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Jewish World Review March 17, 1999 /29 Adar 5759


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Clinton’s a Broken Man:
The GOP’s Huge Opportunity

( IT WAS BY FAR THE MOST MOMENTOUS WEEK in American politics this year.

Bill Clinton’s presidency is in free fall. Rumors about the fragility of his marriage are rampant; the Chinese nuclear missile scandal is fully erupting; former aides are appearing on tv shows to trash their disgraced boss; and hardly a single Democrat, save the hapless Lanny Davis, is surfacing to defend Clinton over Juanita Broaddrick’s rape allegations. The White House thought the 21-year-old incident would disappear within a news cycle or two; instead, the Arkansas nursing home proprietress increasingly becomes the symbol of Clinton’s crumbling administration.

In Cambridge last week a Harvard student, Drew Douglas, was dismissed from the college because of rape charges from a woman who admitted that both of them were drunk when a sexual encounter took place. In fact, according to a March 11 article in The Boston Globe by Jewish World Review columnist Cathy Young, author of Ceasefire! Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality, the couple spent the night together, caressing each other for hours, until actual penetration occurred. Young writes: "The next morning, the woman is upset; the man apologizes profusely. Is he a criminal?" Apparently, the woman’s lip was not bitten.

Young continues: "It’s always hard to determine the truth of a sexual assault allegation that hinges on whether the accuser was sufficiently conscious to consent. It’s particularly difficult when there has been some consensual sexual interaction. Our recollection of what we do when inebriated is not always reliable. Willing participation can turn into morning-after regrets. Moreover, if drinking absolves the woman of all responsibility for her actions, why doesn’t it also absolve the man?"

Danny Hellman
The "assault" took place last April and the woman did not press criminal charges against Douglas. She said she "wanted to get on with her life." Only when she granted an interview to a school newspaper did the fury erupt at the liberal campus.

But who says the President isn’t above the law?

Yet, as the Globe’s John Ellis wrote last Saturday, the Broaddrick case was the last straw for Bill Clinton: "The charge of rape has changed the moral arithmetic. It will get worse before it gets better, because the truth is, it will never get better until Bill Clinton is gone."

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton gave a speech at the United Nations on March 4 in which she said: "It’s no longer acceptable to say that the abuse and mistreatment of women is cultural. It should be called what it is: criminal."

Clinton traveled to rainy Arkansas last Saturday, without his wife, to dedicate his birthplace and tell a few hundred supporters that he still believed in a place called Hope, the town he lived in for the first four years of his life. But he’s a broken man. All that hooey in his State of the Union address just two months ago? Vaporized. His plan to "reform" Medicare through partial privatization has been scuttled, leaving an ally, Sen. John Breaux, who was slated to shepherd the President’s idea through Congress, double-crossed.

Clinton, with nowhere else to turn for support, has taken refuge with the Maxine Waters/Teddy Kennedy wing of the party, abandoning all pretenses of the "Third Way" politics that was intended to highlight his second term. In his Wall Street Journal column last Friday, Paul Gigot wrote about Sen. Breaux: "Mr. Breaux, ever a team player, keeps calling Mr. Clinton on the phone and holds out hope the president will come around. But he’s the last piano player in this brothel. I asked the senator if he felt used by the president on this.

‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘But I’m no virgin.’ As everyone knows by now, neither is Bill Clinton."

Back to the presidential race. Al Gore has enough problems just being associated with Clinton without making his own blunders. Still, in a CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer on March 9, Gore claimed that he invented the Internet, a gaffe that’s far worse than any Dan Quayle ever committed. Gore told Blitzer: "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet."

Herr Blunder?
As Associated Press reporter Michelle Mittelstadt notes, "The Internet, originally called ARPANET, dates to 1969, when the Defense Department began funding the project. Gore, then 21, was still eight years away from joining Congress." A few days later, taking advantage of Gore’s fantastic fib, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott issued a press release saying that he created, while in the House, the paper clip.

Ever the patrician, even when he affects Baptist preacher cadences while speaking before black audiences, Gore made another goof last week when he announced "a major new federal effort" to help commuters. According to The National Review, Gore said, "A parent should not have to be saying good morning or good night to their child from a cell phone because they’re stuck in traffic."

One might reasonably assume that a large percentage of Gore’s political base isn’t in possession of cell phones. The Review’s John Miller and Ramesh Ponnuru write: "If [Gore] were an actual commuter, of course, he would know that almost every radio station in America provides local traffic updates with annoying frequency. But that’s probably not apparent when your limousine’s cassette deck plays whale noises all the time."

