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Jewish World Review June 6, 2001/ 16 Sivan, 5761


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When will McCain bolt the GOP? On a slow news day -- WILL John McCain abandon the Republican Party-perhaps in the next week-and run as an independent candidate for president in 2004? I don't know and, as of June 4, 2001, couldn't care less.

The pro-McCain media machine, which cuts across partisan lines, is certainly setting up shop-lovingly stroking the Arizona Senator-for a rematch with Bush. It beats learning about the philosophy behind the administration's plan for missile defense or writing yet another thumb-sucker about how European leaders can't stand the President.

McCain's Sedona barbecue last weekend with incoming Majority Leader Tom Daschle gave reporters license to speculate anew about the egotistical Senator's intentions in the days ahead. Right, that's days; the Beltway's self-anointed aristocrats don't have the attention span to think beyond the latest chapter in Washington's continual spasm of political gossip. And McCain, cheesed off that James Jeffords (soon to be relegated to James Who? status) temporarily replaced him as DC's resident "maverick," was delighted to provide a story line.

McCain, who spoke to Bush over the weekend, issued a statement that said: "I have not instructed nor encouraged any of my advisers to begin planning for a presidential run in 2004. I have not discussed running for president with anyone. As I have said repeatedly, I have no intention of running for president, nor do I have any intention or cause to leave the Republican Party. I hope this will put an end to further speculation on this subject."

Had a politician like Sen. Russell Feingold or Sen. Richard Lugar made the same definitive remarks, you'd believe him. But McCain, whose pillows are fluffed by acolytes as diverse as The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, the Hudson Institute's Marshall Wittmann (the two conservatives whom New York Times and Washington Post reporters quote to represent "balance" in their coverage of the Bush presidency) and the usual assortment of hacks like the Boston Globe's Thomas Oliphant, the staffs of Newsweek and Time, has no veracity.

Writing on June 3 about McCain's vote against the tax package, Oliphant was silly: "What this means is that McCain's party is leaving him, as it did on campaign finance reform. What he does in response is less important than the fact that he will keep on fighting for his positions." Oliphant omits the significant fact that campaign finance reform is in doubt in no small part because of Democratic opposition, most vocally from black legislators.

Grover Norquist, a tax-cut champion in DC, summed up the futility of predicting McCain's actions in a comment to the Post's Thomas Edsall and Dana Milbank in a June 2 article: "[McCain's] not drifting right. He is not drifting left. He is drifting in front of the television cameras. He will do whatever gets him the most attention, and two weeks from now I don't have a clue where he will be."

Mickey Kaus, in a June 2 blurb on his website, was more jocular, writing, "I like many things about John McCain and may one day happily vote for him for President, but isn't it pretty clear he's become [become?] a hopeless publicity junkie..." Kaus praises the Post article for "sketch[ing] out an ideological rationale for a McCain candidacy that's pretty powerful," but then suggests his reservations.

"McCain is a captive of his base, the press. And it's unclear to me whether the press is populist-centrist these days or simply left-of-centrist. By the time he runs as an independent, McCain may be to the left of the Democratic nominee… The love-love relationship between McCain and the media is unhealthy for any politician, whatever his or her ideology. It means that President McCain won't want to do anything that makes Tim Russert angry."

Granted, the first five months of Bush's presidency have seemed like a dozen, in sharp contrast to those who speculated that after Bill Clinton the political intrigue in DC would be as scintillating as reading the collected columns of Times op-ed geriatric Anthony Lewis. Consider the events since Election Day: the Florida recount; Clinton's scandalous pardons and five-finger pilfering of the White House; the Democratic jihad against John Ashcroft; the deterioration of U.S.-China relations; the absurd controversy over arsenic levels in water; Bush's tax-cut victory and his emasculated education bill; McCain's temporary triumph on campaign finance "reform"; Jeffords' epiphany that, despite accepting GOP money for his campaigns in New York-infested Vermont, he had to act on his conscience, switch parties and give Senate control to the Democrats; and Al Gore's merciful (and, to be fair, tasteful) absence from the political scene.

Bush's alleged honeymoon with the media may seem to have ended-he's now a "bully" instead of "charmer" and his staff's discipline is now considered a repeat of Clintonian disarray-but the midterm elections, the first real referendum on his presidency, are still 18 months away.

So while the Washington-Boston Palm Pilot crew of wired pundits, pols and editorialists concentrates solely on a given week's ups and downs, Bush-if he's not distracted by the blather-can continue to build on an already decent record of accomplishment.

One specific example of leadership would be his direct intervention in the Mideast stalemate. I don't think Colin Powell is up to it, but Bush and Dick Cheney ought to encourage Ariel Sharon to strike back against the coddled Arafat and his band of terrorists with unprecedented force. After the heinous disco bombing in Tel Aviv last weekend, Sharon occupies the moral high ground: the time has come to assert Israel's right to defend its citizens. Bush, as a principled advocate of democracy, should travel abroad and meet with Sharon, showing the world-especially the feckless European heads of state-that the United States won't stand for the violence inflicted on one of its most cherished allies. The second-guessing will begin immediately, especially from those who propose another 10 years of meaningless Rose Garden "peace summits," but that shouldn't deter Bush from following his gut instincts, despite whatever political fallout he may incur.

Totalitarian kooks like Arafat don't want peace, and they only understand greater military strength, which Israel has yet to demonstrate. Contrary to the opinion of liberal hand-wringers in America, including a large contingent of Jews, despots like Arafat don't play by the same rules as civilized nations. Put it this way: if Mexican militants were lobbing shells across the border and sent suicide bombers to discos in Los Angeles, the U.S. would immediately act.

In Monday's Times, William Safire cut through Arafat's phoniness with a devastating column, one I assume Bush will pay attention to, despite his disdain for the left-wing daily. Safire wrote: "Because the human missile that massacred Tel Aviv teenagers so satisfied the lust for casualties, and because the incredible restraint of Ariel Sharon was about to snap, Arafat 'condemned' this attack and told a visiting German diplomat he would join Sharon's self-imposed cease-fire 'unconditionally.' That means only that Arafat will not insist on the latest reward for violence recommended by the Mitchell commission, Bill Clinton's final vehicle for appeasement: cessation of construction in and around already-existing settlements... With doves turned to realists and pressure from Bibi Netanyahu to defend the nation, and with Israelis unwilling to further expose their children to lives of terror, Sharon will let Sharon be Sharon."

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