Jewish World Review May 7, 2002/ 26 Iyar 5762


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Wait til October | Here's an idea for the mainstream press: Why not throw a knuckleball from now until Labor Day and replace every political pundit with a film critic? There's no downside, since the majority of op-ed columns, editorials or "news" articles I've seen about the midterm elections-not to mention the 2004 presidential campaign-offer not a clue about the makeup of next year's Congress. (Nicholas Lemann's shameless puff of Sen. John Edwards in the May 8 New Yorker was the worst of the lot: in his rush to claim the dubious distinction of anointing a Democratic nominee, as Sidney Blumenthal and Joe Klein did with Bill Clinton in '92, Lemann ignores the freshman Senator's growing list of liabilities in running against a wartime president.)

I'd rather read The New York Times' Elvis Mitchell or The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern on Sen. Paul Wellstone's reelection bid in Minnesota, say, or the possibility of Elizabeth Dole flaming out in North Carolina, than the phoned-in 1000-word pieces from David Broder, George Will, Michael Barone or Richard Berke.

Who can tell whether California's detestable Gov. Gray Davis can overcome high unfavorability numbers, as well as a budding scandal involving Oracle Corp., in defending the seat against his conservative, pro-life opponent Bill Simon by repeating one word for the next six months: abortion. Even in Maryland, a Democratic monolith, polls showing Kathleen Kennedy Townsend comfortably ahead of GOP Rep. Bob Ehrlich are meaningless. Odds are that Bobby's eldest child will prevail, given her name and nationwide fundraising ability, but she's prone to gaffes and not particularly bright.

Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg, writing in the May 6 Roll Call, brings up a point that few in his trade have touched: the impact that the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks will have not only on the general elections but numerous state primaries held at that exact time. As Rothenberg says, the media will saturate both print and tv with lavish, flag-waving retrospectives, making mere campaigns seem grubby by comparison.

Berke, in his role as a compliant foot soldier for The New York Times' agenda, argues in a May 6 article that President Bush's still-high poll numbers won't have much effect on local elections. As an example, he writes: "Republicans still shake their heads over what happened to President Ronald Reagan in the midterm elections of 1986. In a frenzy of campaigning in nine states over seven days-as well as in commercials-Mr. Reagan appealed to voters, saying that voting for Senate Republicans would be their last chance to vote for him. His candidates lost in every case but one."

That's a fatuous comparison. The world of 1986 doesn't remotely resemble that of 2002; in addition, while the elections aren't necessarily a referendum on Bush's presidential performance, his ability to raise money for Republican candidates can't be underestimated.

Also on Monday, a Times editorial, titled "Mumbling Toward November," was an even more blatant blueprint for the Democrats than usual, barely disguising the paper's hope that the economy won't recover anytime soon. An excerpt: "Since the most competitive races are in places that are still struggling economically, Democrats should be pushing harder for more spending on education and a prescription drug program for the elderly that is more generous than the unrealistic Republican plan. They need to make a bigger issue of the environment, including the administration's shaky stewardship of public lands. They also need to be more forthright about the centerpiece of Mr. Bush's economic policies, namely, the tax cut...

Sulzberger Jr.

"But most of all the party has to do more to level with voters and tell them that Social Security, Medicare and other domestic priorities-not to mention the defense and homeland security buildup-cannot be paid for with borrowed money. Americans are ready to meet their responsibilities in these areas and realize that if the needs are important, revenues will have to be found."

It gives me goosebumps when the Times braintrust, surrounded by yes-men in its well-appointed Manhattan offices, speaks for the country's citizens, as if publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. or editor Howell Raines could possibly identify with people in Arizona, South Carolina, Michigan or Kansas.

Not that Mitchell or Morgenstern would prove more adept at handicapping the November results than the Permanent Government Beltway studs, but at least they might relieve the tedium about a subject that no one, in this most volatile year in American history in decades, can write about without looking like a fool even a month later. It's a plain fact that in 2002 there are no precedents to cite, no way to divine whether the fall contests, which are crucial to both the GOP and Democrats given the near-parity in the House and Senate, will be a wash or a blowout for one of the parties.


I rarely agree with Weekly Standard senior editor David Brooks-his adoption of Bill Kristol's John McCain fetish is just one indication of the prolific writer's kiss-up tendencies-but his Standard website piece of May 3, "Foreign Policy Is King," was one of the best current analyses of the midterm elections. Brooks said, in debunking the Democratic hope that domestic issues will dominate in November: "[I]t has been seven months and foreign policy is still front and center. And we haven't even gone to war with Iraq yet... Foreign policy is really interesting these days. It's not all trade deals and economics, the way we thought it was becoming in the 1990s. It is about fundamental moral and political values. Fundamental clashes of ideas, not only between us and the Islamists, but between us and the Europeans and the Chinese. We really are different from other people around the globe, and those differences are the stuff of conflict and passion."

Small wonder, then, that both the Senate and House passed perfunctory resolutions last week in support of Israel. Never mind that such transparent political grandstanding might interfere with Bush's complicated Middle East negotiations; almost every elected official in the United States wants to establish his or her bona-fides on behalf of Ariel Sharon. Not that I disagree with the sentiment: the U.S. has the responsibility of supporting our democratic ally in that region and ought to seek the eventual expulsion of murderer Yasir Arafat. But the spectacle of congressmen from both parties choosing photo-ops over caution only leads to increased cynicism, if that's possible, about their motives.

Finally, leave it to The Nation to intentionally publish anti-Bush propaganda even when they have no facts to back it up. In a May 13 editorial, the fringe-left weekly said: "The ineffable good luck of George W. Bush seems to be faltering at last. The man became President by an electoral accident that resembled theft... Recent events, especially the terrible bloodshed in the Middle East, have uncovered the original truth widely understood about Bush's stature. Underneath the cowboy lingo, the man is light in substance, weak on strategy and quite willing to cut and run from principled position if he feels a chill wind from politics... Bush made a reluctant foray, then meekly retreated before Sharon's belligerence, hailing him as 'a man of peace' while the UN envoy described Sharon's accomplishments in the West Bank as 'horrific and shocking beyond belief.'"

Hey, why not just name the morally bankrupt Kofi Annan as president of the entire world!

This line is particularly misleading, suggesting that the affluent, white owners and editors of The Nation might want to read publications other than their own: "Domestically, as his inflated poll ratings shrink like an over-valued tech stock, Bush's presidency is naturally altered."

A New York Times/CBS poll published on May 3 showed Bush has a 73-percent approval rating, as well as 60 percent agreeing with his handling of the Middle East crisis.

A May 2 USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll puts Bush at 77 percent approval; in addition, 70 percent of those surveyed said that the President deserves to be reelected.

Even in California, where Al Gore creamed Bush in 2000, a Field poll conducted in late April shows that in a hypothetical 2004 rematch, Bush would defeat Gore by a margin of 48-41 percent.

Call Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel at 212-209-5400 and ask her what "over-valued tech stock" she had in mind. Right now, it looks like a blue-chip to me.

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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