Jewish World Review Sept. 19, 2000 / 18 Elul, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- HOW BIASED is the nation’s press corps? In the window since Labor Day, a date when, as everyone knows, the presidential election gets deadly serious, the national media has become a key player in the race itself. In a series of shabbily conceived stories, which have thrown the Bush campaign temporarily off-stride, the national media has acted as little more than a spin machine for a Democratic candidate. And that’s without counting the Oprah-Conan-Letterman caucus. In the last week, the big media stories have been Major League A-hole, Debate Fumble (George Bush is afraid to show up), Rats (George Bush is a mean-spirited hypocritical negative campaigner) and - what else? -- the Bush Campaign is in serious trouble. It’s certainly true that these news stories have put George Bush on the defensive, making it difficult for the Bush team to get their message out -- which is precisely what a Gore spin machine would want to achieve.
But a more responsible and professional press might have reported the same four stories in a very different way: (1) Should The New York Times have assigned Adam Clymer, a left-wing journalist who is comfortable writing in the ideological pages of The Nation and The Progressive, to cover the Bush campaign? Or is the Times, which still can field first-rate reporters like Kitty Seelye and Alison Mitchell, in danger now of whoring itself to a partisan agenda? (2) Did Al Gore mis-speak when he said “I will debate George Bush any place, any time,” or is it just that Al Gore will say anything to be President? (3) Rats - This is not a story that deserved significant coverage at all. The New York Times correctly made this judgment itself when FoxNews broke the item two weeks before it appeared as a full blown story on the Times’ front page. What happened in the interim? The Democratic National Committee called its friends in the editorial rooms and begged and badgered them to run the story. (4) Forget the stumbles. The fact that George Bush is in a dead heat with Al Gore one week into the post-Labor Day stretch is one of the miracles of modern presidential campaigns.
Before explaining the miracle, let me point out some stories that were not “big” but might have been, if a professional press corps were there to handle them, or if the stories had been about George Bush or any other Republican. (To be fair, this is also a problem of editorial assignments and not merely the choices of reporters themselves.) Let’s forget the general misrepresentations, implausible promises and rank hypocrisies of Al Gore’s great issues crusade that have not been a media target. (Misrepresentation: George Bush’s tax plan will give a few diet cokes to the average American family. Fact: Bush’s plan will give them $1600. Implausible Promise: I can spend three or four trillion dollars of a surplus that is only $2.4 trillion - and only that if everything goes perfectly for the next ten years. Hypocrisies: I am a populist….
Let’s imagine instead that it was George Bush who had four government prosecutors recommend, after reviewing the facts, that he be investigated for lying to government officials on more than one occasion when questioned about illegal campaign contributions he was involved in. Then let’s imagine that a memo had surfaced indicating a possible hundred thousand dollar campaign contribution as a quid pro quo for an executive veto of legislation affecting the donor (it’s called a bribe). Yet that’s exactly the story that broke last week about the Clinton-Gore administration to a big media ho hum. In a more responsible media universe, it is conceivable that this story might have buried all the others.
Now for the political miracle that the press reported as a political stumble. To appreciate it, one must first consider the playing field in this election year.
Conventional wisdom holds that if the economy is good, the party in power will almost always hold on to its power. We are in the midst of the largest economic boom in American history (liberals note: it began in 1983). We have full employment. We have a $250 billion surplus, which is very sweet music indeed to Democratic ears. One of Ronald Reagan’s unheralded insights, for example, was that if he let the Democratic Congress spill enough red ink, eventually the very size of the deficit would become an obstacle to the Democrats’ spending mania. Which it did.
Democrats live on government handouts. It is more than a way of life to the Democratic Party. It is the way to power. Therefore, there is really nothing in the political landscape as important to Democrats’ election prospects than the emergence of a tax surplus. What this means in this election year, for example, is that the Republicans’ chief argument - the Democrats are the tax and spend party - has been eliminated from the debate. Entirely. This year the Democrats can promise to spend and spend, and they don’t have to add a single new tax to do it. They can even promise voters a tax cut. (Well, not exactly. Democrats are so averse to giving the people back their money that what they have proposed as a “targeted tax cut” is more like another government program for which certain chosen constituencies like single mothers who need child care and vote overwhelmingly Democratic can get a discount. Here’s what Bob McIntyre of the liberal Citizens For Tax Justice says about the Gore Plan: “[The tax cut] that Gore has proposed is a whole bunch of government spending programs that would be run by the Internal Revenue Service. He’s got a plan to encourage people to buy more energy-efficient appliances. Who’s in charge of that? The Energy Department. No. The Internal Revenue Service. It adds up to about $500 billion in spending programs that would be run by the IRS.” CNN, Inside Politics, August 22, 2000)
And then there is the matter of national defense. The Rooseveltian lock that Democrats had on the White House was broken only after the internal security scandals of the early Cold War years caused voters to worry that Democrats could not be trusted with national defense (a worry dramatically increased by the McGovernization of the party in 1972). Since 1952, no Republican has been elected to the White House where national defense has not been a top voter concern. But the Cold War is over. The national defense issue is now completely off the radar screen. A New York Times poll last week showed that while two-thirds of voters supported a missile defense (something the Clinton-Gore Team has dragged its feet on for eight years), almost three quarters (72%) do not realize that the United States does not at present have a missile defense. (NYT September 13, 2000)
The most recent Battleground poll, which is bi-partisan, reflects all these difficulties that Republicans face in the current election, and then some.
As of September 14th, Bill Clinton has a 60% approval rating. Another telling statistic reported in the poll is the ratio of Americans who believe the country is on the right track versus those who believe the country is on the wrong track. This ratio is now 49-35 in favor of those who think it’s on the right track and are therefore more likely to vote for continuity rather than change. Al Gore is an incumbent Vice President, who appears to have successfully distanced himself from the moral aspects of the Clinton scandals, and therefore is able to capitalize on this mood. Moreover, Gore’s personality problem appears to have been solved and the candidate is now a plus to the voters. His favorability/unfavorability rating - the crucial indicator - is now 59-34, the highest it’s been in the campaign.
In sum, the Republicans have had their core issues taken away. The Democrats can promise the moon. The media is rooting for Gore and the public likes him. The economy is booming and the country is happy with the status quo. Yet the race for the presidency is a dead heat.
This is the story from which the media has averted its eyes. It is the story of the reshaping of the
Republican Party into a competitive political force by George Bush and Karl Rove and their team
in Austin. This achievement will affect American politics far into the future, no matter what the
outcome in November. But it is the outcome in November that it may affect the
JWR contributor David Horowitz is editor of Front Page Magazine and the author of several books, including, The Art of Political War and Other Radical Pursuits, Hating Whitey, Art of Political War, Radical Son : A Generational Odyssey . Comment on this article by clicking here.
09/14/00: It’s the Character, Stupid!:
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