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Jewish World Review Feb. 25, 2000/ 19 Adar I, 5760


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Voters see the real McCain -- I'VE WRITTEN for more than two years that McCain is not only hypocritical but also a borderline hysteric. What he said about being "a real reformer" is simply wrong: he hasn't reformed anything during 17 years in Congress, and he's just as bad as any pol in accepting "tainted" money from corporations and lobbyists. He tried to pass campaign finance legislation and an antitobacco bill, but failed. And if Bush wanted to "surrender America's future" to the Democrats, that certainly wasn't indicated by the record turnout of Republicans in the primary.

Bush all but ignored McCain in his victory speech an hour after the Arizona Senator's, thanking him and Alan Keyes for their efforts, a deft put-down of the media's pet. Bush has conquered the "smirk"; now he's got to lose the "shout." It's bad enough that he mixes metaphors and mangles the language, making him a target for lazy columnists. He also has to stress his record of accomplishment in Texas, his education and defense policies, and continue to hammer away on tax cuts: Bush was most effective in his remarks Saturday night when he said he wouldn't govern by polls and focus groups, a slap at Clinton and all the naysayers who minimize Americans' desire for tax cuts.

The pro-McCain press was quick to theorize-as if most of the journalists really cared-that Bush had veered so far to the right to win the SC primary that he'd be an easy target for Al Gore in the fall. And continuing the charade, McCain advocates like Bill Kristol pointed to week-old polls showing that the Senator would fare better against Gore.

Two points here: First, Bush was on the ropes and had to wage the spirited, dynamic campaign that he did. Yes, he was negative; he should've been more negative in New Hampshire when McCain distorted his record, instead of flipping flapjacks and tossing snowballs a day before the primary. Second, those matchups against Gore were taken when McCain was the toast of the political world; I'll bet Bush now improves his numbers against Gore.

On Sunday, taking the "high road," McCain repeated at several rallies in Michigan, "If Gov. Bush is a reformer, I'm an astronaut."

Even New York Times staffers Alison Mitchell and Frank Bruni had to face reality, writing in Monday's paper that Bush was "positive" while his challenger "was ferociously trying to tar his opponent as a fraud, much as he did in his caustic concession speech." Reporters on the Straight Talk Express were treated to St. John's ramblings, such as: "We're not letting you get away with that, pal. You're not a reformer. Anybody who believes you're a reformer believes in the tooth fairy."

The Times' editorial on Feb. 21 was a vintage snatch of current elite left-wing philosophy, what used to be the lingo of limo liberals. While the paper chastised McCain for his temper, saying he gave "voters an unsettling glimpse of a heretofore veiled aspect of Mr. McCain's personality," most of the scolding was saved for Bush. The paper piously proclaimed: "Even in victory, Mr. Bush seemed fearful of voyaging into expansive discussions of education, health care, budget policy and foreign affairs." As The Weekly Standard wrote last fall, before its editor got caught in the McCain swirl, Bush is the only GOP candidate who's dwelled on these themes, as was demonstrated by his debate performance last week.

But I especially enjoyed this line in the Times edit: "Ronald Reagan managed to come across as someone who shared those voters' negative feelings about Washington but was still full of an optimism and hope for the future." What a joke. Back in 1980, Reagan was treated with almost the same derision by the Times as Pat Buchanan is blasted with today. Democrats drooled at the prospect of Reagan opposing Jimmy Carter, since they believed he'd be defeated in a landslide.

Trust me, I dislike having to criticize Newsweek's Jonathan Alter week after week, but his reporting and punditry is so wacky it calls for repetitive whacks on the butt. C'mon, Jon, can't you do better than the following intro to an article minimizing Bush's chances vs. Gore as opposed to McCain, who "has a life story that won't quit"? Tell me, besides the POW torture in Vietnam, what else is there in McCain's "life story" that's so admirable? Ditching a wife when he got back from the war? Being a member of the Keating Five? Having a personality so disagreeable that he's one of the most unpopular members of the Senate?

Alter starts his piece with a fifth-rate Teddy White imitation: "Until the 1960s, primaries were rare and largely irrelevant. Through a haze of cigar smoke and bourbon breath, a group of white men at summer political conventions war-gamed the fall campaign with only one question in mind: which candidate could win?" Alter continues with a pro-McCain premortem, granting that Bush is on surer footing with domestic issues, but then continues the mainstream media's line that the Governor, with his win in South Carolina, has somehow been transformed into David Duke's more polite cousin. He concludes: "Al Gore has his own set of vulnerabilities for the Republicans to exploit. But for now, anyway, the GOP's efforts to broaden the party and find the median strip of American politics have been pushed off the high road into the mud somewhere in South Carolina."

Somehow, Jon, I think the rudiments of fiction have escaped you.

Bush has now won in Iowa, Delaware and South Carolina; he's likely to take Virginia, Florida and of course Texas.

New York and California will depend on the Michigan outcome, but he'll likely do well in those states too. He wasn't running for president of South Carolina; that's just a fiction of the media.

Any candidate who can excite his own party to the extent Bush did there, as opposed to '96 when Bob Dole sleepwalked through the campaign, isn't going to roll over for the likes of Al Gore. It's true that Bush's appearance at Bob Jones University was a mistake, but I don't think it's of the magnitude of Gore's fascination with Buddhist nuns four years ago or his claim that Clinton will be remembered as one the greatest presidents in history.

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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