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Jewish World Review Feb. 24, 2000/ 18 Adar I, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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The changing politics of change -- CHANGE, IN POLITICS as everywhere else, is a double-edged power tool. Every candidate tries to turn the deadly blade to his advantage.

Observing the change, the voter is ultimately left trying to figure out why. Was it for political reasons? Is it authentic? Can we trust it to continue? What insight does it offer us about the candidate?

George W.'s transformation from hellraiser to sober Methodist church-going man came about through his faith in the Christian savior. That made it natural for him to cite Christ as the "philosopher'' who was most important to him because "He changed my heart.'' Those voters who don't like any kind of religion talk in their politics didn't like the answer but few doubted the authenticity. George W. stopped drinking and shaped up at 40, giving him the opportunity to earn eight years as governor of the second largest state.

His opponents, naturally, cite the change as a little late and costly to the man. They scorn him as lacking the right kind of life experience and intellectual heft to be president. Yet it was precisely such change that Shakespeare used to demonstrate King Henry V as fit to be king. The young prince Hal, ye Shakespeare lovers recall, hung out with his buddy Falstaff and his low-life companions at the Boar's Head Tavern in Eastcheap, learning about the common life from those less privileged and less powerful in the kingdom.

Change for John McCain is of another order. No one questions his bravery, his heroism and his patriotic stamina as a prisoner of particularly vicious enemies of his country, but his critics question whether that experience, followed by his experience in the Senate, best qualify him to lead the nation.

While the senator's campaign finance reform spells out change for future campaigns, the senator can relish the delay, enjoying the largesse of the corporate money he decries. He reminds me a little of St. Augustine once he had seen the error of his hedonistic ways, but who wasn't quite ready to change. In "The Confessions,'' he denounces his indulgent lusts, and prays to God for help to change -- but just not right away. He pleads: "Just a minute. One more minute.'' "Let me have a little longer.''

"But,'' he confesses, "these minutes never diminished, and my `little longer' lasted inordinately long.''

No one expects John McCain to become a saint, but some of us wish he could show by example the change he wants others to make.

Al Gore hasn't so much changed as become transformed in personality, dress and policy. His supporters defend it, but his opponents see it as a little too fast and opportunistic.

First the dress. After he was told to loosen up in boots and earth tones he overdid the macho-istic wardrobe. His rhetoric got bolder with his commanding verbs of "fight,'' but is this the same guy we once thought of as, in contrast to his boss, a straight-arrow? We're still left with the question posed by Elizabeth Dole: "Where was Al Gore when his partner, Bill Clinton, robbed the Oval Office of its moral leadership?''

There's the matter of his stand on abortion. It isn't so much that he said he changed his opinion of a woman's right to choose, but that he lied about his previous votes on the issue. Maybe he learned from his boss that lies can pay when nobody's paying close attention.

Bill Bradley hasn't changed so much as gone into reversal. After flying above the fray he's indulged in a little semi-nasty campaigning, too. The semi-nasty stuff began to work for him, but it was too little too late. Voters say they hate negative campaigning, but it works and in politics that's what counts.

In their book of quotations of successful leaders, arranged alphabetically by topic, William Safire and Leonard Safir insert change between "capabilities'' and "character.'' Not a bad position, because a man's capabilities and character are the best measurements for interpreting change. The most potent words to succeed by are taken from Machiavelli. (Who else?) "Whoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.'' But the smart guys might take Bernard Baruch's advice to FDR as a needed footnote: "If you have made a mistake, cut your losses as quickly as possible.''


02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate