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Jewish World Review March 16, 2001/ 21 Adar, 5761


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Consumer Reports

Have a heart -- THE Beltway media is flummoxed, upended by G.W. Bush's startling (to them) initial success. What to do? Take advantage of Vice President Cheney's health problems and make that an issue that will divert the public's attention and diminish Bush's stature at the same time. It's time for Cheney to resign, say Arianna Huffington (the DC hostess who changes political views every season) and USA Today's Walter Shapiro. Huffington wrote in her syndicated column last week: "The time has come for the nation to stage an intervention. We need to convince Vice President Cheney that he needs to step down. And not just to save his life, but potentially to save the lives of millions of Americans... [W]hile the whole world is watching, the message the vice president is sending to his fellow sufferers is that power and position are more important than life itself. But in fact, in so many cases, such pursuits become just another addiction. Like any addiction, it's one rife with denial and self-delusion."

I don't think Dick the Addict and his family need the advice of a kook like Huffington. Lynne Cheney, a tough tomato, will know when it's no longer safe for her husband to work. And Bush will obviously accept that decision.

Shapiro asked, in his March 8 column: "What then is the point of such a vice-presidential resignation? Public reassurance. Every time Cheney enters the hospital, black clouds gather over the White House. Every time Cheney bounds out of his sickbed to declare, 'I'm having the time of my life,' there are concerns that the workaholic vice president is deluding himself."

Shapiro praises Cheney for being a loyal number two and not harboring any presidential ambitions of his own. He then betrays his political leanings by citing a former vice president who obviously did want the top job: the "laughable" Dan Quayle. That Shapiro still repeats this Democratic smear simply proves he wants Cheney out of the White House because he's a valuable member of Bush's team.

The Wall Street Journal's house cardiologist, Albert Hunt, insists that Cheney's medical records be available to the press-never mind that Clinton, for quite obvious reasons, never released portions of his file-and upbraids Bush and the administration for not being more forthcoming about every twinge Cheney might feel during the day. Last Saturday, on CNN's Capital Gang, Hunt said: "I think the White House ought to release Dick Cheney's full health records. If they are as encouraging as he says, it will put all of this to rest and nobody can take those kind of cheap shots. We don't know how much weight he's lost. We don't know what his LDL cholesterol level is. We don't know what kind of medications he's taking or what side effects they may have and until they put all that out, I think there will be a suspicion that they're trying to hide something."


This is sickening. Cheney has explicitly said he serves at Bush's pleasure and if the President wants to keep him on, despite a medical condition that today isn't all that uncommon, he's eager to perform the job he's so far handled so ably. What business is it of the press to intrude upon Cheney's personal decisions? And while no one ever accused the media of having any manners (even though so many went to the "right" schools), all the speculation about who'll replace Cheney when he dies is indecent. Mind you, this is all an attempt to harm Bush. Cheney is just the vehicle.

Lloyd Grove, the uptight Washington Post "Reliable Source" gossip columnist, included a dig of Cheney's (culled from an interview in American Enterprise) on March 8. Reacting to Maureen Dowd's nasty New York Times op-ed on Clarence Thomas, Cheney said: "I thought Maureen was out to lunch, as she frequently is."

It's gratifying to see that Atlantic Monthly editor Michael Kelly, who repeatedly belittled Bush during the campaign, has the grace to admit he was wrong in his total assessment of the Texan. In a March 7 Washington Post column, Kelly ascribes Bush's early success to a number of factors, including "surpassing exceedingly low expectations," "surpassing an exceedingly low predecessor" and possessing "an easy and shallow charm, which is useful in winning over an easy and shallow press corps."

He continues: "All of this is true, but there is more to Bush's good times. There is, of all things, intelligence. Bush is, on one level, no toy rocket scientist. 'Is our children learning?' he asked during the campaign. Oh, they is, but not, we hope, grammar from you, sir. As it happens, the level on which Bush is not intellectually impressive is the only one that most journalists respect: verbal intelligence, the ability to understand and manipulate logic and language. This is precisely the sort of intelligence Bush does not possess, and so, many journalists stupidly thought of Bush as, well, stupid. I include myself in this and hereby renounce and regret my repeated past use, in connection with Bush, of the word 'pinhead.'

