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Jewish World Review May 5, 2000/ 1 Iyar, 5760


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Bush, finally, takes on sacred cow -- FORTUNATELY, Bill Clinton can't run for a third term. It seems impossible, given his paucity of achievements and scandal-ridden administration, but he'd be an infinitely more formidable candidate than Al Gore. George W. Bush has several advantages that his father and Bob Dole didn't. One, take the punditocracy myth that this year's GOP primary battle so scarred Bush that it left him in bad shape for the general election. In reality, the ugliness lasted only about six weeks and it made Bush a better candidate.

Because of his unparalleled fundraising ability, and the early endorsements of so many elected Republican officials, Bush was lazy and didn't prepare for the early debates. He was arrogant and poorly prepared. His garbled syntax provided funny copy for word-processors who were biased against him. And then there was the John McCain phenomenon, which allowed Gore to pummel Bradley while no one was watching, and forced Bush to deplete his stacks of cash. Until his drubbing in New Hampshire, the overconfident Bush ran a gentleman's campaign, devoid of much content. Ultimately, McCain self-destructed, and even the media's disgraceful infatuation with him couldn't save the day. Still, his appearance at Bob Jones University, a dumb mistake, was exaggerated; his hardball tactics in South Carolina, certainly equaled by McCain in Michigan, were magnified to the extent that dumb reporters claimed that Bush had, in the words of hundreds, won the battle but perhaps lost the war.

It's now May and McCain said on last Sunday's Face the Nation that he'll endorse Bush, with almost no strings attached. Not to be churlish, but the Arizona senator's "victory lap" is growing more tedious by the day, especially since it was my understanding that in order to take a "victory lap," you first had to win. His Fourth Estate retinue on the NBC-funded junket to Vietnam was stomach-turning. One can forgive Salon's young Jake Tapper, whose devoted sycophancy to McCain can be ascribed either to simple naivete or a desire to write a book about his mentor's brief campaign.

But one would expect less hero worship from Newsweek's Howard Fineman, who's covered more than one presidential race. In his May 8 dispatch, Fineman reports on the "feud" between the McCain and Bush camps over the Governor's strictly-for-appearances statement that he'd consider the former POW for his runningmate. Of course that'll never happen. McCain, contrary to starry-eyed magazine and newspaper writers, can't compare to Pennsylvania's governor Tom Ridge as a number two. Fineman must've been shocked to find out on Sunday that not only would McCain endorse Bush-which wasn't expected-but also wouldn't press his First Amendment-busting campaign finance reform issue.

McCain caught self-destructing
The Bob Jones flap, which desperate Democrats bragged would be Bush's undoing in the fall, is barely remembered, and won't compare to Gore's Buddhist nun brunch or steadfast loyalty to an impeached president. And while Gore attacks Bush's record in Texas, the Governor is chugging along, introducing new proposals every week, presenting Texan Democrats who attest to his bipartisan approach to government, and raising even more money. Instead of presenting a unique vision of what his presidency would offer Americans, Gore carps about Bush and repeats the same old liberal ideas about taxes, foreign policy, the surplus and Social Security.

And this is where Bush has, finally, taken on a sacred cow that no Republican since Barry Goldwater has dared touch. Within the next month, Bush aides say, their candidate will unveil an overhaul of the Social Security entitlement, advocating the privatization of approximately 2 percent of the 12.4 percent payroll taxes that currently fund SS. According to Gore, this is one more "risky" scheme that Bush has up his sleeve; "casino economics," he calls it.

In fact, the centerpiece of the Vice President's economic platform is the elimination of the country's debt, a goal that he claims would keep Social Security in the black until the year 2050. Think about that. How in the world can Gore, or any of the Democratic sheep, bleat out rhetoric about the year 2050, when almost all of them will be dead? We have no idea what problems will face the United States 50 years from now; it's a scam to scare voters by confusing them with numbers.

History is on Bush's side. As The Wall Street Journal's Paul Gigot, among others, has pointed out, the "investor class" in this country has grown dramatically in the past 20 years. When Ronald Reagan took office in '81, just 16 percent of citizens had a stake in the stock market.

Today, about 50 percent do, a number that will only increase in years to come. Bill Clinton famously claimed several years ago that the era of Big Government was over, but that was simply a poll-tested flourish to curry favor with voters; he forgot about it the next day.

Gigot's colleague Gerald Seib, a political centrist, applauded the Bush plan in his April 26 column. After describing the political disadvantages that the GOP candidate faces, the inevitable hoots from labor leaders and special-interest groups, Seib makes a point that sensible Democrats will have a difficult time attacking. He writes: "Yet there also are excellent reasons to talk about Social Security. Good times now aren't enough to hold back the demographic tidal wave still rolling toward the system. To deal with that reality, two quite different approaches are emerging from the two presidential contenders. In brief, Mr. Bush is willing to run the risk of changing the system, and Vice President Al Gore is willing to run the risk of not changing the system. Far better to argue this out now, rather than in a time of economic distress. Which is what Mr. Bush, as the Republican standard-bearer, intends to do."

Karl Rove, Bush's chief strategist, can be justly accused of many mistakes in the campaign so far: relying on an almost all-Austin team, dismissing outside opinion from experienced Republican analysts, is just one of them. But Rove's right on the button when he told Gigot last week: "Throw out the old paradigm. The way you win now is to take risks. People want more than anything else to elect a leader. Candidates who are cautious lose."

And Al Gore, who's in such an identity crisis that he's been criticized by sympathetic journalists like Joe Conason and Jacob Weisberg, better wake up soon from his Rip van Winkle snooze and realize that the calendar says 2000, not 1950.

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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