Gore’s only upside in his quest for the presidency is that his lone challenger, Bill Bradley, is such a stiff. Campaigning in Missouri last week, Bradley came up with this rhetorical stunner: "You’ve got to have a nominee who can win. I think I can win."

The Vice President has so much money locked up at this date that it’s unlikely another candidate will enter the primaries; still, with the rapid disintegration of Clinton’s administration, you know that yellow-bellies like Bob Kerrey, John Kerry and Dick Gephardt are kicking themselves for not challenging the hapless Gore.

As for Gov. George W. Bush, his coronation as the GOP nominee continues without interruption, despite jabs from the liberal mainstream press. There was an extraordinary statistic in the March 29 issue of Fortune, which featured Bush on its cover with the subhead "George W. is the GOP’s best hope for 2000." A poll of 106 CEOs in early March gave Bush 68 percent of the vote; Elizabeth Dole trailed at 8 percent and Steve Forbes attracted the support of just 3 percent.

This is significant in that it shows Forbes, despite his wealth, is essentially a nonstarter in the campaign. Sure, he’ll enter the primaries, but he won’t have even the limited success he did in ’96 when he was up against a much weaker field. Back then, the front-runner was the elderly, lackluster Bob Dole, with Pitchfork Pat Buchanan lobbing populist grenades from the sidelines. Forbes, despite his geeky looks, was a fresh contender with a bold economic plan. This year, Bush can almost match him dollar for dollar, has the support of the GOP establishment and doesn’t even have to pander to the religious right.

As Fred Barnes writes in the March 22 Weekly Standard, Bush is comfortable at church gatherings and has even given sermons before crowds of up to 10,000, thus neutralizing nuisances like Gary Bauer and Dan Quayle. Barnes, like Bush, is a born-again Christian, so it’s no surprise that he shows particular interest in the Texas governor; in fact his piece, "The Gospel According to George W. Bush," is one of the longest the usually succinct Barnes has published in the conservative journal. He writes: "Religion is also an important political tool for Bush. His evangelical Christianity gives him a solid credential as a social conservative... Fervently expressed, his faith serves as a proxy for other social-conservative positions. It may spare him the need to endorse all of them specifically, including opposition to homosexual rights." It also gives him a bye on abortion: While pro-life, Bush argues that the country hasn’t decided to ban the procedure, and he’ll abide by Roe v. Wade.

But even Democrats are ready to join forces with Bush. Chris Matthews, the Hardball host who’s been relentless this past year in his criticism of Clinton’s moral depravity, is nevertheless a traditional Democrat who once worked for both Tip O’Neill and Jimmy Carter. Yet, in a March 11 column for the San Francisco Examiner, he holds out no hope for Gore: "President Clinton can offset his misconduct and cover-up with a gung-ho economy and booming stock market. Gore, standing as Clinton’s staunchest defender, has nothing—and no one—to defend himself with as the president’s mess slops over onto his close political family."

About Bush, Matthews enthuses: "He has a rugged ‘past’ to which he often alludes, but he has given up the booze that played such a part in it. If there’s better evidence of self-control and maturity, I don’t know of it."

The inevitability of Bush’s nomination—barring the revelation of a scandal of Clintonesque proportions—has clearly frustrated what’s left of the Democratic faithful. Joe Conason wrote in The New York Observer last week that it just wouldn’t be fair if the press didn’t fully investigate Bush’s business ventures in the 80s, but that’s not likely to turn up much damaging dirt. And count on The New York Times, which crucified his father in the ’92 campaign, and Washington Post to try to torpedo the Bush machine, as well as The New Republic and the usual corps of partisans like Margaret Carlson, Eleanor Clift and Lars-Erik Nelson.

In Michael Kinsley’s online zine Slate, William Saletan whined on March 11 that Bush’s well-orchestrated campaign, even while he’s ostensibly still presiding over the Texas legislature, isn’t fair to the other GOP candidates. Incredibly, Saletan writes: "Moreover, the longer he postpones his candidacy, the longer he deprives his rivals of a target, thereby starving them to death. For these reasons, Bush is claiming immunity to policy questions. And he’s getting away with it..."

Hey, tough luck, Bill, that’s politics.

I’ll Take 84

I WAS WAITING FOR THE ELEVATOR at 333 last Monday—at lunchtime in our building that’s a 10-minute ordeal—when two young women from WEVD (or visitors to the radio station) began speaking about the death of Joe DiMaggio.

