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Jewish World Review Jan. 21, 2000/ 14 Shevat, 5760


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Next stop: Iowa -- ON CNN’S LATE EDITION last Sunday, Bush, comparing McCain to Gore and Bill Bradley, said "There’s a fundamental disagreement with Senator McCain and me. He trusts money left in Washington, DC, will be properly spent... I happen to think it’s going to be spent on bigger government and more programs."

McCain’s lost some of his support in the Beltway press, but not The Wall Street Journal’s Al Hunt or The Daily News’ Lars-Erik Nelson. Hunt is not quite as enamored of the Senator as in recent months, although he still maintains McCain is a "genuine conservative reformer." But when it comes to taxes, the Journal’s token editorial page liberal shows why he’ll vote for Gore in November. Hunt writes about McCain’s paltry tax cut: "Despite his claims that it’s directed at working Americans, the plan is almost as tilted toward the rich as Gov. Bush’s bigger proposed cut. Call it Bush Lite. In an interview, Mr. McCain seems sketchy on the particulars. This vagueness is a pattern, especially with issues in which he hasn’t specialized. Last year, he stumbled over abortion because he didn’t really understand Roe v. Wade. Sometimes, when discussing health care, he seems lost."

We’ll know the McCain media honeymoon is over when Hunt finally writes a completely negative column about the ethically challenged Arizonan.

On the other hand, The News’ Nelson is still figuratively on the McCain payroll, lapping up the tepid one-liners, having a brewsky with the former POW and peddling the Senator’s faux-populism. In fact, Nelson and Hunt have completely different interpretations of McCain’s tax-cut plan, which perhaps is an indication of how confusing it really is. Nelson fumes: "There is a bigger message in the McCain tax bill. It spotlights that Bush, as he seeks the presidency, has never had a real job. He was a wheeler-dealer, a hand-shaker and a schmoozer. He raised money from friends and family and he mostly lost it, and everybody charged it off on their taxes. You pay the difference... McCain’s tax plan says: No more George Bushes. Maybe that’s why Bush opposes it so strenuously."

On Jan. 11, New York Times reporter Frank Bruni, who’s been fairly brutal in covering Gov. Bush, threw readers a curveball with a profile of Bush’s chief aide, Karl Rove. He writes: "If Mr. Bush lopes to the Republican nomination as decisively as many of his advisers and supporters believe that he can, Mr. Rove will be hailed well beyond [Texas’] boundaries as a political mastermind." Rove has been a key element in Bush’s success thus far, but Bruni misses the point of the entire campaign. But at least the Times is acknowledging that their preferred GOP candidate, McCain, is dead as a belly-up smelt.

It’s about family loyalty: The man behind the Bush juggernaut is not Rove, but former President Bush, who raised the money and created a political network with a lifetime of hard work. Gov. Bush has enhanced that network, as has his brother Jeb, but it’s the old man, still spry at 75, who calls most of the shots. Detractors might howl that the son is seeking the presidency simply for vengeance against Bill Clinton, but I don’t think that’s entirely true, although there’s an element of that emotion in GWB’s quest. What’s truly stomach-turning is that the same people who complain about Bush nepotism conveniently forget the history of the Kennedys. Do you honestly think Joe Kennedy didn’t work his butt off to get his son elected president because he felt slighted in his own career? That there wasn’t a strong motive of revenge?

Last Sunday, The Boston Globe endorsed McCain for the New Hampshire GOP primary on Feb. 1, a prelude to its parent New York Times’ similar nod before this state’s primary in March. The editorial read, in part: "The courage McCain demonstrated in a North Vietnam POW camp has developed into a fearless independence in the Senate and a bold presidential campaign. Added to it is a dollop of healthy populism, raising the hope that McCain might inspire people to shake off their alienation and participate."

There was no mention of McCain’s involvement in the Keating Five scandal in the endorsement.

Whoever wrote that editorial might’ve profited from reading Joe Conason’s column in last week’s New York Observer about McCain and Bradley and the myth that they’re untainted politicians. I must point out that Conason has no time for George Bush–in fact, he has a cover story in the February Harper’s called "The George W. Bush Success Story–A Heartwarming Tale about Baseball, $1.7 Billion, and a Lot of Swell Friends." That Conason’s story hasn’t created a ripple in the news, other than on The Drudge Report, is something else again, and I’ll get to that next week.

