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Jewish World Review May 30, 2001/ 8 Sivan, 5761


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SON OF A CORNCOB! Jeffords steals mccain's media posse -- THURSDAY, May Twenty-Fourth, Two Thousand and One, a date that will live in infamy... Okay, that's a touch dramatic, but watching Pedro Martinez lose a 2-1 game at Yankee Stadium isn't for sissies.

Oh yes, May 24 was also the day Vermont's Jim Jeffords defected from the Republican Party and supplanted St. John McCain as the mainstream media's favorite "maverick."

I don't mean to minimize the significance of the Jeffords jump: he's a skunk who gladly accepted financial help from GOP colleagues for his reelection last year, and was fully aware of presidential candidate George Bush's conservative platform. So he's betrayed colleagues by accepting Tom Daschle's bribes and thus ceding Senate control to the Democrats; but the political "earthquake" that's received even more attention than Al Gore's 40-pound weight gain wasn't exactly Pearl Harbor. It's a monstrous media story, a delight for reporters and pundits to write about instead of missile defense, and just one more rebuttal to the absurd claim that the press has rolled over for Bush. Make no mistake about it: Jeffords' fit of "conscience" is all about Florida, just as every political event will be until at least the midterm elections of 2002, when I hope that Gov. Jeb Bush will annihilate Janet Reno or whoever else tries to reclaim the state for all those phony "disenfranchised voters" who apparently lacked the rudimentary knowledge of how to cast a ballot. Once the initial shock wore off, it makes sense that Reno, a Floridian, would want to take on Bush, despite her poor health. If you'd been the most corrupt U.S. attorney general since John Mitchell you'd probably want to be remembered at least in part for something else. On Sunday, the Miami Herald published a poll showing Bush six points ahead of Reno, which at this stage ought to give the President's brother about 918 more gray hairs. It's certain to be one of the nastiest and most expensive races of 2002.

(Completely lost in the Jeffords bonanza and Reno hype was the bad news that Rep. Joe Scarborough, a conservative Republican from Pensacola, will retire on Sept. 6 to spend more time with his two sons. Hey, even pols that you admire use that hoary euphemism: Scarborough, 38, is divorced and sees his kids every other week. An article in the May 25 Pensacola News Journal reported that the Congressman is being wooed by a lucrative law firm and also has had discussions with CNN and MSNBC about a regular tv slot. Anyone who saw him destroy Rep. Peter Deutsch, a Democratic colleague from Florida, during the recount process, nearly every day on a different station, can understand the allure cable stations might hold. I hope Scarborough makes some money and then runs for a Senate seat in 2006.)

It was Florida's misfortune to be the state where the massive fraud that occurs in every single state, on every single election day, was highlighted. Ground zero for the 2000 presidential election could just as easily have been in New Mexico, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania or any combination of states. That's why I'm in favor of voting reform, because the theft-a lifeline to both the Democrats and Republicans-of elections is as common as jaywalking. The Bush administration, while correctly opposing (at least in private) the folly of campaign finance reform, is negligent in not making this issue an immediate priority. Not only is it the right thing to do, but Karl Rove ought to consider the brownie points the White House would receive.

And let's be honest about Jeffords' rank opportunism. How you feel about his joining the draconian forces of Daschle and Teddy Kennedy is strictly a partisan reaction. The media and liberals hail Jeffords as a Norman Rockwell kind of self-effacing character in prose that's even more syrupy than the sap that's harvested in that time-warp state of Vermont. Conservatives and libertarians see Jeffords as a selfish tool, a man who knew that he'd cause a national stir by tipping control of the Senate before Strom Thurmond croaked or McCain needed a publicity fix. Had the Democrats gained control in one of those instances, Jeffords switching to an independent would be a two-day story at most, and he certainly wouldn't be hailed as a modern-day Paul Revere. After all, this is a man who voted against the Reagan agenda at every opportunity, didn't support Clarence Thomas, moaned about Newt Gingrich's takeover of the House and is more liberal than perhaps 20 Democratic senators. One not insignificant consolation of the Jeffords hoopla was- contrary to gleeful left-wing propagandists like MSNBC's Eric Alterman-that Ted Olson was confirmed as solicitor general and Bush's tax cut passed with an indisputable bipartisan vote of 58-33. McCain, already showing the pique of being left out of the media limelight for even 12 hours, was one of two GOP senators who voted against the legislation. Who knows, maybe there was some arcane provision in the bill that would adversely affect Anheuser-Busch; it can't be said enough times that the Arizona Senator, who married into Budweiser money, hypocritically attacks tobacco companies while staying mum on booze, a drug that wrecks more lives, and at younger ages, than cigarettes.

And McCain's press release of May 24 was a hoot: After praising Jeffords' integrity, he closes by saying, "Tolerance of dissent is the hallmark of a mature party, and it is well past time for the Republican Party to grow up." A bit self-righteous from the straight-talker who entertains reporters by telling jokes about "gooks" and people who suffer from Alzheimer's disease.

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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