“It’s such a tragedy,” said one, who couldn’t have been even 30 years old. Her friend just nodded, and countered—I swear this is true—“Yeah, the good, they die young.” What! Joe D. was 84 when he passed away and had a long, rich life filled with blessings, most of his own making.

The blather in the media started immediately after the announcement of his death: He was the last American hero, the embodiment of grace, a man of style and breathtaking class. The most frequent expression was his beatific silence and refusal to cede his privacy as most celebrities willingly do.

Bravo to the Yankee Clipper for never appearing on Oprah or Don Imus, but did anyone ever consider: Maybe the man had nothing to say? After all, if not for his extraordinary athletic ability, his passing would be mourned only by his family (not that he was a superstar in that department). As for me, I was too young to see DiMaggio play, but I did think it was very cool that he always wore suits, even when being honored at Yankee Stadium.

Mike Lupica, a sportswriter for the Daily News whose best days are long behind him, rose to the occasion on March 10 with a column that simply obliterated Rudy Giuliani and his childlike obsession with the Yankees.

Joe D.
Lupica writes that DiMaggio will soon take his place in Yankee Stadium with a monument next to other fallen Bomber stars like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Miller Huggins and Mickey Mantle. He writes: “You honor DiMaggio there, not with some shabby stretch of highway on the West Side of Manhattan... Only politicians like Rudolph Giuliani and George Pataki somehow think you celebrate the elegance of DiMaggio, the cool breeze he was as a ballplayer, with traffic.”

Lupica, clearly and understandably disgusted with our showboating mayor, deftly skewers Giuliani: “‘He was very excited about the idea of the West Side Highway being named after him,’ Giuliani said about nine different ways yesterday... ‘I love Joe DiMaggio. I knew him very well.’”

The Economist, in its March 13 issue, was rather silly in its eulogy of the late baseball star, saying, “More perhaps than anyone else, he lifted the spirits of Americans after the Depression with a dignity and class rare in sportsmen.” Please. What “lifted the spirits of Americans” after the Depression was a combination of jobs, sheer relief and then a cause, World War II, that united most of the country. Besides, this was before tv, so most sports fans never had the opportunity to see DiMaggio play (baseball teams still hadn’t really migrated to the West). FDR and Eisenhower were the most admired men of their era.

Sheryl McCarthy, in a March 12 Newsday column, summed up the hyperbole over DiMaggio’s passing, and the adulation of sports figures, with superb concision: “[L]et’s get a grip. We’re talking about men who play games for a living. They throw balls, hit them, toss them in a basket, and run around in circles. If they happen to do these things better than the rest of us, they are still real people and not saints.”

The songwriter and performer Paul Simon, who immortalized DiMaggio in “Mrs. Robinson” a generation ago, wrote a somewhat self-aggrandizing essay in The New York Times on March 9. Simon quotes his famous lyrics, echoes the sentiments of others about DiMaggio’s grace, dignity and, oddly, “his fidelity to the memory of his wife.” I always thought it was a little weird that DiMaggio, who was married to Marilyn Monroe for a short, stormy period, still sent roses to her grave every week after her suicide. (Kennedy conspiracists, hold your thoughts, and wait at least a month before writing in with theories about the CIA knocking her off.)

The question of heroes is a personal one. I happen to canonize my father and brothers, but beyond that it’s tricky. In 1968, I certainly thought Gene McCarthy had heroic qualities, and there’s no doubt that Martin Luther King Jr. dwarfs a mere ballplayer like DiMaggio in still stirring the hearts of American citizens. Journalists, mostly boomers, are fond of saying, “Where have all the heroes gone?” Usually, they’re right under your noses. Dorothy Rabinowitz is a heroine for her journalistic work; some would argue Bill Gates or Walt Disney falls into the same category; and despite his quirks, I’ll always believe that Jerry Brown has heroic impulses. But Michael Jordan, Mark McGwire or Elizabeth Taylor? I don’t think so.

I asked my second oldest brother for his thoughts on DiMaggio’s passing.

Brother MUGGER: You asked if I ever saw Joe D. play live at the Stadium and, if not, would I recall a few personal baseball highpoints from the early 50s. Unfortunately I only saw Joe on the tube, probably for just a few at-bats. The Clipper, of course, bowed out in ’51 and I didn’t really come of true baseball age until the ’52 season (although my initial consciousness of major league ball occurred in ’49 concurrent with our first home tv and when the Yanks won the Series—thus convincing this impressionable five-year-old that the Yankees were my team...lucky timing).

