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Jewish World Review Feb. 7, 2001/ 15 Shevat, 5761


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One irritating tic common to the most of the senators -- I WATCHED ON C-SPAN the statements of Judiciary Committee members debating the nomination of John Ashcroft on Jan. 30 and was struck by one irritating tic common to the most of the senators. Men and women from all over country insisted on pronouncing Ashcroft's home state as "Mizooruh." It's a regional accent, and just seems silly when Teddy Kennedy-who once again disgraced himself with a demagogic attack against the A.G. nominee-persists in speaking as if he were from St. Louis. It reminded me of Kevin Costner's abominable New England accent in the overrated film Thirteen Days. It's bad enough that the country has become homogenized in so many ways-the proliferation of Starbucks, McDonald's and Wal-Mart outlets; the disappearance of locally made beers, soda and potato chips-without our having to suffer fake accents by fake legislators in the Senate.

I don't agree with Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold on almost anything politically, but his "yea" vote for Ashcroft, considering the enormous pressure that Democrats were under from special-interest groups, certainly qualifies him as a profile in courage. Feingold was rewarded with a puerile attack on the fringe, left-wing website from a writer named P.J. McIlvaine.

He wrote about the most honest Democrat in the Senate: "But Uncle Tom Daschle wasn't the only offender of the faith. How could we forget Sen. Russ Feinfart, who gave a lengthy diatribe against Ashcroft but decided to extend an olive branch to Republicans while giving his fellow Democrats the finger. Infested with bipartisanship bonhomie, Orrin Hatch gave it right back to Feinfart by pronouncing Feinfart's campaign finance reform bill DOA. So much for the olive branch. Must be a bitch to sit down, eh, Feinfart?"

On the other hand, Republican consultant Rich Galen was almost equally graceless when, in his Feb. 5 online newsletter (, he blasted Missouri Sen. Jean Carnahan for voting against Ashcroft. Tacky. Not only did Carnahan lose her husband and son in a plane crash last October, but she was always an opponent of the new Attorney General in Missouri politics. Lay off.

CHRIS CALDWELL'S a friend of mine, as well as one of the country's finest political writers, but I must take exception to his comments in last week's New York Press. Caldwell, in his column, "Hill of Beans," was dead wrong in his assertion that Bush, because of his moderate education proposal, is likely to "rule as the Clinton of the Right."

I assume Caldwell's incendiary rhetoric was intentionally provocative; and it's proper to hold Bush accountable if he triangulates too promiscuously. But the education rollout, which will be stripped of vouchers, isn't the worst thing in the world. For starters, the plan doesn't lard the teachers' unions' coffers, as Al Gore's would've, and it doesn't intend simply to air-drop money on public schools and hope for the best. I'd have preferred a bold voucher incentive, but at this juncture that just won't happen. Better that Bush get credit for passing an education initiative that will glide through Congress and keep the voucher fight on hold until next year, when presumably he'll have racked up enough legislative victories to stand firm on this important principle.

Bush is politically astute in giving the opposition something to crow about. After all, from a conservative point of view, the new President has triumphed in orchestrating a scenario where previously intractable Democrats are folding daily on the size of the imminent tax cut. He won confirmation of his complete Cabinet, despite the despicable smear campaign against John Ashcroft and, to a lesser degree, Gale Norton.

Ashcroft's ascendancy to attorney general is an event of immense significance. Now that the Democratic dinosaurs and potential 2004 presidential candidates have had their opportunity to slime the former Missouri Senator as a racist, homophobe and neo-Confederate, all that garbage can be forgotten. Ashcroft will have the mandate to clean up the corrupt regime of Janet Reno, a task worthy of Hercules, as well as steer the Justice Dept. away from its previous record of litigation-as-punishment-against-entrepreneurs.

Look, I get nervous too when even The New York Times has kind words to say about Bush's first two weeks. And if I read the phrase "charm offensive" one more time, without quotation marks, I'll surely break out in hives. I think it's fine that Bush is schmoozing Democrats-politically it's smart, even if smarmy; that's his line of work-but I wish he'd knock it off with the nicknames. When he sunk to dubbing Paul Wellstone, who can be counted on to knife him in the back at every opportunity, "Pablo," that was a low point. I think a more appropriate nickname, in light of the Minnesota Senator's despicable grandstanding during the Ashcroft debate, would be "Character Assassin."

But maybe I'm partisan.

Far more embarrassing, I thought, was Bush's meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus. There was no possible upside in this sham: the President ought to realize that stuck-in-the-60s figures like Charlie Rangel and Elijah Cummings will never compromise with a Republican administration. Bush ought to ignore this group, write them off and foster relationships with the growing number of young black leaders who understand that their constituents are better served by constructive dialogue with the administration, rather than by the destructive, and repetitive, race-baiting that's practiced by the NAACP.

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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