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Jewish World Review Jan. 28, 2000/ 21 Shevat, 5760


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Bill Kristol: Please come home -- IT'S ONE THING when the unwitting Beltway comic Thomas Oliphant, who also writes a very bad political column for The Boston Globe, wastes space kissing up to Sen. John McCain. Oliphant may be the last Washington journalist who hasn't caught on to McCain's act-a curious situation because Oliphant is sure to back Al Gore in the fall.

You wonder why he bothers to write drivel like this (Jan. 23): "Unlike Ronald Reagan, who beat the other Bush 20 years ago for the nomination, Governor Bush is going after that prize from the top down, not from the grass roots up. It may yet be enough to prevail in the end in this still-hierarchical party. Ever since the straw poll put on by the party [in Iowa, which Bush won] last August, Bush has been at best a mediocre candidate in Iowa and a wretched one in New Hampshire. Adversity made Al Gore better; it is making Bush worse."

Okay, so Oliphant thinks Bush will be scared silly by Steve Forbes in the Iowa caucuses.

Time's Margaret Carlson is still in league with McCain. In the Jan. 31 issue, Carlson excused McCain for his offhand comments last week about people being able to tell who is and who isn't gay. She writes: "McCain's remarks constituted at most a mild distraction, barely diverting him from his last-ditch effort to shame Governor George W. Bush into a fair fight in New York by helping McCain get on the ballot there." Two points: Since when is a presidential aspirant supposed to "help" his competitors? Also, fine by me that McCain got a free pass for his acute gaydar; not that Bush would've. But I wonder if Carlson would also applaud the Senator's Jewdar? Probably so.

On the other hand, what's up with Weekly Standard editor and publisher Bill Kristol, who can't appear on enough TV shows saying that Bush's candidacy is in deep trouble? Kristol is plainly backing McCain; it's to his credit that the Standard (owned by Rupert Murdoch, and G-d knows whom he favors) is filled with the opinions of diverse-thinking conservatives.

Ever since McCain, almost alone at the beginning, took over President Clinton's role as the United States' commander-in-chief during the war with Slobodan Milosevic, Kristol's had a soft spot for the con man from Arizona. Never mind that McCain was a champion of two pieces of legislation that are anathema to the right-campaign finance reform and the antitobacco effort-his internationalism won Kristol over.

Fair enough. But now Kristol's in a delusional state when he speaks publicly about Gov. Bush. On Jan. 18, Kristol kicked around the Bush candidacy with Chris Matthews on Hardball;
after a few obligatory jokes about Al Gore knocking on Clinton's door and finding who knows what, the respected Republican strategist took off on a strange journey.

Kristol: "Four months ago, George Bush was running as a compassionate conservative. It was a new kind of Republicanism, criticized Bob Bork, criticized Tom DeLay. It wasn't going to be the old standard, you know, conservative establishment, Republican-type campaign. Now he is running a totally orthodox Republican establishment campaign... "Bush is running the campaign he did not want to run. He wanted to run a general-election campaign from the get-go, and now he's being forced to run the campaign that Bob Dole ran in '96, that his father ran in '88... You know a lot of Democrats, even more than I do, Chris. Do you know a single serious Democratic strategist who thinks Bush would be a tougher November opponent than McCain?"

Kristol continued through the week, pumping up Forbes' chances in Iowa, shilling for McCain. Things got really nutty when he made an appearance on CNN's Capital Gang last Saturday and criticized Bush for being in favor of eliminating the estate, or "death," tax. Huh? I think Kristol must be taking too many lunches with Gore adviser Bob Shrum in Washington.

Obviously, there's something much more personal going on. Remember that Kristol was Vice President Dan Quayle's right-hand man; I don't think George W. Bush was one of his favorites during the laconic '92 campaign, especially when the son urged the father to dump Quayle. As for changing tactics, Bush had to: McCain, because of his fawning press, suddenly emerged as a longshot contender and the Governor couldn't ignore him. He was smart to go after McCain on taxes, rather than campaign finance reform, which would've gained him even more biased media rebukes.

And Kristol's contention that Bush will now have to run a Dole-style campaign is just stupid. Did Dole have the financial assets that Bush has at his disposal? Of course not. That's one the reasons he lost; while Pat Buchanan and Forbes were hammering him in the primaries, Clinton and Dick Morris were running general election ads all over the country. Also, Dole was charisma-impaired, old and uninspiring. With Bush, the GOP has its first relatively young candidate in decades, a man who won't have the gender gap problem that wounded Dole, and who's neatly wrapped up the Christian right and centrist Republicans. Kristol's beef with Bush is personal, and all his left-field predictions at this juncture, to anyone who'll listen, will only diminish his reputation in the Republican Party.

And who knows, maybe that's just fine with him.

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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