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Jewish World Review April 24, 2000/ 19 Nissan, 5760


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Don't Look Back: Gore and Hillary Make Their Own Mistakes -- THERE ARE TWO MYTHS taken as gospel by an alarming chunk of the mainstream Beltway media: one, the 2000 presidential race is a rerun of 1988's; and the Hillary Clinton-Rudy Giuliani undercard is strikingly similar to the New York 1964 Senate campaign.

These comparisons, made every week by this CNN guest pundit or that Hardball foil for Chris Matthews, are examples of very lazy thinking. Yes, it's true that in 1988 an incumbent vice president competed for the White House against the governor of a populous state; and it's also accurate that the governor, before the national conventions, held a lead against the Bush who was sitting veep.

But that's where it ends. In 1988, Vice President George Bush was running, in absentia, for the third term of Ronald Reagan, one of the 20th century's most popular presidents. Bush wasn't a showboat as Reagan's second in command, but he slashed Sen. Bob Dole in the primaries, stared down Dan Rather in a memorable CBS interview and erased his media-driven image as a "wimp."(That Bush, simply because= hewas a patrician, was ever labeled a wimp is laughable; he was a star athlete and a World War II hero.)

Unlike Bush, who at least was acknowledged as a dignified and loyal family man, Al Gore is the foremost example today of an oily politician whom historians will study 100 years from now and ask, "Why was this person so reckless and willing to trade his principles for votes?"But far more significantly, he's sprinting across the mine-strewn path Bill Clinton has left across the country, and can't escape the Arkansan's shadow. Not only has Gore engaged in illegal fundraising practices, and exploited his family for sympathetic hugs at both the '92 and '96 conventions, as if they were Baptist revivals, but he was understudy to a president who might be indicted the day he leaves office. And Gore, until this year, was exuberant in his support of Clinton, even when he himself was lied to. Talk about wimps.

In 1988, you never heard the phrase "Reagan Fatigue."

Nevertheless, in the April 24 Time, reporters James Carney and John F. Dickerson wrote the same paint-by-numbers "George W. Bush Is Running for the Center"story that you've seen about 50 times in the past two weeks, adding nothing to the mix. Yes, the post-primary Bush, shed of his McCain albatross, is tilting leftward on issues like the environment and health care, just like a smart Republican should if he doesn't want to end up like Bob Dole. That's why the Texas Governor was anointed in the first place: he had a brand name, access to money and the ability to pull off his "compassionate conservatism"shtick.

Dukakis having fun
Carney and Dickerson must've been late for happy hour as deadline approached, since their concluding paragraph is one long cliche. They write: "Gore has another campaign he plans to copy. His strategists like to cite the last time an incumbent Vice President ran against a Governor who touted his record as a new kind of moderate from a party with an extreme past. That Vice President came from behind, ran a cynical, negative campaign and crushed his opponent. It was 1988. The defeated Governor was Michael Dukakis. The victorious Vice President? George Bush.

And that's the rest of the story! Who knew Paul Harvey was so popular among the word-processing Young Turks at Time.

By the way, don't believe all the recent malarkey about Bush leaning toward McCain as a runningmate. It's a smart move to feed that fantasy to gullible -- and still pining -- media "Straight Talkers,"but there's nothing to it. McCain does little for the ticket. Bush has Arizona in the bag; McCain's an egomaniac who'd try to hog the spotlight; a loose cannon who might tell a joke about spics while the Governor is tilling for the Hispanic vote; and he's got a walk-in closet full of skeletons.

I don't mean to pile on Honest John, but let's be realistic: he doesn't want a second-banana role, and would be much happier as secretary of defense. And what was his trip to South Carolina last Wednesday all about? He couldn't have apologized for his stance on the Confederate flag from Washington? Of course not; it wouldn't attract the attention he desired. I'm wondering if the next stop on his Humility Tour will be Michigan, where he approved (but denied until after the primary was over) a smear phone campaign against Bush that claimed his rival was anti-Catholic.

The New York analogy to 1964, promoted by Hillary Clinton supporters and media enablers, doesn't hold up either. If you try to justify this theory, the cupboard is almost bare. In both 2000 and 1964, an out-of-state, nationally prominent Democrat swooped into New York to claim a Senate seat. That's it. Here are the crucial differences: Bobby Kennedy had at least a passing knowledge of New York since he spent time here as a child; he was running against an incumbent Republican, Kenneth Keating, rather than for an open Democratic seat; and, most significantly, JFK had been assassinated not even a year before Election Day. Maybe Hillary picks up a few votes because of the "victim factor," but a scoundrel and crook for a husband doesn't compare to a martyred president as a brother. And unlike Hillary, Kennedy actually had intense government experience, as attorney general and de facto vice president.

Still, Kennedy didn't win easily and had to humble himself to ask for Lyndon Johnson's help in the campaign. In the end, it was LBJ's landslide defeat of Barry Goldwater that contributed heavily to Kennedy's slender 6-5 margin of victory over Keating.

Believe any poll you want, but this contest is Rudy Giuliani's to lose.

Odd as it seems, and as ubiquitous as she'll be until November, soiling the ground of far too many New York towns and cities, Hillary isn't the main player in this election. I exaggerate only slightly, for while the "right-wing venom"machine will be geared up against her, as Bill Clinton says, she has so little experience as an actual candidate, speaking only in broad platitudes, that ultimately it'll come down to whether or not voters can stand to vote for Giuliani. The Mayor's a creep, no argument there, but when people pull the lever in November they'll weigh his record (brought New York City back to civilization) against hers (an unindicted coconspirator in the most unethical administration since Nixon's) and the GOP gains a seat in the Senate.

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