Jewish World Review May 19, 2004/ 28 Iyar 5764


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Be careful what you read | Reading left-wing journalists giving advice to Karl Rove about strategy for President Bush's reelection campaign is similar to rubbernecking on a highway when a multiple car crash occurs. You know it's a waste of time, not to mention demeaning, but sometimes the instinctual urge is too powerful.

Slate's third-string political analyst Timothy Noah wrote a thoroughly disingenuous article on April 20, suggesting it would be in Bush's best interest if he dumped Dick Cheney from the GOP ticket in favor of a more moderate running mate who'd appeal to "swing" and independent voters. Relatively speaking, I don't believe Noah is a complete moron — at least not on the Ben Affleck scale — so let's be charitable and consider his theory.

The "Chatterbox" columnist apparently believes that jettisoning Cheney, the man he blames for commanding Bush to invade Iraq, spurn the United Nations, linking Saddam to 9/11, among other perceived atrocities, would boost the President's electoral prospects in closely contested states, presumably Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio and Michigan. (And let's not forget New Jersey, a suddenly close state thanks to the unpopular Democratic governor Jim McGreevey.)

He doesn't mention a replacement for Cheney, but one assumes Sens. Arlen Specter, Susan Collins, John McCain, Lincoln Chafee or Secretary of State Colin Powell would fit the bill. Noah writes that as "a loyal Democrat" he "fervently hopes Karl Rove will ignore Chatterbox's advice," but thinks he'd be "a fool not to recognize that Bush would benefit from throwing Cheney overboard."

I don't object to vice-presidential switcheroos, and advocated in '92 that Bush's father, facing a three-man contest, should've dropped Dan Quayle, mostly because the Indianan was so unfairly discredited by a smarmy media as damaged goods.

(Quayle, by the way, was easily the most impressive early candidate in the GOP 2000 field, articulate in interviews and demonstrating command of domestic and international issues. He didn't have the money to compete with Bush, and was of course ridiculed by reporters who hadn't bothered to pay him any attention since '92. Quayle's lot as political clown, after a promising early career, falls into the tough luck category, but you can imagine how he tosses and turns at night thinking what might have been had he rejected the veep nod in '88.)

George W. Bush doesn't have a revenge-thirsty Ross Perot to contend with in 2004, and is also a far more effective campaigner than both his father and John Kerry. As Noah probably realizes, somewhere in that speed dial mind, if Bush persuaded Cheney to step down for "health" reasons, and replaced him with a moderate more to the liking of Democrats, a sizable percentage of the GOP base would sit out the election. He'd probably lose several states in the South, and wouldn't make a dent in the Gore/Kerry "blue" strongholds.

Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page, who, pre-Florida recount, was far more reasonable that fellow Democrat Noah, floated his own fantasy on the topic of vice presidents, in this case giving advice to Kerry. Writing on April 29, Page made the preposterous, and not totally tongue-in-cheek, suggestion that Mr. Heinz cajole Powell into switching parties and fighting the good fight for the Democrats this fall. Page, playing off the Beltway obsession of Kerry joining forces with McCain, an ethically compromised pol who likes cameras even more than the deranged American GI's at Abu Ghraib, suggests there's a possibility that Powell might bite at the opportunity.

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On April 29, Page wrote: "[N]ow is the time for Kerry to reach out swing and undecided voters. Too few know who he is. To seize the public's imagination, Mr. Kerry needs bold gestures that distinguish him not only from Mr. Bush but also from the loony-liberal, 'flip-flopper' image with which Team Bush is trying to smear him… And [Powell] might go for it, provided Mr. Kerry makes a simple offer: In a Kerry administration, he would be able to do what he wanted to do under Mr. Bush… Maybe Mr. Powell might like the idea of actually being listened to."

This is the current state of American politics in May 2004: Because DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe — a Noah twin in the brains department, although far more industrious, at least in amassing a personal fortune — front-loaded his party's primaries, the general election is still six months away and journalists have far too much time to kill publishing increasingly fantastic stories in an attempt to remain on the front page.

