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Jewish World Review March 19, 2001 / 24 Adar, 5761

Dan K. Thomasson

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Will Gore get another shot? -- HOW strange are American politics? There are wannabes and shouldabins and almostwazs and couldabins in the language of one of the nation's leading pollsters.

According to John Zogby, the presidential prospects of Albert Gore, who fits all the categories, are certainly still alive, but not as good as they should be. And George W. Bush, who now fits none, faces the possibility of being blamed early on for a faltering economy while Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain, both wannabes (and in McCain's case, a couldabin), along with a half dozen others, are looming in the wings of this political theater.

Zogby, whose been right far more than wrong, says that Gore's support for another try for the White House in 2004 swings wildly between 36 and 47 percent, far outdistancing but still way short of where it should be under the circumstances.

Surprisingly, Sen. Clinton is running second in the "who's next?" contest among Democrat wannabes, although she has given no indication that she intends to seek the nomination. Clinton's numbers range from 18 percent to 20 percent, Zogby says. When she is out of the race, the same percentage accrues to House Democrat leader Richard Gephardt.

Somewhat more incredible, given the spate of bad publicity surrounding the Clintons' less-than-decorous departure from the White House, are her overall national favorable ratings, which range from 46 to 51 percent, actually higher than her husband's current standing. This also contrasts dramatically with the New York senator's job approval rating of 22 percent in her home state.

While the latest surveys show that 60 percent of Americans like what Bush has done so far, Zogby predicts that a recession "will be his" if it develops now and could change things quickly. That's hardly surprising. Historically, a president gets credit for a good economy and blame for a bad one whether he has had much influence on either.

No better recent example of this exists than the last eight years when Clinton's approval percentage was at a record high, mirroring what was happening in the economy. He was smart enough to keep his hands off, permit Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to operate without interference and enjoy the results. This, of course, proves once again that it is far better to be lucky than brilliant when it comes to politics.

If Zogby is correct, it would mean that Bush junior may have the same problems as Bush senior when it comes to economic bad luck. The elder Bush suffered from a mild downturn that lasted less than a year, but it cost him the election. George W. Bush has a long time to overcome what most economists now agree is a definite slowdown but are unwilling yet to regard as more serious.

Recent polls also show that while the public favors by a considerable margin the president's tax cut proposal, the same surveys reveal substantial support for reducing the national debt. This schizophrenic approach, according to Zogby, actually displays the public's uneasiness about the huge size of the Bush plan, $1.6 trillion by some estimates and as high as $2 trillion by others, and by the fact that the proposal is based on projections that might or might not materialize. The political analyst believes that if all the action on the tax cut went away at noon today "no one would say 'What happened to our tax cut?'."

Considering the last election, Gore's chances should be considerably better, Zogby contends. But he says a majority of Democrats are looking for someone else to carry the banner. Much of Gore's hopes are pinned on getting Clinton out of the way and overcoming the animosity of supporters who believe he wasted the eight years of the Clinton legacy.

Zogby is not alone in this analysis. Gore's best moment came when he conceded the election. And his fortunes haven't grown much since. But the former vice president is already showing signs that he is not ready to quit the presidential scene. He recently held a "thank you" affair for fund raisers and supporters that was a none too subtle first step toward seeking the nomination four years hence.

McCain enjoys an unprecedented following as "the great could have been" of national politics, Zogby contends. He leads all politicians with a 68 percent favorable rating that stems from his maverick approach, and the fact he is a genuine war hero. Where this gets him is anyone's guess.

The only sure bet is that all this will get far more confusing as the new cycle of presidential mania progresses.

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02/23/01: Goodbye to the SATs --- and good riddance!
02/20/01: How gullible does Clinton think we are?
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02/13/01: The need for a one-armed economist
02/09/01: Move over, Bonnie and Clyde

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