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Jewish World Review March 8, 2000/ 31 Adar I, 5760


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Consumer Reports



Bush vs. Gore: A Surprise Each Month, But Does McCain Go Reform? -- WILLIAM SAFIRE, writing in the March 6 New York Times, says that Bob Jones III's reversal on the dating policy at his university is proof that Sen. John McCain is a "real reformer." Whatever. I often agree with Safire, the only credible columnist on that paper's op-ed roster (to be fair, I haven't given Paul Krugman much of a chance yet), but his well-known vendetta against the Bush family makes any snipes about the Texas Governor's campaign suspicious. Unwittingly, Safire makes a much more important point in his foolish piece, which clings to the notion that McCain might still win California if the turnout is big enough. Never mind that the Senator's campaign has already written off the state, according to a page-one story in the Times the very same day.

What's clear is that campaign finance reform, in the current form that McCain's pushing, is a losing issue. Voters care a lot more about education, crime, the economy and Social Security. Still, a steady diet of reading the Times proves what a disastrous effect campaign-finance reform legislation would have on this country's democracy. Because if citizens are restricted in their contributions, whether it's hard or soft money, then the unions and media will become the main source of information and propaganda in every campaign. The Times has been relentless in its positive coverage of McCain and Al Gore; even on Saturday, when the Senator's campaign was in meltdown, a lead story in the paper was headlined "McCain Is Strong In New England." Even more laughable, the headline in the Web version of the article was "Bush May Have to Survive Connecticut Sweep by McCain." Uh, so what. Yes, McCain will win Massachusetts and probably the rest of New England; that makes him a regional candidate.

What's worse is that reporter Paul Zielbauer outright distorts the political climate in other states. He writes that the race in Ohio is "tight," even though polling from that very day showed Bush ahead by at least 20 points. I won't dawdle about with the Times; perhaps next year an impartial journalist will write a book about this campaign and the role the elite press played in it. But one more example: in the Sunday editions of the Times and Washington Post, the two lead headlines were, respectively, "McCain and Bush Facing a Crucial Test on Tuesday" and "Super Tuesday May End Races." The Post is no fan of Bush, but at least they conceal their stacked deck with a lot more finesse than the country-club morons on W. 43rd St.

Some Thoughts...

1. McCain Loses Steam. I'm finishing this column a day before the results of Tuesday's string of primaries are known (I refuse to use the term "Super Tuesday," as if everything in life can be analogized to a sporting event), but it's fairly clear that Sen. McCain has run out of gas. His hyperbolic, and strategically suicidal, attack on the religious right a week ago effectively ended his presidential campaign. The spin was that McCain had given up on Virginia (he hadn't) and was hoping that a nationally televised lynching would fatally chain Gov. Bush to the right-wing segment of the Republican Party. When McCain lost not only in Virginia, but Washington and North Dakota as well, it was proven that his explosive and sanctimonious speech had backfired.

The question is: what was McCain's motive? The now-infamous Bob Jones III was a minnow in American politics and culture; before McCain decided to lash Bush at the hip with the religious zealot, almost nobody in the country had heard of him. His harsh attack on Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, two over-the-hill political forces, was equally disproportional. I don't agree with much of what Robertson and Falwell preach, but they're not "evil" men, as McCain had to sheepishly acknowledge days later. And to put them in the same category as Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton, true racists, was over the top, and not only alienated the Republican base but the Independent voters he'd courted so effectively in the past six weeks.

Al Gore and Hillary Clinton will ultimately have to answer for their kissing of Sharpton's ring, even though they've mostly been given a free ride so far. Why hasn't the media called for Gore and Bill Bradley to apologize for their shameless pandering to Sharpton? Why hasn't The New York Times editorialized on that unseemly association? I guess the fact that Sharpton is a "person of color" has nothing to do with it.

However, Derrick Z. Jackson was dead-on when he wrote in the Feb. 25 Boston Globe: "Sharpton is the black folks' Nixon for stoking the 1988 lie that Tawana Brawley was kidnapped and raped by white men. He is the black folks' [Pat] Buchanan for his isolationist views, complaining far more about the black boy killed by a Jewish driver in 1991 than the Jewish man who was killed soon after by a black man in apparent street mob retaliation."

And as Jacob Weisberg pointed out on Feb. 29 in Slate, McCain was selective in his choice of religious right hobgoblins. For example, he exempted James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, and arguably a more powerful force in Christian politics than Robertson or Falwell. Weisberg correctly theorizes that Dobson was left out in deference to Gary Bauer, the former presidential candidate who inexplicably endorsed McCain even after the Senator was wobbly on the abortion issue. Weisberg mentions that Dobson is an advocate of "curing" homosexuals and then writes: "A couple of years ago, Dobson threatened to lead a right-wing walkout from the Republican Party because Tom DeLay and Dick Armey are too moderate for his taste... In other words, McCain's problem isn't with all 'agents of intolerance' trying to exert influence within the Republican Party. It's just with the agents of intolerance who don't happen to be helpful to John McCain."

I've been harsh on Weisberg in the past-his soft stance toward Bill Clinton has always been nauseating. And this year, when he cooed about McCain's courage and wrote about how much fun it was to ride on the rolling dorm party called the "Straight Talk Express," it was beyond the pale. But I give him credit for calling McCain on his contradictions as the Senator's campaign has traveled into the fourth dimension.
Other McCain toadies are still singing his praises, even after it's clear that this man is apt to become unhinged at any moment. That's fine in the Senate, where he can throw a tantrum with Trent Lott or Mitch McConnell, but being an angry old man is an unappealing trait for a president.

Also last week, Bush was forced to issue a quasi-apology for his appearance at Bob Jones University. At first, McCain exploited that controversy adroitly, which was ironic since the Senator himself had approached the university about making a speech there, and I doubt it was to tell Jones to jump into the 17th century, as he now claims. Rep. Mark Sanford, one of McCain's leading supporters in South Carolina, was dismayed when it was revealed the McCain campaign had sought an audience at the school. He told the Washington Times last week: "I have heartburn with a capital H. This is not the campaign I signed up for. I signed up to be a part of reforming government, Social Security, federal spending, campaign finance. I didn't sign up to be a part of this bizarre wordplay we've had over the last few days."

Not much went right for McCain last week. He was in, out and back in for the Los Angeles debate last Thursday night, although being beamed in from St. Louis certainly worked to his disadvantage. While Bush was able to josh with Alan Keyes right on the set, McCain was a wooden soldier, unable to exhibit any charm or camaraderie with the other candidates.

Not that he was inclined to. The debate was a dull affair-with Keyes again the rhetorical star and also more pointed in his criticism of McCain than Bush-but the Texas Governor was declared the winner simply because of the prevailing political currents.

Reporters and pundits are now deserting the "Straight Talk Express" bus they've partied on for so long for two reasons. One, McCain has broken his pledge to take the "high road and never lie." It's a more bitter bus when you're obliged to answer tough questions. Two, now that the campaign is essentially winding down, news organizations simply don't want to spend the money required to cover a once-huge story. So McCain has largely lost his base, the media (with the stubborn exception of The New York Times).

It's also clear that McCain knows it's over. On the talk shows over the weekend, the Senator kept bleating the untrue spin that he'd run an "honorable" campaign, no matter what the ultimate results. And in a meeting with the Daily News, which endorsed him on Sunday, McCain was fatalistic, according to reporter Richard Sisk. He wrote: "McCain said his candidacy has undergone a transformation. The main mission was to win the nomination, but he also is now determined to rid the GOP of big money and the Christian right influence."

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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