Consider Dan Balz's May 14 article in the Washington Post, headlined "Bad Signs For Bush In History, Numbers." Citing Bush's recent slide in approval ratings — just 46 percent in a recent Gallup poll, 42 percent in Kerry-friendly Newsweek — Balz suggests that the President might as well hang it up and go back to clearing brush in Texas. This is a story, especially in a presidential election that's unprecedented in both length and volatility that would have a lot more credence in September or October. And I have no doubt that Balz will post an updated version at that time, unless, of course, Bush has rebounded in the scores of polls. Yet he's required to file a certain number of stories in the Beltway's paper of record, regardless of how fleeting his words are. Talk about "sketches in sand."

Here's a novel suggestion to editors throughout the country: Either re-assign all your political reporters and pundits to another beat — high school soccer matches, community dinner theater reviews, tv criticism — or let them take the same summer vacations that school teachers receive. Readers won't mind since they've been poring over the same useless speculation for months now. Boycott the political conventions. Refuse to report the findings of the latest Zogby/Gallup/CBS/ABC/Pew/Rasmussen/FOX/ARG/Wall Street Journal polls, or maybe bury them in the space that's currently reserved for the ongoing reconstruction of Iraq's infrastructure and local citizens there who aren't part of the terrorist movement.

Everyone can re-convene right after Labor Day.

Freedom of the press — which wasn't enjoyed under the wartime presidency of Democrat Woodrow Wilson — is a cornerstone of American democracy and also includes the luxury of deviating from a worn-out system of assigning half a newspaper's staff to presidential elections.

Meanwhile, despite Bush's off-handed joke (echoed by Donald Rumsfeld last week) that he doesn't read newspapers, it's clear the White House is paying far more attention to the New York Times and Washington Post than is healthy. Administration supporters (ridiculously lumped together by the hate-America crowd as "neocons") are understandably baffled by the White House's shilly-shallying of late. As many have suggested, Bush should knock it off with the apologies, the promise of "compassionate conservatism" (an anachronism at this point) in Iraq and get down to the business of ignoring the polls and media Cassandras and win the war.

Holman Jenkins Jr., editor of the "Political Diary," an inexpensive feature on WSJ's, nailed the complacency (the charitable version) or hysteria (more troubling) behavior at the White House this past month. Last Friday, Jenkins wrote: "Today's beltway consensus is that the public-relations picture has turned hopelessly grim for the President's war… Over at the Los Angeles Times, a professor draws comparisons with the Tet offensive, which he claims signaled to Joe Public that Vietnam was unwinnable.

"Good grief. Abu Ghraib is a freak show, a deus ex machina with relevance perhaps to America's emotional temperature but very little connection to what's happening in Iraq. There, the crucial matter is, as always, the state of play as coalition forces and local leaders try to broker a new order in Iraq. How's it going? Well, one thing that's not happening is a million Iraqis in the streets of Baghdad demonstrating and making the U.S. presence untenable… Abu Ghraib notwithstanding, there's no reason to believe we can't be successful. But the president needs to show he's still effective too. One way would be with an impromptu press conference to talk about the deeper significance of this week's military efforts in Najaf."

Jenkins lobbed another cherry bomb on May 10: "Take PBS chatterbox [not to be confused with Noah] Mark Shields, a typically panicked pundit who insisted [on May 7] that U.S. policy in Iraq is now beyond redemption. 'We've built 1700 schools, we've vaccinated hundreds of thousands of children, rebuilt hospitals and… it means next to nothing after [the prisoner abuse scandal].' Uh huh. Our policy in Iraq isn't to win the people's love, since nothing we do, or fail to do, will cause them to love us. What we are doing in Iraq is changing the real conditions of the region in order to alter the course of future events."

My only quibble with Jenkins' analysis is the suggestion of an "impromptu" press conference where the media will only muddy Bush's message by preening to outdo each other in attempting to provoke a gaffe. As everyone in the country — at least the small minority who follow politics instead of celebrity trials — Bush doesn't do "impromptu." Instead, speechwriter Michael Gerson ought to hole up in Camp David for two days with the President and settle on a prime-time speech to the nation on the current situation in Iraq. And he shouldn't mention Kerry even once.

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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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