Nonetheless, give the Observer lefty credit for outlining–a little late, but who’s complaining?–McCain’s hypocrisy when it comes to campaign finance reform. He writes: "Actually, Mr. McCain’s favors to the casino business may be the least of his sins. The correlation between the money he receives from airlines, railroads, media companies and other special interests and his endeavors on their behalf as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee is remarkable, even for a conservative Republican. In the weeks to come, his symbiotic relationship with his largest career donor–US West, the telecommunications giant–is expected to generate some interesting stories. And it will be interesting to see whether Mr. McCain’s technique of deflection-by-confession continues to satisfy his admirers in the press corps."

The Times also chastised both McCain and Bush for refusing to become involved in the ongoing controversy of the Confederate flag being flown over the South Carolina Capitol. McCain can’t make up his mind on the issue, perhaps indicating that the expanding coverage of his campaign is taxing his mind. One day he said the flag was a symbol of racism; another day that it represented heritage. Bush has been unwavering in his opinion, with which I agree, that it’s up to South Carolinians to make the decision. A Jan. 14 editorial said that Bush’s opinion "won’t do... It fails to take into account the concerns of a minority that lacks the political strength to expunge this affront to its dignity as an equal."

Somehow, if this was as big an issue as the Times makes it out to be, I think you’d have seen Bill Clinton all over it in ’92 and ’96. The fact that South Carolina is a reliably Republican state undoubtedly is the reason for his nonparticipation in the debate.

Salon’s young Jake Tapper, who’s covering the campaign with the bluster and hyperbole that sadly illustrates that Hunter Thompson’s seminal ’72 political essays spawned a generation of awful imitators, was very distressed at his experience in Iowa last Saturday.

He writes on Jan. 16: "My trip to Iowa was full of a number of corporate hassles–inflicted by TWA and Sprint PCS and Bell Atlantic and American Express; pains in the ass not worth going into, nothing more than what we all regularly experience at the cold, inept hands of corporate America every day. But then it occurred to me that corporate America is the perfect metaphor for what gives me the heebie-jeebies about the fact that Bush is all but being coronated president of the United States–by many of the same corporate greedbags."

Tapper then continues with a tirade about the Texas Governor: that he’s dumb, evasive, mediocre and "utterly unprepared to rule the nation." Oh, and his "ties to contemptible to racists." When you think about racism in the 2000 election only one name comes to mind: Donna Brazile, Gore’s campaign manager. Is Tapper, and his boss David Talbot, who endorsed Warren Beatty several months back, pleased that Brazile essentially called Colin Powell and J.C. Watts Uncle Toms? That Brazile is determined not to let the "white boys" win the election? That Gore and Bradley have both paid homage to Al Sharpton, one of the country’s most notorious, and racist, demagogues?

The Globe also endorsed Al Gore in the upcoming primary, and while its enthusiasm for McCain seemed a curiosity, it’s obvious the paper will be boosting the Vice President in the general election. In fact, the editorial didn’t even mention challenger Bradley by name, as it praised Gore for "streamlining and reinventing government and bringing his party toward the political center." I’d say the Republican takeover of Congress in ’94 brought the Clinton administration to the "political center." As it is now, Gore and Bradley are competing to see who’s more left-wing than the other. The Globe makes no mention of Gore’s complicity in the ’96 fundraising scandals; and the Vice President’s wacky statement on the day Clinton was impeached–that his boss will be remembered as one of the country’s greatest presidents–has been erased from the Globe’s data files.

In any case, I believe that Gore will face Bush in the fall. Whenever you look at Bradley, you think of the heart scare and how tired he seems. That episode was the turning point of his campaign, regardless of whether he wins in New Hampshire. Similarly, Bush wrapped up the nomination with his much-derided statement about Jesus; McCain, despite his friends in the press, has never recovered.

I don’t underestimate Gore at all; his general election campaign will be dirty, deceitful and dangerous.
But despite the still-booming economy, the country is ready for a change, just as in 1960. "Clinton fatigue" cannot be overestimated, and it’s one of the reasons that Hillary Clinton is a likely loser in New York, should she ever announce her candidacy.

John Judis, a certified liberal, writes in the current New Republic about Gore’s conundrum, explaining that his unexpected challenge from Bradley has badly damaged his chances against Bush. He writes: "Gore’s ruthless new strategy has worked. Perhaps too well. It is hurting him among the weak Democrats and independents who support Bradley and among the moderate Republicans who backed Clinton in 1996–in other words, among the people he has to win in November. After dispatching Bradley, Gore will have to reinvent himself once again–and it will be harder, because of the image now lodged in the public’s mind. And, if he doesn’t reinvent himself, he will learn the same lesson learned by Walter Mondale, another Democratic front-runner who dispatched an insurgent preaching ‘big ideas’: that hewing close to the party’s core constituencies is a good way to win a Democratic nomination and a good way to lose the presidency."

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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© 2000, Russ Smith