It’s funny how virtual contemporaries of DiMaggio like the Scooter, Johnny Mize, Enos “Country” Slaughter, Warren Spahn, certainly the “Splendid Splinter” and Stan the Man all made more of an impression because they stayed a few additional seasons into the 50s, just as I was coming into my formative fan years.

By his final year Joe’s talent had descended to the somewhat ordinary and he didn’t play all the time. While I was conscious of people talking in a reverential way about him in his final year to me, it was because he was basically dying; I just didn’t comprehend the difference between retiring and death back then—and probably don’t fully grasp the full difference today. I didn’t understand that the reverence had to do with what he had accomplished in baseball and how he carried himself.

But if there was an excess of talk about class and grace and fluid athleticism it went over my head. Frankly, I never thought much about Joe again for quite some time, lumping him with Ruth, Gehrig and all the recent dead legends who may as well have played with Shoeless Joe Jackson and Honus Wagner. An event in 1979 changed that.

I was working in downtown San Francisco and one spring morning while walking up Post St. near Union Square I couldn’t help notice a guy walking toward me. He was a distinguished older fellow, erect in posture, moving with the surety and relaxed manner of an ex-jock, dressed in a snappy polo shirt and slacks. Clearly he was “someone.”

Just as we almost came abreast he turned to his left and opened the door of his parked car. The open-topped pink convertible was somehow appropriate for this stranger but not a car of choice that many could pull off. Then it hit me...Joltin’ Joe. At age 64 Joe had all the star power people had always talked about. Suddenly Joe had risen from the dead for me and I’ve thought about the moment often over the years, especially when singing along with the “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” verse of “Mrs. Robinson.”

So what were some of my concrete memories from the early 50s that turned me into a lifelong baseball romantic? A few:

•Being at Ebbets Field in ’52 with Elder Brother and Uncle Pete and seeing Jackie Robinson steal home against the sad sack Pirates. Viewing Robinson from the stands commanded your attention just as Jordan or Magic Johnson did in basketball. He was always moving, a disruption or force that required all the other team’s attention.

•Watching on television as Willie Mays made “The Catch” off Vic Wertz in the ’54 Series, then spun and threw, all in one move. Everyone has seen the kinescope-type film replay; seeing it in real time made it indelible.

•Sitting in the right field stands with Dad and Elder Brother at the Polo Grounds one hot August afternoon in ’53. Carl Furillo, leading the league in batting, was hit by a pitch by Sal “The Barber” Maglie. Leo Durocher, manager for the Giants, taunted Furillo at first base from the dugout, apparently suggesting he had ordered the hit on Furillo.

Suddenly Furillo ran straight for Durocher and Leo charged out and met him half-way between first and the dugout. The Dodgers’ and Giants’ dugouts emptied and players ran in from the outfield bullpens and a massive brawl was on. When order was restored it was found Furillo had injured himself and would be out for the season. A nice day’s work by Leo & Company.

•Suffering the demythologizing of my hero and very best player, Phil Rizzuto, in early summer of ’54. I was nine years old and a nonspeaking guest on Channel 11’s Jimmy Powers Sports Show. Scooter was to be the main sports guest and I was ecstatic in anticipation of meeting my favorite player. When Rizzuto showed up at the set he changed into his famous Yankee shirt with number 10 and his cap, but because he was behind a counter he did not have to change out of his suit pants and dress shoes. No one in the television audience saw this but I witnessed the fraud straight on and it shattered me. I still hold a minor grudge against the Scooter today.

•Running with the schoolyard mobs at West End Ave. Elementary School in North Plainfield, NJ in ’52 and ’53 when swarms of pro-Yankee and pro-Dodger groups would taunt each other and occasionally come to blows. I was a burgeoning Yankee fan, the fortunate side given the usual respective mob sizes, and would always marvel at the bravery and foolhardiness of Elder Brother, two years ahead, who perversely relished the underdog role of defending the Dodgers even if he was an Indians fan at heart.

JWR contributing columnist Russ Smith --- AKA "MUGGER --- is the editor-in-chief and publisher of New York Press. Send your comments on this article by clicking here.


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10/23/98: Speaking from Zabar’s: Michael Moore!
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10/16/98: Gore for President: The Bread Lines Are Starting to Form

©1999, Russ Smith