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Jewish World Review Jan. 27, 2000/ 20 Shevat, 5760


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Democrats Play the Race Card; Is It the Only One in Their Deck? -- AS REPULSIVE AS the Democratic Party's race-baiting is in general, and Vice President Al Gore's in particular, there's one benefit: the GOP, from county sheriff to Gov. George W. Bush, now knows what lies ahead this fall. The election of 2000 will be by far the ugliest and most dishonest in a generation-the '88 contest won't even compare --- and it's fortunate that the Democrats have already tipped their hand.

First, there was Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile's comments a few weeks ago calling Colin Powell and J.C. Watts Uncle Toms. That was on top of her bragging that no "white boys" are going to control this campaign. She has yet to be fired.

Now, there's the wholly contrived controversy over the Confederate flag flying in South Carolina. Frankly, I don't give a hoot about that piece of cloth; it's up to South Carolinians to decide whether it should fly atop the state Capitol. Yes, it commemorates the Confederacy, and no, I don't agree that slavery should be glorified. But remember that the flag, which was first hoisted in 1962, was approved by a Democratic state legislature. Sen. John McCain fell into the Democrats' trap by tripping up on the issue, first by agreeing that it was an offensive symbol and then, thinking twice about conservative voters in the upcoming primary, reversing himself by claiming it honored the heritage of the Old South.

Gov. Bush, although he's taken a lot of flak from the media, is correct to steer clear of the issue. Consider this: We know the flag has been waving for 38 years. Why is it now, with a Republican primary approaching, that the NAACP has called for an economic boycott of South Carolina until the flag comes down? Because that group is a pawn of the Democratic Party. Every January, the country rightly celebrates the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. (although it's optional in South Carolina): why hasn't this controversy, if it's so significant, been visited in nonelection years? Why haven't Jesse Jackson, Kweisi Mfume and Al Sharpton camped out in Columbia until the flag is removed?

Two years ago, Republican Gov. David Beasley, the first governor who advocated the flag's relocation from the state Capitol to a Civil War monument, was defeated in a reelection bid. His Democratic successor, Jim Hodges, must not have much clout if the flag's still flying.

Beasley told Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi, no conservative, for a piece she wrote Jan. 21: "It upsets me when I see Al Gore out there talking about this issue... [I]n 1996 and 1997, when I first proposed [moving the flag], Al Gore did not make one single phone call to me. Neither did one Democrat, black or white. Now Mr. Gore is making this an issue, saying Mr. Bush should speak out. If anyone has a right to determine who should speak out, it's me. I'm the one who paid the ultimate political price. Mr. Gore lifted not one single finger when it was the issue of the day. He was AWOL. He did nothing."

But in Nashua, NH, on Jan. 15, Gore had a change of heart. He said: "It's troublesome to me that so many of the Republican candidates have spoken out against affirmative action and have been silent about the flying of the Confederate flag over the South Carolina Statehouse, which is obviously so hurtful to so many Americans."

What humanity this man, this ally of the racist Al Sharpton, possesses. In reality, if the politicians would butt out I'd agree with what John Shelton Reed wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Jan. 20: "I suspect that many Southerners of both races are profoundly bored with the subject and would welcome even another celebrity murder trial or presidential sex scandal if it would just get the flag off their front pages and TV screens."

As for the NAACP, Beasley, a Bush supporter, said: "Their hands are not clean, their hearts are not pure. In 1996 and 1997, the NAACP did not get behind our efforts because of pure, old, rotten politics."

And Vennochi is correct when she writes that the sudden concern over the flag in South Carolina has nothing to do with the Civil War. "It is more symbolic of the shallowness of American politics," she writes, "especially American presidential politics, than it is of any true moral outrage about the racial divide in the United States. Ethanol in Iowa, taxes in New Hampshire, the Confederate flag in South Carolina... Sometime quite soon, the presidential campaign caravan will move into New York. We'll know it because the candidates will be talking about Israel in an effort to push the levers for the Jewish vote."

Funny, I don't remember any New York Times editorial about the flag last year, do you? But on Jan. 21, eager to slap the leading GOP candidates (including Sen. McCain!), the paper wrote: "[Gov.] Hodges's challenge to the legislature makes the cowardly mumbling on the issue by the leading Republican candidates for president, Gov. George Bush and Senator John McCain, look even more disgraceful than it already seemed."

That's the Ivory Tower opinion. It also makes any journalist, or newspaper, look just as "disgraceful" for exploiting an issue for political purposes.

