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Jewish World Review June 6, 2000/ 3 Sivan, 5760


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Consumer Reports

June Line: Lazio
by three points -- RICK LAZIO certainly wasn't my first choice to replace Rudy Giuliani as Hillary Clinton's GOP opponent in New York's Senate race. His fake run last summer, when it was clear the nomination was locked up for the Mayor, was smarmy and self-aggrandizing. Still, I don't understand the media's insistence on treating the four-term Congressman as if he's a teenager.

Remember, the man is 42, defeated Tom Downey -- best bud of slumlord Al Gore -- in a major '92 upset and is hardly the youngest person ever to seek a job in the U.S. Senate. Liberals, who gush about Sen. Ted Kennedy as one of the century's most accomplished legislators -- delusional thinking at its most obvious -- forget that his family's political machine bought his Massachusetts seat back in '62, long before he had to contemplate wearing a girdle. President John F. Kennedy was in his mid-30s when he defeated Henry Cabot Lodge in 1952; Delaware's Sen. Joe Biden was even younger when he was first elected.

Yet New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has dubbed Lazio "Little Ricky," an unfortunate nickname that'll probably stick. Writing about the split lip he suffered at a parade last month, Dowd wrote: "But when Little Ricky went tumbling down, the stature issue came bubbling up. He looked like an eager puppy springing out of the gate and going all splay-legged. Republicans fretted again: Is he ready for the big show?"

Dowd is mostly a nonpartisan monster: she'll go after any politician as long as she can work a Hollywood blockbuster into her 800 words. But when the going gets tough, you can count on Dowd to side with her disgraceful colleague Frank Rich-although not as hysterically-and so Gore is fairly safe this fall.

And Hamptons blowhard Jerry Della Femina, a Lazio supporter no less, stoked this silliness by writing in the May 28 Daily News: "My problem is that for the life of me I can't see Rick Lazio in the Senate of the United States of America. Instead, I keep seeing him as the ambitious second-in-command of a Ford dealership in Huntington, L.I." The New Republic's Michelle Cottle, providing her own unasked-for spin in the June 12 issue, also calls Lazio "Little Ricky" and claims he's not up to the rigors of an election that's dwarfed only by the Bush-Gore battle.

The Suffolk County Congressman is up against a "Goliath in a pantsuit," Cottle writes. Sure. A "Goliath" who can't rise above 50 percent in the polls. A "Goliath" who makes outrageous claims at rallies, like this one in Manhattan last week: "For 30 years, I have fought for children and families, for women and workers. And in this campaign, I've stood up for New Yorkers who needed a voice. I'm not afraid of the tough fights."

As Rick Brookhiser eloquently pointed out in the June 5 New York Observer: "Mrs. Clinton's only two marks on public affairs were to ruin her husband's first term, by producing a Rube Goldberg health care plan, and to be his beard for 25 years." What is all this baloney that Mrs. Clinton spews about being a champion of the downtrodden, especially the children? Does writing an innocuous book like It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us qualify her as a policy expert? She ought to be consistent. In order for Bill Clinton to get himself reelected in '96 he had to horse-trade with the GOP-controlled Congress.

Which meant the welfare reform bill, an overdue piece of legislation, which conservatives favor, but one that I doubt "the New Yorkers who needed a voice" endorsed. I doubt her good friend Al Sharpton thought much of it either.

Slate's Supreme Court correspondent Dahlia Lithwick took leave from Washington, DC, to attend a Rick Lazio rally at Katz's Deli last week. It's very difficult to stomach Beltway reporters' writing about New York, and Lithwick provided an absurd article, "Rick Lazio, The Spice Boy Candidate," on June 2. She begins: "The sidewalks of the Lower East Side are paved with litter and the streets smell like fresh goat." As any New Yorker knows, this simply isn't true anymore; it's a stereotype from before the Giuliani administration. I know you can favorably compare the Lower East Side's cleanliness level with that of those desolate stretches of concrete in Washington. The gentrification of the East Village and the Lower East Side is such an old story that even The New York Times has written about it; I guess the Pony Express still exists if someone like Lithwick smells "fresh goat" near Katz's.


It gets worse. Not a word in Lithwick's stupid article is devoted to Lazio's career in Congress. Instead, it's all Talk magazine breathlessness. The only difference is that the Slate writer gushes over a Long Island Italian who eats corned beef erotically rather than about Prince William's personal life and the lucky gals in it. Lithwick:

"Until today I was only amused by the puppy-splat candidate. Now I find myself in a near-swoon. He is, as the Republicans intended, adorable. Tim Robbins meets Regie from the Archie comic books. But married to Betty, not Veronica. Creamy skin that cannot be sprayed on. A heart-stopping smile of undistilled delight."

This woman "covers" the Supreme Court for Slate? Amazing. Aside from the silliness about Lazio's looks, whether satirical or not, what's this jazz about him being "as the Republicans intended, adorable"? I happen to think that Lazio has a better chance of defeating Clinton than Giuliani did, but that's probably a minority view, especially among the state's Republican leaders. Rudy is anything but "adorable," even in his new "humanized" state.

Also writing for Slate, on May 19, Jacob Weisberg mercifully sticks to politics. It's his notion that it doesn't matter who the GOP puts up against Hillary: even if Giuliani "were in good health and happily married" he'd have been creamed. Likewise for Lazio. Why? Because of the Al Gore's-coattails effect. This is quite a leap. While it's true that Bill Clinton won New York by margins of 16 and 28 points, respectively, in the '92 and '96 elections, it doesn't follow that the Vice President will win the state by such a huge number. It's safe to say that New York, unlike California, is pretty much a gimme for Gore, but it'd be surprising, considering the popularity gulf between him and his boss, to see him win by a landslide.

The antipathy toward Hillary is so strong that she'd need a massive, know-nothing turnout to squeeze by. Which isn't likely, especially since Gore's a bore and there's no Rudy to vote against. Remember that Bobby Kennedy, brother of the then-recently martyred president, and technically less of a carpetbagger than Hillary, defeated Republican Kenneth Keating by a narrow margin in '64, while LBJ stomped Barry Goldwater. It goes without saying that RFK was associated with a far more beloved president than Gore is.

The New York Observer's Joe Conason had some difficulty in his column last Wednesday believing the results of the Zogby poll that showed Lazio and Hillary Clinton in a statistical dead heat, mostly because Zogby's work appears in the New York Post. Zogby's a Democrat, as I'm sure Conason knows, and although he couldn't have known it at the time, just last Sunday, June 4, the pro-Hillary Daily News showed similar results in its own poll, with Lazio down just four points to the First Lady. But never mind the polls. My favorite snippet from Conason's continued defense of the Clintons was when he accused the Post of "alternately depict[ing] Hillary as Lady Macbeth and the Wicked Witch of the West."

Joe, you're right. And so is the Post, although perhaps the tabloid is being a bit charitable.

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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© 2000, Russ Smith