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Jewish World Review Feb. 11, 2000/ 5 Adar I, 5760


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SUFFERIN' SUCCOTASH, IT'S THAT KRISTOL AGAIN! -- WEEKLY STANDARD EDITOR Bill Kristol glows these days. His candidate, John McCain, the man he correctly predicted would clock Gov. George Bush in the New Hampshire primary, is the toast of the Beltway elite.

Kristol, who's now seen with alarming frequency on television peddling his propaganda about this deeply flawed GOP contender-I like and respect Kristol, but I don't think it's off base to say he's appearing on talk shows with the regularity of sad sack Lanny Davis during the Lewinsky scandal-simply cannot be contained. Like McCain, he's having the time of his life.

It's puzzling to me that Kristol can embrace McCain's increasingly Democratic agenda and that he's in complete agreement with the standard DC pundits, including those of the vile New York Times, men and women he used to ridicule so effectively. But it's a new dawn and a new day for Mr. Kristol and he's feelin' good.

It's too simple to ascribe Kristol's repudiation of Gov. Bush to his tenure as Dan Quayle's "brain," as his new friends in the media used to say. There are dozens of people in Washington who will say, off the record, that the bad blood between Kristol and the Bush family is legendary.

In the Standard's Feb. 14 issue, Kristol and co-conspirator David Brooks have written a manifesto headlined "The McCain Insurrection," in which the duo liken the Arizona Senator's sudden surge of popularity to that of Ronald Reagan's '76 and '80 presidential campaigns, and Newt Gingrich's brilliantly conceived takeover of Congress in 1994. They write: "Like Reagan and Gingrich, McCain makes the corporate and lobbyist types nervous. The corporate elites have invested heavily in George W. Bush, and they must have been chugging Tums after New Hampshire."

I have no doubt that that last statement is true. However, I don't think that many of Kristol's new allies, including the editorialists of The New York Times and Washington Post would agree with him that Reagan or Gingrich made corporate America "nervous." Is it possible that Anthony Lewis inhabited Kristol's body when that sentence was written? I'm not sure; the political atmosphere in 2000 is too cloudy and complicated to even guess.

Kristol and Brooks claim that "McCain attacks a Republican establishment that has already rotted from within." I think that was certainly true in '96, when Dole was chosen as the party's nominee, and in '98 when Gingrich gassed on about Bill Clinton's sex scandal while hiding his own, but Gov. Bush has not "rotted." Indeed, further in the feature article, the pair lavish praise on the besieged frontrunner: "And for much of 1999, George Bush did seem to possess that magic touch. More important, he seemed to understand that if it were to win, the Republican Party had to move beyond its two tired factions. Bush made several bold gestures to distinguish himself from the corporate establishment. He talked openly about his religious faith. He distanced himself from the Dick Darman types. He went on to propose a bold tax cut plan... In a series of subtle and sophisticated speeches, he made it clear that he had a positive governing philosophy. Unlike the Gingrich/Armey/DeLay revolutionaries, he wasn't merely going to cut, devolve and dismantle."

So what happened in such a short period of time? Last fall, Kristol's magazine called Bush's foreign policy speech the most significant since the days of Reagan. But Bush stumbled in a few debates; he failed a pop quiz from a hack Boston tv reporter. Suddenly, his "bold tax cut plan" didn't meet with Kristol's approval. Instead, Kristol's embraced McCain, who's out of his depth on domestic issues and offers a muddled tax policy that could've been authored by Al Gore or Bill Clinton. Now, Kristol praises McCain for "echo[ing] some of the language and sentiments of John and Robert Kennedy."

Welcome to the Doll House.

In closing, Kristol and Brooks play the military card. And this is where the heart of the Standard editor's conversion began, although it doesn't explain his subsequent praise of Bush. "The issue that gave the McCain campaign its initial boost was Kosovo," the duo write. "He argued that America as a great champion of democracy and decency could not fail to act. And he supported his commander in chief despite grave doubts about the conduct of the war-while George W. Bush sat out the debate and Republicans on the Hill flailed at Clinton."

Kristol's contradictions are very depressing to those of us who looked upon him as a brilliant political strategist and writer, a tonic in a world of journalism that fetes lightweights like Richard Cohen, Maureen Dowd, Gail Collins, E.J. Dionne and Michael Kinsley.

Paul Gigot wrote a far more sober assessment of the Republican race in the Feb. 3 Wall Street Journal. While outwardly professing allegiance to neither Bush nor McCain, he said: "[Bush] could start by campaigning as if he really wants the job, not as if he's the diffident choice of a party desperate to win. He has to sell his tax cut like he means it. And it would to address directly the issue of character and moral leadership in the White House that so many Republicans are yearning for. Mr. McCain's sudden success leaves Republicans with a nominating dilemma. In Mr. Bush, they have money, charm and a governing agenda, but so far not enough will to win. In Mr. McCain, they have a candidate with strengths of character aimed directly at Al Gore's Achilles heel, but so far no agenda worth the name. Too bad they can't combine the two."