A Flag on Media Bias

Joe Conason, who writes for The New York Observer and Salon, is horrified by the prospect of President George W. Bush, but at least give him credit for not being suckered in by the McCain sweet talk that's seduced most of the Beltway media. In a Jan. 21 Salon article, Conason details, citing The Center for Public Integrity's The Buying of the President 2000, McCain's coziness with U.S. West, the rail, airline, liquor and gambling industries. McCain makes his involvement with Charles Keating almost a virtue, as he confesses his public sins to anyone who's dumb enough to listen, but, as Conason writes, there's more to that chapter of corruption: "What is usually omitted from this uplifting the fact that although McCain eventually paid back Keating and the U.S. Treasury for various vacation junkets and other financial favors, the senator's wife and father-in-law only sold their interest in a Keating-sponsored shopping mall two years ago for a profit of between $100,000 and $1 million."

Hey, if it's legal, fine by me. But this is a blemish on Mr. Integrity's record that DC apologists like Al Hunt, Jacob Weisberg, Lars-Erik Nelson and The New York Times prefer to ignore. Cover it up with Clearasil and poof! An instant American hero.

Back to the flag: Conason doles out more blame to McCain than Bush or Steve Forbes, mostly because the Arizona Senator has a coordinator in South Carolina, Richard Quinn, who's the editor of Southern Partisan, "which functions as the propaganda spearhead of the 'neo-Confederate' movement.'"

As for Bill Clinton-who's insisted the flag in South Carolina must come down-according to Crossfire's Mary Matalin, when he was governor of Arkansas, "he memorialized, through proclamation, Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president." In addition, the Saturday before Easter each year in Arkansas is Confederate Flag Day.

And, Mr. Gore, let's not single out South Carolina for derision. The state flags of Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Mississippi all incorporate the Confederate "stars and bars." Since those states aren't as reliably Republican in presidential elections, I doubt a similar fury will be sounded when their primaries come due.

Official state songs, anyone? Here's the last stanza from "Give Me Louisiana": "A State of old tradition,/of old plantation days/Makes good ole Louisiana/The sweetest of all States." Or "My Homeland, Tennessee": "Could we forget our heritage/Of heroes strong and brave?/Could we do aught but cherish it,/Unsullied to the grave?/Ah no! the State where [Stonewall] Jackson sleeps,/Shall ever peerless be./We glory in thy majesty;/Our homeland, Tennessee." Finally, an old favorite, Florida's "The Swanee River": "Way down upon de Swanee Ribber,/Far, far away,/Dere's wha my heart is turning ebber,/Dere's wha de old folks stay./All up and down de whole creation/Sadly I roam,/Still longing for de old plantation,/And for de old folks at home."

And when it's Ohio's primary turn, I'm sure Gore will be protesting the logo of the Cleveland Indians.

The calculated comments from Gore about Gov. Bush being cowardly for not injecting himself into a state scuffle, and implying that he was trolling for racist votes in South Carolina, is typical of the campaign he's been conducting. Bill Clinton has a reputation for being a man of the people, and blacks are his most approving constituency. There's an irony in this, for Clinton, I'm convinced, cares less for blacks, Latinos, Pakistanis or any other minority group in America; certainly less than Gov. Bush or John McCain. Why? Because Clinton cares about no one but himself. Because Clinton has treated black people like sheep, despite their massive support, which he takes for granted. Don't believe me? Ask Lani Guinier.

The mainstream media, naturally, has been putty in Gore's hand on this issue. But, again, this is a positive reminder for the Republican Party: while a shameful number of reporters have eagerly boarded John McCain's "Straight Talk Express" (a ruse I give the Arizonan credit for, considering the vast ammunition diligent journalists have at their disposal to unmask McCain as a fraud), when the general election gears up, almost the entire communications industry will be biased in favor of the Democrats. Republicans need to remember that: it may be galling, it may be unfair, but it's a fact. Just as corporate America (with the goofy exception of Hollywood and the entertainment industry) can be relied upon to help the GOP.

Here's an example: Newsweek, in its Jan. 17 issue, was ready to run an excerpt of Inventing Al Gore: A Biography, by one of its own writers, Bill Turque. However, the book segment was canned when Newsweek editors decided that the allegations of an old Gore friend, John Warnecke, that Gore was a pothead until his '76 congressional election, were too controversial to print. After all, Gore, on repeated occasions, has said that his potsmoking was "rare and infrequent." According to Salon's Jake Tapper, who obtained an interview with Warnecke for the Jan. 22 online edition, "Newsweek editors apparently tried to water down the language and descriptions in Turque's book, scheduled to be published in February. But since Turque and his publisher, Houghton Mifflin, own the rights to the excerpts, he had final say about what Newsweek would publish... After all, Turque devoted three years of his life to the book, had confirmed Warnecke's allegations with other sources, and didn't want any of his research watered down."

I mention this not because I care that Gore apparently smoked a lot of dope when he was young, but for the glaring hypocrisy Newsweek, and other media outlets, have demonstrated on this story. Why did Bush's supposed cocaine use, for which there wasn't a single allegation, cause such a huge commotion last fall? Because he's a Republican who's currently favored to capture the White House.

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