"What Bush does possess is political intelligence-the ability to understand and manipulate people and situations. Verbal intelligence and political intelligence are not necessarily connected: Think of the Mayor Daleys, father and son. It appears this is so with Bush... This is politics played on a high and nuanced plane of intelligence, the sort of level that signifies a natural ability-natural political smarts. George W. Bush: smart guy. Who knew?"

And so while liberal reporters still sneer at Bush's malapropisms, he continues to confound them with legislative acumen and his popularity among the populace (67 percent approval, according to the latest Gallup Poll). I have no problem with Slate's wormboy Jacob Weisberg collecting a few bucks on the side with his book of "Bushisms"-that's healthy capitalism at work-but if you look at his body of reporting over the past two years it's Weisberg, not Bush, who looks stupid.

The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg, one of the Florida recount warriors, still disputes Bush's election. Writing about the President's congressional speech in the March 12 issue, Hertzberg is churlish: "The question is not one of Bush's legitimacy. The new President-so the highest authorities assure us-holds office by virtue of a process that was legal and constitutional. But not even the Supreme Court could decree that the electorate endorsed his policies, the most conspicuous of which was the tax program he presented the other night."


Hertzberg then rambles on about how Gore, Pat Buchanan, Ralph Nader, Harry Browne and Howard Phillips combined to poll more than two and a half million more votes than Bush. He neglects to mention that in 1992, Bill Clinton received only 43 percent of the popular vote, with the remainder going to former President Bush and Ross Perot. So, by Hertzberg's logic, Clinton had no right to propose legislation that 57 percent of the populace didn't endorse. But why quibble?

More importantly, Hertzberg distorts facts to make Bush look like an ogre. For example, on the subject of prescription drugs, he writes: "[U]nder the benefit he has proposed, a widow living on as little as fifteen thousand dollars a year would get no help until she had already spent six thousand dollars on prescription drugs. That is, she would have to have already left more than a third of her meagre income at the pharmacy."

As Andrew Sullivan pointed out in an Oct. 9 New Republic column, citing University of Southern California economist Joel Hay, only 10 percent of senior citizens pay more than $1000 on "out-of-pocket" prescription drugs; just 4 percent pay more than $2000. In addition, Hertzberg's mythical widow, under Gore's proposed plan, wouldn't receive benefits until she'd left $4000 of her "meagre income at the pharmacy."

Finally, it appears that Newsweek's myopic Jonathan Alter is the last journalist alive to realize that John McCain's campaign finance reform boondoggle (for the media), which will be debated starting next week, is DOA. Now that Big Labor and the ACLU have joined the NRA and a majority of Republicans in opposition to the First Amendment-busting legislation, there's no way anything but a counterfeit bill will be passed.

Alter, whose journalistic legacy might be his incoherent tv ravings on Election Night that Gore should be president regardless of the Electoral College, writes in the March 19 issue: "McCain's aim is to trade on his rock-star status (and wartime heroics) to prevent [an 'empty compromise']. To do so, he needs his old allies in the press. If the media could devote a fraction of the passion and time to the causes of the disease that it lavished on the John Huang-Marc Rich-Lincoln Bedroom symptoms, real change might even be possible."

Alter's grasp of medicine is even shakier than Al Hunt's. The disease he refers to isn't called "soft money"; its proper name is "Bill Clinton." And doesn't the Newsweek/ MSNBC layabout even read the newspapers he excoriates for not devoting full attention to McCain's folly? Never has so much ink been spilled on an issue that most Americans couldn't care less about. The New York Times alone, witnessing the waning of its political influence, has been relentless in boosting this nutty "reform."

I did enjoy Alter's poetic conclusion, if only to give Junior an example of really bad writing. McCain's apostle, now and forever, lectures his readers: "Yes, money can never, ever be removed from politics. Even full public financing would sprout loopholes. But just because the basement will always be damp doesn't mean the house has to flood. The water is rising, and the hour is short."

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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© 2000, Russ Smith