Cubs in seven

AS MUCH as it disgusts me, it appears that Hillary Clinton will be running for this year's open Senate seat in New York. Whether her name actually appears on the September primary ballot is still up to conjecture: but let's assume for the moment that she's actually going to contest Mayor Rudy Giuliani for Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's chair in Washington, DC.

There was a headline in the Jan. 22 New York Times that I believe sums up this election, stating with brevity why Giuliani will win in November. It read: "As Thefts Fall, New Yorkers Find Car Where They Left It." Lapsing into a political cliche: "As a New Yorker, or visitor/worker in the city, do you feel safer than six years ago?" As pollsters have learned, the answer is a resounding yes. Despite Giuliani's childish temper tantrums, his fits of demagoguery and a mean-spirited style of governing, New York City is cleaner, more prosperous and less chaotic than at any time since at least the early 60s. The fact that Giuliani is polling above 35 percent in the city virtually guarantees him the election, although it's too early to send him packing to DC.

Mrs. Clinton officially announced her candidacy on Sunday at a gym at the state university in Purchase, and was typically incoherent about why she wants to represent New York in the Senate. After a weird introduction by Moynihan-invoking Eleanor Roosevelt but not Bill Bradley, the candidate he's endorsed, in opposition to the Clintons' preference, for president-the First Lady gave a boilerplate speech that was short on specifics and typically full of platitudes. However, the most significant passage was this: "Now, I know some people are asking why I'm doing this here and now, and that's a fair question. Here's my answer and why I hope you'll put me to work for you. I may be new to the neighborhood, but I'm not new to your concerns." That's an answer that could be given to constituents of any state in the country.

Clinton claimed she was a "New Democrat" and then rattled off a litany of liberal positions: hate-crimes legislation, a minimum-wage increase, helping the homeless, fighting against school vouchers, expansion of family and medical leave and the passage of the comprehensive test-ban treaty.

And this was the most hilarious promise, considering that she's been First Lady for seven long years and allegedly discussed policy with him, usually while slicing grapefruit: "And I'll be on your side in the fight for a fair share for New York. It is just wrong that today New York sends $15 billion more in taxes each year to Washington than New York gets back. That's a big reason that local property taxes are so high." I agree, darlin' Hillary, but I don't believe you or your husband gave a whit about New York until you decided to run for the Senate. In fact, since New York was always a gimme state for Bill Clinton, he ignored the people here altogether, except to tie up traffic during visits to the United Nations and Waldorf.

This will be a dirty campaign, as all efforts by the Clintons are. In Monday's Wall Street Journal, Micah Morrison pointed out that Mrs. Clinton is in league with the racist Al Sharpton and has lamented the "tragic murder" of Amadou Diallo, so called even before the four officers involved in the case, charged with second-degree murder, have been tried. Morrison writes: "Politics has never been a pretty business, and out on the campaign trail these days there is much talk about the degradation of the political culture in the Clinton era. So perhaps it won't come as a shock to the sophisticated voters of the Empire State to see Andy Cuomo manipulating the homeless issue or Bobby Kennedy engineering a good scare about the water supply."

And as far as I know, James Carville hasn't even arrived yet.

Newsweek is paying Anna Quindlen, the former New York Times pundit, an enormous sum for its biweekly "The Last Word" column. Wow, either money grows on trees in that magazine's offices, or its editors are the victim of one amazing scam. Quindlen, if you can imagine, is even more grating than during her days at the Times; her column for the Feb. 14 issue is a "Dear Hillary" letter, beseeching the morally bankrupt First Lady not to run for Senate and instead live it up. She writes: "You could have given speeches at $75,000 a pop, and had a life, too, lunching with women with sharp minds and tongues, sitting on corporate boards, writing a book on your new porch by your new pool, looking at the occasional swatch."

Quindlen says that the U.S. Senate is now bereft of "giants," men like Scoop Jackson, Barry Goldwater, Frank Church, Tom Eagleton, Eugene McCarthy and Howard Baker who ruled when she and Hillary were impressionable college kids. Now, I doubt that Quindlen, way back when, would've called Goldwater a "giant," but he was for gay rights in his last years, so he made the club. In the meanwhile, she writes that Vietnam, Watergate, the Clarence Thomas nomination and Bill Clinton's impeachment have made the Senate a less noble institution.

What baloney. Thirty years from now, Quindlen's equivalent will be writing the same column, listing men like Bob Kerrey, Alan Simpson, Moynihan, John McCain, Teddy Kennedy, Orrin Hatch and, G-d help us, Barbara Boxer, as "giants" of this era. And the columnist will be just as irritating.

That won't change, either.

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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