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Jewish World Review June 1, 2001/ 10 Sivan, 5761


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Jeffords cashes in -- The supposedly taciturn Jim Jeffords made the most of his notoriety last week, warning Bush that he'd be a one-term president if he didn't heed more "moderates" such as...well, himself. Not surprisingly, Bush didn't fire his political strategist Karl Rove in favor of Jeffords, but listened to the Senator (no doubt trying to keep his temper in check) in what was described as an "awkward" meeting. I'll bet. It must've been like when an employer pink-slips a bad hire and has to stomach an analysis of everything's that wrong with the company as an exit-interview is being prepared by the accounting office.

What, was Bush supposed to make Jeffords a happy Ben & Jerry's legislator? He'd already allowed the Democrats to gut his education proposal-an excessive, and mistaken, example of compromise-by allotting more spending on lousy teachers than was warranted, as well as jettisoning the crucial school voucher provision. As for the tax cut, should Bush have handed over his legislation to Jeffords and said, "Hey Jimbo, you're a man of principle, why not just white-out all the items you think might offend your friends like John Kerry, Dick Gephardt and Barney Frank?"

I doubt Jeffords, after his brush with media sainthood, is capable of embarrassment, but too bad Fouad Ajami's excellent "Washington Diarist" piece in the June 4 New Republic wasn't on newsstands when the Senator made his decision to cast his lot with the likes of Maxine Waters and Jesse Jackson. Ajami deftly mocked President Clinton's largely fruitless trips abroad-which increased in frequency postimpeachment as he attempted to tot up an accomplishment or two for legacy purposes-and predicted that Bush wouldn't follow that self-aggrandized and promiscuous use of Air Force One.

He wrote: "There is nothing of this in Bush. The man's ease with himself is, in part, an ease with home and country and familiar verities... Those who predict that, with time, President Bush will take to the road and succumb to foreign temptation are wrong. A different wind blows, with a different judgment about the world beyond the water's edge. Consider this passage in the president's big speech in early May calling for national missile defense: 'Like Saddam Hussein, some of today's tyrants are gripped by an implacable hatred of the United States of America. They hate our friends. They hate our values. They hate democracy and freedom and individual liberty. Many care little for the lives of their own people.'"

Those are the words of a "radical" president?

Newsweek, in the throes of a demoralizing advertising recession, attempted, in its June 4 issue, to shore up its Vermont subscription base. Its "Conventional Wisdom" column, which may as well be written each week by Hillary Clinton, was an ugly portent of the content farther back in the magazine. Following are assessments of politicians in its "Special Switcheroo Edition":

Jeffords: "Capra-esque Vermonter rewrites Election 2000. Could conscience be infectious?"

Bush: "Blindsided by defection, overplayed his non-existent mandate. Ouch!"

Daschle: "Suddenly, he's Majority Leader. Smart, popular, but is he mean enough?"

Lott: "Suddenly, he's Minority Leader. Pompous, power hungry, but was he too mean?"

Rove: "So-called WH 'genius' wasn't smart enough to know that moderates are people, too."

Cheney: "Buck-raking at VP mansion. What was your problem with those Clinton 'coffees' again?"

I'll grant that the Veep's fundraiser last week, given the three-volume catalog of Clinton/Gore improprieties during the 90s, wasn't a highlight of this administration's first months in office. As for the rest, it reeks of Jonathan Alter (who strikes me as one of the models for Jeffrey Frank's puerile The Columnist); and sure enough, the Beltway insider who's prone to bragging in print about his access to power, provides his own slant on the Jeffords decision, a sappy piece called "The Odyssey of Jeezum Jim." It's explained on page 4 of the issue that Alter, in the early 80s, played on a softball team with Jeffords, and by golly, sometimes after a game the then-Congressman would honor young reporters like Jon and join them for cheeseburgers at a DC "dive." That's Jimmy Appleseed for you, an egalitarian from head to toe.


Alter's profile is long and sickening, so I'll spare readers a complete critique-although his slur on Calvin Coolidge was typical-and simply get to the guts of his argument.

