life into the term "compassionate conservative."

Although Bush ended his day in Washington at the biggest fund-raiser in the history of the republic, his most important stop took place that morning in a poor section of Richmond. He visited the East End Branch Library -- a dun- colored box flanked by a worn, rough sidewalk.

The neighborhood had an air of listlessness and defeat. A concrete block doctor's office stood directly across from the library. It was decorated by steel- bar windows and a huge, colorful graffito featuring a retinue of Fat Albert characters, a cereal of unattached body parts -- mostly tongues, teeth and eyes -- and the artist's illegible "signature." As police awaited the candidate's arrival, a boisterous drunk pounded at the clinic's back door, demanding succor.

Nearby, a brown and white mutt scratched himself in the middle of a street, seemingly unconcerned about the possibility of traffic. The pooch faced a two-story wooden tenement that stood more out of habit than strength. A seam of slats had fallen beneath one boarded-up window, leaving a gap oddly reminiscent of a run in a pair of hose. The gash revealed a row of studs and an uninsulated inside wall.

A fellow next door to the shack rocked silently back and forth, glancing up occasionally at a line of television trucks. He stood in the driveway of a gas station, which was painted red to simulate brick. A couple of men milled near the gas pumps. A hose hissed air. A sign atop a steel rack proclaimed: "Tire Sale: $5."

Bush didn't select this monument to desolation. Virginia Gov. James Gilmore picked it for him. But the choice was apt. Seven years ago, in the heat of a presidential contest, Bush's father came to Richmond for a debate against Bill Clinton. That evening, a young black woman asked then-President Bush: "You're rich, white and pampered. How can you possibly comprehend my concerns?" To which the soon-to- become-ex-president replied, "I don't understand the question."

The son came to say: I get it. Bush knows that Republicans will never lay claim to majority status until they stop behaving like the White Suburban Guys Bowling League. Racial outreach forms the core of his "compassionate conservatism" -- and he knows that when it comes to building trust with minorities, showing up really is 80 percent of the battle.

So he showed up. The East End Branch Library is a surprising little place. It is clean and bright inside. The staff has speckled the tables and walls with posters proclaiming the liberating power of literacy. Here's Danny Glover, holding a book.

There's Whoopie Goldberg. A wall poster features a tree of hand-drawn heroes -- crowned by Richmond native Arthur Ashe.

While it is not the most popular place in the neighborhood, it is a home to some. One little girl arrived long before the politicians and journalists. She wore a denim outfit and a pair of well-scrubbed running shoes. Her mother had placed purple bows in her hair. She was 5 years old at most, but moved about with happy ease. She pulled a librarian to a computer, and the two sat together, reading a book and highlighting the text, word by word, with a mouse. Afterward, she plopped down at a round table and paged through a book.

Other children filtered in later, mostly for ornamental reasons. They sat cross-legged on a swatch of blue carpet when Bush arrived, and listened to readings and exhortations from Bush, his wife and Virginia's first lady, Roxane Gilmore.

The political correctness cops obviously weren't consulted in advance. Mrs. Gilmore read a book about monkeys, and Mrs. Bush another about a police dog (although the canine in question did fall for a boy dog named George), but the two dozen black children didn't seem to mind.

The event, like most campaign stops, also produced a weird combination of high anticipation and studied ennui. The children's mothers dressed as if attending an Academy Awards ceremony. They wore their best and a few even sported new hairdos. Journalists, in contrast, affected a pose of boredom. They stood on wooden chairs to watch Bush perform. Cameras whirred. Scribes scribbled. As the candidate visited with the children, his aides and others buzzed in the background.

Security officers wrestled with the lock to the lady's room -- before giving up. Staffers sipped superheated coffee from Styrofoam cups and held quiet conclaves in corners. Bush eventually fielded a few questions, joked with reporters and committed a mini-gaffe -- answering a question about Slovakia by recalling a meeting with the prime minister of Slovenia (whom he mistakenly identified as the foreign minister of Slovakia).

Bush stayed longer than his schedule commanded. As he left through a back door, a solitary person lingered on the porch, waving shyly at the man who would be president. The little girl with the denim skirt and purple bows sat on a railing, swinging her feet to and fro -- presumably less concerned about the phrase "compassionate conservative" than whether she might some day be able to read and write and leave this place.


06/21/99:The first baby-boom grudge match
06/11/99: My exploratory committee
06/01/99: Sending the sheriff away from Dodge City
05/28/99: Rosie is the 'Queen' of WHAT!?
05/27/99: Stopping a dictator --- the EPA
05/14/99: Symbolism over substance
05/07/99: Why Kosovo is unique
04/30/99: A blithe acceptance of espionage
04/22/99: Snacking on life-splitting agony
04/15/99: Starr’s last stand?
04/12/99: Combining punishment and proselytism
04/05/99: Now that the ‘honorables’ have returned …
03/29/99: And the senators pressed on
03/25/99: Moronic meddling
03/22/99: Kangas, the Left’s ‘Foster’? More like a diligent nut
03/18/99: Does Forbes have a chance?
03/15/99: Team Clinton aren’t treasonists ...
03/11/99: Blackmun’s burden
03/08/99: The Lewinsky Principle
03/05/99: Buchanan & Ventura’s lure
03/01/99: Open season on women
02/25/99: The birth of political wisdom
02/22/99: Children of optimism
02/18/99: Wake up, Republicans!
02/16/99: Why we feel so good
02/11/99: What exactly does George W. stand for?
02/08/99: Run, GOPers, run?
02/04/99: The languid sigh of waves lapping ashore
02/01/99: Verbal vortex
01/28/99: To be a ‘sell-out’ or an unelectable pol --- that is the question
01/25/99: The apogee of a trend
01/21/99:What my 3-year-old taught me
01/17/99:Don't be fooled, folks
01/14/99: Must a pol be ‘baaaad’ in order to get elected?
01/12/99: Jumpin’ Jack (Kemp)
01/08/99 : Hot air in the Windy City

©1999, Creators Syndicate