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Jewish World Review Nov. 12, 1999/3 Kislev, 5760

Larry Elder

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George W. Bush-wacked -- In an ideal world, the reporter would have been Jim Gray-ed.

Instead, Andy Hiller, a reporter for WHDH-TV, the NBC station in Boston, got big headlines. He asked GOP candidate George W. Bush a series of four questions. Name the heads, asked Hiller, of the following countries: Taiwan, Pakistan, Chechnya, and India.

George Bush stumbled and fumbled, naming only one in four. When the reporter asked him if he could name the president of Chechnya, Bush said, "No, can you?" Big story. Bush, a governor, who, by definition, pays far less attention to foreign affairs than domestic, found himself on the defensive. "Not ready for prime time," suggested the headlines. Bush, some now say, demonstrates a Quayle-like lightweightedness.

A few days later, Democratic candidate Bill Bradley, observing the George W. Bush fallout, refused to answer a question asking him to name the head of North Korea. Said Bradley, "I'm not going to get into this. I'm not going to play this game. I think these are pop questions, and I don't think they illustrate, really, the qualities that are important to be president."

George Bush's failure to answer the questions landed him heavy ink. Bradley's refusal? Consigned to the back pages.

Sports journalist Jim Gray, a few weeks ago, received a national spanking for questioning Pete Rose at a ceremony honoring baseball's "All-Century" team. "Inappropriate," "Unfair," "Poor timing," screamed the critics at Gray's impertinence. Yet, many in the media do not question the sense, relevance, or appropriateness of asking a presidential candidate to name the heads of states of countries of which the average political science professor could not name.

The late John F. Kennedy, Jr., flunked the New York Bar twice. Still, media personalities like Barbara Walters questioned him about his future political plans, dismissing the relevance of John-John's bar exam difficulties. Which disqualifies more -- failing to know who runs Chechnya or twice failing the exam to determine one's competency to practice law?

And, as a senior at Harvard, Edward M. Kennedy hired someone else to take his exam. The school did not graduate him. Despite this, the University of Virginia granted him admission, and he finished his law degree there. Did Kennedy's cheating disqualify him as a senator from Massachusetts and as a 1980 presidential candidate? Guess not.

Vice President Al Gore, still the Democratic front-runner for the year 2000 nomination, once bragged of inventing the Internet. He did not. Gore also said that he and his wife, Tipper, served as the models for Erich Segal's book "Love Story." They did not. Do Gore's fabrications disqualify him as a candidate?

And, a few years ago, Gore toured Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. He saw a group of busts, and said, "Who are these people?" The tour guide said to Gore, "That's George Washington, on the right."

Do we really want to play this game of "So who wants to say something stupid next?" Question: According to Al Gore, the single greatest threat to mankind is: (a) nuclear proliferation; (b) global warming; (c) over-population; or (d) the internal combustion engine. Answer: (d). In his best-selling book, Earth in the Balance (page 235, copyright 1992), Gore writes: "We now know that (automobiles) have a cumulative impact on the global environment (which poses) a mortal threat to the security of every nation that is more deadly than that of any military enemy ... " That's right. Vice President Gore perceives a lesser threat from North Korea's Kim Jong-il than from the Ford Explorer.

Do the voters care that Bush flunked his name-the-heads-of-state quiz? In 1986, former member of the Reagan administration, Linda Chavez, ran for U.S. Senator from Maryland. At a news interview, seventeen candidates were given a five-question impromptu quiz. Name the prime minister of Israel; give a definition of Stinger missiles; identify the cause of the U.S. bombing of Libya; name the leader of the African National Congress; and where does Maryland rank, as against the other states, in the amount of federal grants received by the state. Republican Chavez bested her opponents, correctly answering four of the five questions, missing only the last one. She lost the race. Does this mean the voters of Maryland instead elected a boob?

Or, should we give voters just a little more credit? Maybe people care about a candidate's position on tax and spending, the military, trade, abortion, immigration, and healthcare.

But, hey, one never knows when, in a national security crisis, a president might just have to appear on "Jeopardy." And, as for Jim Gray, a little advice. Next time, try asking Pete Rose, "Can you name the foreign minister of Albania?"

It's safer.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate