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Jewish World Review Feb. 23, 2001/ 30 Shevat, 5761


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Stay out the Bushes -- WHILE THE Times is noisily demolishing Clinton's reputation and legacy (such as they are), its permanent anti-Bush campaign is plain to see.

This past weekend there was a barrage of demeaning articles about the new President, providing a clear blueprint for the paper's editorial mission for the next four years. A front-page story by Richard Berke and Frank Bruni on Sunday profiled Karl Rove, Bush's longtime political strategist, not-so-obliquely suggesting that he's the mastermind of the current administration. The lead paragraph said it all: "Inside the White House Cabinet Room on Thursday evening, President Bush waited to receive Republican senators. But his guests were in no hurry. Just outside the door, there was something of a logjam because they wanted, first, to pay respects to the aide who is widely viewed as the principal architect of the Bush presidency: Karl Rove."

According to Berke and Bruni, Rove has micromanaged nearly every move in Bush's monthlong tenure. They claim Rove, while the Florida recount dragged on, planned the first weeks of the administration; orchestrated the outreach to Senate and House Democrats; insisted that Bush not add or subtract from his $1.6 trillion tax cut proposal; and assured conservatives that Bush would not abandon John Ashcroft as he was smeared by special-interest groups whose claws were embedded in the backs of Democratic senators.

The Rove article was just an opening volley for the Times; during the next year, expect far more critical examinations of the Texan who's often portrayed in the left-wing fringe media as the second coming of Lee Atwater. I don't suspect Bush himself is bothered by the attention given to his subordinates. He's been so demeaned since the start of his presidential campaign-Nicholas Kristof's endless series of derogatory articles on Bush last year was just the most glaring-and everyone associated with GWB, it seems, gets a turn at being the shadow president. Dick Cheney is the prime example; but Rove, Andy Card, former President Bush, Jeb Bush and Colin Powell have all been seen as the "brain" behind the President. Soon there'll be a Berke article about just how much influence the White House chef has on Mideast policy.

And Times veteran R.W. Apple, who writes like he's 100 years old, piled on this past Sunday as well, in an article that was ostensibly about the free ride Clinton, with his rash of shabby behavior, has given Bush. But the key paragraph in Apple's perfunctory Bush-bash stuck out obviously as one of the Times' continued defenses of the estate tax.

Apple wrote: "Confident as he may have proclaimed himself to be, the new president took office with no wind behind him. Having lost the popular vote, having won the electoral vote only with the help of a painfully divided Supreme Court, Mr. Bush was greeted with suspicion both inside the Beltway and beyond. He seemed to have blundered into nominating a hard-line conservative as attorney general when he clearly needed to build a coalition with moderates."

This is the sort of hogwash that has helped define the Times as a national embarrassment.

Bush was "greeted with suspicion" by liberal Democrats; the GOP was ecstatic about his election. In his own mind, the new President had plenty of "wind behind him," which was swiftly demonstrated by his diverse Cabinet selections and refusal, best exemplified by not giving an inch on his tax cut plan, to govern as a "coalition president." Bush won, and to his credit he's governing as if the vote were by the same margin by which Ariel Sharon crushed Ehud Barak. He didn't "blunder" into choosing Ashcroft; his first choice, Gov. Marc Racicot, turned him down. So he tapped Ashcroft, an exceptionally qualified candidate who's an appropriate antidote to the corrupt tenure of his predecessor, Janet Reno.

Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich, two Times "Arts & Leisure" writers whose essays are continually misplaced on the paper's op-ed pages, are both with the program.

Dowd, the more talented of the pair, is nonetheless spent, producing about one original column every six months. Throughout the presidential campaign she was on a Godfather kick, even if she couldn't decide from week to week whether Bush was Sonny, Fredo, Connie or even Paulie. On Feb. 18, this lame motif continued: "Nothing personal, Saddam. Just bidness. Bush family bidness. Grab the cannoli, drop the bombs. While Bill Clinton is chaotically smashing his legacy, W. is methodically renovating his dad's legacy."

Slinking-if momentarily-into Rich's mind-set, one that consists entirely of pop culture, I'm reminded by reading his biweekly columns of the Bill Murray film Groundhog Day. The former theater critic is so fabulously deluded he actually believes that Americans, en masse, live in the same tv/film/Broadway fantasy world that enslaves him. If the Times management were as civic-minded as it claims, surely they'd attach a photo of Rich to their seasonal ads that advise New Yorkers to "Remember the Neediest."

Rich's Feb. 17 column was a prime example of why the poor fellow should be convalescing in some asylum instead of committing journalistic hate crimes. He writes: "Rational and irrational people may differ over the merits of Bill Clinton's presidency, but few can dispute that he was without peer as our entertainer in chief. He turned the whole citizenry, regardless of ideology or demographic, into drama fiends... Now it turns out we're all junkies for the fast-paced, round-the-clock theatrics that defined the Clinton years, and we're desperate for a fix, any fix, to fill the cultural vacuum he left behind."

Before launching into a laundry list of what occupies his time, Rich throws in a gratuitous slur on Bush just to assure readers that he's actually writing about politics. He writes: "Nor does Mr. Bush seem likely to provide any thrills of his own for our amusement. He avoids press conferences [like Clinton and Gore?]. He does not go off-script. His first 'foreign' trip to Mexico seems to have been chosen so he can instantly retreat to his Texas ranch and not have to risk sleeping on a strange pillow away from home." If that last sentence appeared in the New York Post, editors at The Nation would undoubtedly be organizing a boycott of the paper, in solidarity with the disenfranchised people of Mexico.

But let's return to Frank's recreational pleasures, all referenced in the column: "Perils of Pauline," Gladiator, Hannibal, Silence of the Lambs, XFL football, Eminem ("the Hannibal Lecter of pop"), Survivor, Temptation Island, The West Wing, 60 Minutes, Hardball and MAD magazine.

Because Bush's administration isn't likely to produce a scandal every three months, Rich is convinced the new President will be a failure. He concludes: "Only a performer [Clinton] of genius could deflect an angry mob's criticism of his post-White House office rent by recasting himself as the best thing to happen to Harlem since Langston Hughes. But it is Mr. Bush who is president now, and if he can be as easily upstaged by Mr. Clinton as Al Gore was-and by Republican Clinton antagonists like Arlen Specter [who voted, to his shame, not to convict Clinton on impeachment charges] besides-he's not going to be able to sell his current agenda, let alone any tough policies that may require Americans to make a larger sacrifice than receiving a tax cut. The nightly news is already abandoning him. So could a country that now tolerates just about anything from its politicians and entertainers alike except being bored."

Rich, like so many other solipsistic liberals, is in deep denial, failing to realize that Clinton's ongoing tribulations are helping Bush politically. And when the former president is kicked off the national stage, which is inevitable, Americans will go about their daily lives, not thinking much about Washington, and the Bush administration will horrify the likes of Frank Rich with just how much it accomplishes. It's okay to wear fur again, Frank. Drilling starts soon in Alaska! Get used to it.

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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