Jewish World Review March 18, 2002/ 5 Nisan 5762


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Consumer Reports

Rare Bush stumble | What was with President Bush's baloney about his gratification that a "stimulus" bill was finally agreed upon in Congress? I suppose this was a nod to bipartisanship, but just like the ballyhooed education legislation, the President got taken to the cleaners on this wholly unnecessary measure. The tax incentives, intended to gin up the economy's turnaround, are minuscule; the extended unemployment benefits-which will retard the path to a more fully employed America-a terrific plum for Democratic House candidates to display in their districts.

I'm not a deficit hawk, but this bill will only fuel Sen. Tom Daschle's squawks about a vanished surplus, the raid upon that sacred Social Security "lockbox" and every other economic scare tactic he can muster, especially with older citizens, for the midterm elections.

That is, if Daschle can get it together.

The Senate's Majority Leader, once touted as a soft-spoken man with a terrible swift sword, has been all over the map, so to speak, in trying to gain traction for his party. Unlike born-in-a-manger Ted Kennedy, who called upon Bush to ditch upcoming tax cuts, Daschle gave a mealy-mouthed address in January that didn't say...well, much of anything, aside Democrats-good, Republicans-bad. Recently he questioned whether the administration had an "exit strategy" from Afghanistan-a dumb move since Bush has made it clear from Sept. 11 that the war could take years to finish-and, in glaring contrast to presidential competitor Joe Lieberman, appeared timid about toppling Saddam Hussein's regime. A week later, as U.S. soldiers were killed fighting in Gardez, Daschle reversed course and issued a proclamation of support for the military campaign.

In the meantime, the campaign demagoguery the Democrats had hoped to use in the fall is suddenly disappearing. The Enron financial scandal isn't registering with the public; the economy is improving more rapidly than anticipated; Republicans are polling stronger than Democrats as the party better equipped to handle both international and domestic concerns; and Bush's popularity has yet to erode significantly. In fact, on Monday two polls, conducted by The Washington Post/ABC and USA Today/CNN/Gallup, were released showing Bush's approval rating at 82 and 80 percent, respectively.


There was a lot of hoopla in the Democratic National Committee-sponsored press-The New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times-that Bush, and especially his strategist Karl Rove, emerged with black eyes after Bill Simon upset Dick Riordan in California's gubernatorial GOP primary last week. Rove had encouraged Riordan to run, figuring the moderate former L.A. mayor would have the best chance at defeating the unpopular incumbent Gray Davis. Riordan performed miserably on the stump and in debates; was pilloried by a $10 million TV blitz by Davis; and alienated the conservatives who actually vote in primaries. Big deal. When Bush campaigns for Simon-admittedly the underdog-no one but reporters will remember that the White House at first preferred Riordan.

Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory, writing on March 7, gave a typically myopic assessment of Riordan's implosion. In a piece headlined "Rove's Embarrassment," she said: "The stunning results do some damage to Rove's congressional strategy, which was to make the November elections a referendum on George Bush's war leadership." That Riordan was attempting to become a governor, not a member of Congress, is lost on the JFK-era pundit. In addition, she wrote: "The political director of the Democratic State Committee of California, Bob Mulholland, was exulting the morning after: 'This was a train wreck for the White House political strategy, and Bush's coattails are in shreds.'"

Maybe so, but I wouldn't bet a nickel on either party making substantial gains this November.

The GOP can only hope that Daschle, a longshot at best, is the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, although Dick Gephardt, Al Gore or John Edwards would, at this date at least, also appear to reprise Fritz Mondale's race against Ronald Reagan in '84. Pre-Sept. 11, I thought Edwards was the strongest candidate, mostly because he's young and, more importantly, from a Bush base state, North Carolina. However, Edwards has performed like a political amateur in the past six months, appearing on far too many talk shows, smearing Pickering to burnish his liberal credentials for the 2004 primaries and showing up for any and every photo-op with Democratic colleagues. (As well as McCain, it goes without saying.) It's true that Bush hadn't even served two full terms as Texas' governor when he ran for president-just as Edwards is in the middle of his first stint as an elected official-but he'd had ample political experience during his father's presidency.

A more serious problem for the Democrats in the next two years is that Americans-even New Yorkers-admire Bush and remain committed to the multifaceted war, including the upcoming (probably this fall) siege of Baghdad. Last week in St. Petersburg, FL, before a fundraiser for his brother Jeb, Bush spoke about the recent casualties in Afghanistan. Choking up, the President said to the crowd: "We've got the mom and dad of a brave soldier who lost his life, and a brother. G-d bless you. I know your heart aches, and we ache for you. But your son and brother died for a noble and just cause."

Bush isn't much of an actor, and it's unrehearsed moments like these that demonstrate his resolve and sincerity. A far cry from when Bill Clinton, at a memorial service for Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, was captured on camera yukking it up with a colleague. When Clinton discovered he was being filmed, he immediately donned his funeral mask.

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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