Jewish World Review June 13, 2005/ 6 Sivan 5765


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Consumer Reports

The Media's Upcoming Headache: Root for Hillary or McCain?; A Massachusetts Muddle | Two years before in-your-face campaigning begins for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, how many hands out there are raised for a candidate other than Hillary Clinton. Yes, there are five beyond the hedges for John "There Are Three Americas!" Edwards; two in the Lower 40 boosting Virginia's lame duck governor Mark Warner; one right in front of me enthusiastically waving for J.F. Kerry; and another in the Alaskan time zone for Tennessee's Phil Bredesen. (That would be the smart one of the bunch, hence the distant location.)

Barring an election upset next year in her lay-up reelection as New York's part-time junior senator, Clinton is not only the front-runner but also de facto leader of her party. (Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi don't remind anyone of LBJ and Sam Rayburn, so the competition isn't stiff.) Fine by me, it's not for quick-fingered typists to alter the course of history and book publishing industry.

The really interesting question is this: If the GOP primary field is littered with cultural conservatives— say Sens. George Allen, Sam Brownback and the ineffectual Bill Frist— one or two deserving but unknown dark horses (Govs. Mark Sanford and Tim Pawlenty), how will John McCain's "Straight Talk Express II" juggernaut be stopped? Not by Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, despite his cover-boy status with The National Review and Weekly Standard.

It's McCain's for the grabbing, despite the protestations (not at all unwarranted) by Bush-base Republicans that they'll sit on their hands, and I wouldn't be surprised if Karl Rove is cooking up a deal right now with the phony campaign finance reformer from Arizona to secretly pledge just one term in the White House before handing it over to Jeb Bush in 2012.

There's really no way for Republicans to avoid a hold-your-nose vote for McCain. If Clinton wins it's likely she'll carry along additional Democrats to Congress, possibly even regaining both chambers. And with so many elderly Supreme Court justices refusing to stand down today, President Hillary could dramatically shape the judiciary in her own image, a cause for recurring nightmares.

More intriguing, however, should a Clinton-McCain race emerge, is what side the media elite will line up on. This is the sort of decision that can't be made lightly by journalistic sycophants, a battle that'll pit husband and wife, children and parents, Harvard alumni and cable television buddies against one another. Sort of like a Civil War, without the blood and guts and yucky stuff like people being killed. It's a quandary that makes a longtime McCain opponent like yours truly hope that he prevails in winning the nomination; one, because he's the most likely to defeat Clinton; and two, not to be flip, the entertainment factor can't be beat.

Just imagine the tsouris at The New York Times alone: Maureen Dowd lines up with then-septuagenarian McCain, while Paul Krugman (on the assumption he's not fired by then for any number of actionable offenses, such as referring to "Indians" instead of "Native Americans" in a column) is certain to unzip for Hillary. David Brooks is already a McCain whore from 2000, so that's easy, and John Tierney, currently the only Times op-ed writer who seems to possess a conscience might be disgusted and ask for reassignment to the paper's Buffalo bureau.

Can Tim Russert abandon the Hanoi Hilton "maverick" for Clinton? And what about Chris Matthews, Dr. Phil, Warren Beatty and everyone else invited to Ariana Huffington's pad for cucumber sandwiches and stuffed grape leaves?

In the end, my bet is that the media, with a heart as heavy as David Wells' torso, will sign up with Clinton.

A Massachusetts Muddle

Now that left-wing author (What's the Matter With Kansas?), sociologist and journalist Thomas Frank has milked the Democratic Party's squandering of its onetime dominance in national politics for all its worth—another elite intellectual making a profit sticking up for "ordinary" Americans—he might consider giving the same treatment to that equally puzzling state Massachusetts. Kansans, Frank argued, vote Republican against their own economic interests, fleeced by a greedy GOP establishment that seduces voters with morality lectures. He doesn't acknowledge that maybe those citizens care about pro-life and religious issues more than cash, a notion that simply can't register in his over-stuffed brain.

But it would be fascinating to see Frank dissect the Bay State, with its curious mix of traditional liberalism (gay marriage, abortion clinics more numerous than 7-11's, the Kennedys) and a centuries-old adherence to the remnants of Puritanism, symbolized by blue laws and a distrust of outsiders. I'd like someone to explain how five teenagers at the prep school Milton Academy were nearly put on trial for statutory rape because they received blowjobs from an apparently willing young woman—on three occasions—last January. A deal was cut, and so these kids, hockey players—who may be creeps, may be normal adolescents—will undergo counseling, serve five years of probation and complete 100 hours of "community service" in order to avoid the state's law that makes it illegal to have sex with anyone under 16 years old.

Had these kids forcibly raped the girl, one after the other, certainly a severe punishment would be called for. However, there were three sessions of oral sex— hardly unheard of in today's high school world— with the same female and varying combinations of boys, so it's questionable just how malevolent the incidents were. Maybe the gal was trying to be popular, maybe she just got off servicing athletes, but reports in the Boston Globe make it clear she wasn't kidnapped or forced to perform.

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I don't think either the left or right wing can claim credit for this legal overreach, which is probably why the story hasn't reached the pop culture mainstream. Cultural conservatives would, I imagine, blame the case on floundering morals and damn all involved for not remaining chaste until marriage. The left, on the other hand, would say it's a case of a disenfranchised young woman, dominated by sexual predators. It's a confusing issue, which is why neither party has used it— like the Terri Schiavo vigil (remember her?)— for political advantage.

Fact is, this kind of horseplay is prevalent, has been for a long time, and these Milton Academy kids just got caught up in a story that spiraled out of control. Back in college during the me-decade 70s, I remember hitching a ride with a senior one Friday up to Manhattan and along the way he regaled my roommate and me with the story of a frat party the night before. "Yeah, it was pretty cool," he said, "this chick just spread out in a bedroom and seven of us lined up to f**k her." He added that since he was next to last, the experience was a little wanting, but still fun. Mind you, that's not the kind of group behavior I endorsed then, or now, but I didn't ask to get out at the next exit.

In fact, had the cops or school authorities unexpectedly crashed this 1973 drunken bout of depravity, it's likely not much would've happened. I think it's certain that adolescents are more sexually active today than 30 years ago, even though that was the Age of Liberation and Aquarius, so it's a little weird that the Milton Academy administrators got so nervous. It had to be the possible threat of a lawsuit from the girl's parents that led them to take bad publicity over temporarily horrendous notoriety.

I'd love to see John Kerry and Mitt Romney debate this case on Meet the Press.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- was the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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© 2005, Russ Smith