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Jewish World Review May 18, 2001/ 25 Iyar, 5761


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If I were them... -- THE Democrats happen to have an earnest, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington leader in their midst-Sen. Russell Feingold-but he's still in the doghouse for adhering to his principles and voting to confirm Attorney General John Ashcroft despite vehemently opposing the former senator's hard-right conservatism. Feingold, unlike his partner on campaign finance reform, John McCain, really is that rare honest politician who's as likely to be upended by scandal as Laura Bush. That Feingold, whose liberal dogma is passionate and articulate, isn't given a starring role as the voice of the minority party is one reason the Democrats appear so bedraggled.

It's entirely possible that Bush will suffer congressional losses next year-a sputtering economy, the energy crisis or some foreign policy mishap could all contribute to a major defeat-but it won't be on account of the Democrats offering a sober alternative. The threatened block on judicial nominees-which Bush shrewdly derailed by nominating a first group of 11 men and women, who are mostly conservative, but included a couple of liberals and minorities-is dumb and simply reminds not only the right-wing, but Republicans in general, of the repugnant smears against Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas and Ashcroft.

Now, Theodore Olson might be denied the position of solicitor general because of his tangential association with The American Spectator and its relentless (and over-the-top, in my opinion) demonization of Bill Clinton. Democrats can take succor in Thomas Edsall's inconclusive Washington Post article of May 10, which relied substantially on disaffected Spectator staff writer David Brock for evidence against Olson. As The Wall Street Journal editorialized last Friday, "The 'Arkansas Project' was an exercise of The American Spectator's First Amendment rights, something much of the major media seems to think applies only to itself."

But back to Peter Beinart, who's clueless when it comes to describing conservatives. He writes about Norquist: "His real job is to host a meeting every Wednesday that brings together every species of conservative-gun nuts, home schoolers, anti-environmentalists, capital gains tax cutters-to plot strategy." This naive characterization of millions of Americans is an inexcusable blind spot for the editor of a well-read, if small-circulation, political weekly. Gun nuts? This is the elite Beltway idea of anyone who owns a gun and doesn't want his constitutional rights taken away by a DC/Manhattan/Hollywood cabal of alleged intellectuals who really do believe they know what's best for the country's citizens.

Anti-environmentalists? Home schoolers? Capital gains tax cutters? I'm surprised Beinart didn't add to his insect-like list of conservatives other pejoratives like "Bible-belters," "free-traders," "country & western music fans," and, to top it off, "pro-life crazies." It wouldn't occur to an insulated young man like Beinart, who studied at Yale and now lives in DC, that conservatives are also people who despise excessive government regulation; thieving trial lawyers; crooked and ineffectual union leaders; barely educated teachers; the phony populism that Al Gore espoused last fall (while he courted "gun nuts" in swing states like Michigan and Pennsylvania); and the politicians in those private clubs known as the House of Representatives and the Senate who insist on dumping taxpayers' money down the toilet.

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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© 2001, Russ Smith