He writes, with one true sentence: "Like everything else in hype-addled America, the political ramifications have been overstated. 'Not everyone gets to wake up one morning and decide an inner voice has told him to overturn the results of a national election, an unprecedented legal struggle and a decisive Supreme Court decision to form a government,' The Wall Street Journal editorial page opined, as if the unassuming Vermonter were a craven usurper.

"Another way to view it is that Jeffords is restoring the true message sent by the evenly divided electorate last November, which is that the parties must share power. For the past four months George W. Bush has been acting as if he had won a Ronald Reagan-style landslide, a shrewd political strategy, perhaps, but out of sync with the actual election returns. Last week's midcourse mandate correction comes early in Bush's presidency, but late in the key policy struggle that will shape the future: the 11-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut headed for approval may well prevent the Democratic Senate from boosting spending beyond the margins for years to come. Even so, the days of the Bush's catering exclusively to conservatives are apparently over. Every part of his agenda will now be subject to compromise."

These two paragraphs are riddled with so many fallacies it's difficult to fathom that Alter is considered by the incestuous Beltway crowd to be a "player," but this is the left-wing (or West Wing) Washington bubble we're talking about.

However. Yes, the electorate was evenly divided (with Gore receiving more actual votes) but Americans who cast ballots weren't in favor of the parties sharing power. If you supported Bush, it was his conservative agenda that was endorsed; a Gore vote, likewise, was for the Democratic candidate's faux-populism and a continuation of Bill Clinton's policies. As for "mandates," I'm sure Alter remembers that in 1992 Clinton received 43 percent of the popular vote, which certainly, if you follow his reasoning, wasn't a mass appeal for the socialistic healthcare legislation that the new President and his wife engineered. Bush won the election.

Yet despite that fact, suck-ups like Alter believe that his slender Electoral College majority (which the pundit, on Nov. 8, advocated on MSNBC be ignored in favor of Gore's popular-vote victory) dictates a division of power, with Bush eschewing his conservative platform to accommodate the liberal ideology he vigorously campaigned against. As for "catering exclusively to conservatives," despite the rhetoric from the media, that's simply not true, unless you consider Bush's cabinet appointments Colin Powell, Christie Whitman, Norm Minetta and Rod Paige to be political blood-brothers of Tom DeLay.


And yes, Alter is correct that Bush will have to compromise with a Democratic Senate, just as he has these past four months. Much as I approve of the spirit of the President's tax cut-a slightly more-than-symbolic victory in that it changed the conversation about wasteful congressional squandering of taxpayers' money-it was a back-loaded bill, with no capital gains relief, and failed to reduce the top income bracket to a level that would really stimulate the economy in favor of the $300 and $600 checks that'll be sent out beginning this summer. I was surprised that the repeal of the death tax wasn't gutted, but that, too, won't be eliminated for 10 years, postponing the axing of one of the IRS's most penurious methods of unfairly larding the government's coffers with money to waste on unproductive programs.

Daschle, meanwhile, is being portrayed as an amiable but shrewd, aw-shucks kind of guy. Sure. That's why on Meet the Press last Sunday, the incoming majority leader called Bush's plans to drill for oil in Alaska "finished." As in, end of conversation, George. Also, as Greg Pierce reported in Monday's Washington Times, Daschle has no fear of New Jersey Sen. Bob Torricelli facing an indictment later this summer. When Tim Russert (on the same edition of Meet the Press) asked Daschle about a front-page story that morning in the New York Post, which was headlined "Torch Is Toast," the South Dakotan said, "I'd say consider the source." Perhaps Daschle's been so busy courting Jeffords this spring that he wasn't aware that The New York Times originated the press investigation of Torricelli and has been relentless in its coverage of the gift-taking Democrat.

Finally, Geoffrey Norman, sportswriter for National Review Online, summed up how the Silent Majority might feel about Jeffords. He wrote on May 26: "Jeffords (who is my senator in the sense that I am from Vermont and so is he) had been doing his political transvestite act for so long that nobody even noticed any longer. The only way for him to make news was to finally get the operation. Vermont is the most insignificant state in the Union. Wyoming may have fewer people but it has a lot more oil, coal, cattle, and other useful things. Vermont no doubt led the world in macrame production in the 70s. Now it refines maple syrup and governs itself like the last 60s commune."

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