Jewish World Review July 18, 2001/ 27 Tamuz, 5761


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Dennis Hastert's emergence -- I HAD the pleasure of addressing the New York Young Republican Club last Thursday night-an invitation extended by the group's affable president Robert Hornak, an indefatigable foot soldier in Herman Badillo's mayoral campaign-and my libertarian remarks were met with mostly affirmative nods of the head. The only issue on which the audience was dead silent was when I expressed my hope that President Bush would roll the political dice and support stem cell research, which will proceed with or without federal dollars. Unlike most conservatives I'm in the "mushy middle" when it comes to abortion. Translation: I'm pro-choice until a pregnancy reaches the third trimester, at which point I fall in line with the other side.

Democrat pundits, and public officials, are doing their best to give Bush fits about the current controversy, claiming he's in political danger no matter what he decides. Baloney. The President has ample time to recover from any bruised feelings among his core base of voters and the onslaught of attacks-claiming hypocrisy-in the mainstream press. Once again: The midterm elections are in 2002, not this November, and a completely different set of political circumstances will provide the backdrop for those contests. As for 2004, I find it hard to believe that firm opponents of this science-which could possibly yield incalculable advances in the fight against diseases like Parkinson's, diabetes and Alzheimer's-would bypass Bush for Roe v. Wade advocates like John Kerry, John Edwards or Al Gore.

Last week was one of Bush's best this year, with an obvious exception: the scandalous decision of the International Olympic Committee to allow China to host the games in 2008. The United States' neutrality in the selection process was shameful. Although a few legislators put principle above commerce and protested Beijing's lobbying for the Olympics, Bush was silent, and it's by far the worst stain on his still-fledgling presidency. I'm not about to join the ranks of imbecile Hollywood celebrities who question GWB's intelligence, but doesn't the phrase "Berlin in 1936" mean anything to the man who says history is his favorite subject to read about?

There are no excuses: How in the world can this administration justify tightening the trade embargo on Cuba-a small island where communism is on its last legs-and then play footsie with China, a country run by a brutal dictatorship that brooks no quarter for freedom of political or religious dissent? This story isn't over: When China's military cabal flexes its muscle in Taiwan, just as a prelude to future crimes against democracy, Bush will be forced to sacrifice America's business interests in that country and retaliate. But the tactic of not vigorously opposing the Beijing Olympics was ill-advised, and could've easily been avoided.

But that was the bad news. Otherwise, the Bush administration had its strongest performance since the Jeffords turnover blotted out the success of the tax-cut victory. The President's polling results showed an uptick from just two weeks ago, proving that such snapshots are somewhat meaningless (but a welcome jab at The New York Times nonetheless). Saturday night's missile defense test in the Marshall Islands was a success, leading even Sen. Joe Biden, another presidential aspirant, to admit that the visionary plan isn't completely nuts. And last Wednesday, at Ellis Island, Bush gave an inspirational speech about immigration, saying, in part: "Immigration is not a problem to be solved; it is a sign of a confident and successful nation. New arrivals should be greeted not with suspicion and resentment, but with openness and courtesy."

The President's sincerity about opening the borders of the United States to less fortunate men and women from other countries is one reason he was such an attractive candidate last year. Unlike xenophobes in his own party, Bush understands why the U.S. has flourished for the last 225 years: it's still a land of opportunity for those who believe that hard work can lead to a more fulfilling life.


Julian Bond's bigoted remarks about Bush at the NAACP's annual meeting in New Orleans on July 8 had the effect of enraging more sensible black leaders who realize Bond espouses the kind of hate that should've been retired after the 2000 election. If a Republican employed the same sort of inflammatory rhetoric as Bond did in public, he or she would now be in political Siberia. Bond: "This is a government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. The new administration wants to downsize government. What they really need to do is to downsize their extreme agenda and stop governing as if they won a mandate. They didn't even win a majority... [Bush] has selected nominees from the Taliban wing of American politics, appeased the wretched appetites of the extreme right wing, and chose Cabinet officials whose devotion to the Confederacy is nearly canine in its uncritical affection."

How considerate of the prematurely brain-dead Bond to suggest that Colin Powell, Rod Paige and Condoleezza Rice hum along to "Dixie" when they huddle in the White House.

The big story of the week was the temporary scuttling of campaign finance reform, a victory for all Americans who believe in the First Amendment. Bush didn't even take a hit from John McCain's defeat: wisely, he didn't threaten a veto of the bill, saying he'd sign whatever the House and Senate compromised on, so when the Shays-Meehan legislation didn't even come up for a vote last Thursday no one could point a finger at Bush. Instead, in a ludicrous reaction from the power-mad media (the one huge entity that would benefit from McCain's self-serving crusade), Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert was portrayed as the villain. Newsweek's "Conventional Wisdom" chart in its July 23 issue was typical, giving Hastert a thumbs down: "Gutless House speaker kills camp. fin. reform without a vote. What a surprise."

Last Friday's New York Times editorial on McCain's setback was hysterical-quite a feat considering the thousands of sanctimonious and poisonous words that the Democratic Party's unofficial newsletter has issued this year alone. Headlined "Mr. Hastert's Debacle," the writer thundered: "After hours of bluster and threats, the House speaker, Dennis Hastert, resorted yesterday to the old-fashioned way of trying to kill campaign finance reform. Unable to get his way on the parliamentary ground rules for considering the Shays-Meehan bill, he simply abandoned his promise of a fair vote and yanked it from the floor. There is no telling when, or if, the speaker might allow it to come before the House again. Now the supporters of reform have no choice but to mount a loud protest against Mr. Hastert's thuggish tactics and demand immediate action next week on the bill."

What a joke. Arcane congressional rules are exercised with regularity: I don't recall the Times protesting the Senate Democrats' staving off of the inevitable vote on Bush's tax-cut bill by proposing amendment after amendment. Nor have the Times' Howell Raines and Arthur Sulzberger Jr. seemed at all concerned by Tom Daschle's and Chuck Schumer's threats to hold Bush's judicial nominees-as well as those to other administration posts that badly need to be filled-hostage until they extract Big Government wampum from the President.

The Times put forth the propaganda that the CFR defeat was a political loss for Hastert, writing: "It is usually considered anathema for a member of Congress to defy his or her party's leadership on a parliamentary issue. Yet Representative Christopher Shays and 18 other courageous Republicans did just that, joining with the Democrats to reject Mr. Hastert's bullying tactics."

The implication is that those few Republicans in favor of Shays-Meehan are going to block Hastert from advancing the President's agenda in the House by retaliating with Daschle-like obstruction of their own. Sure.

Lindsey Graham, for example, who was one of the 18 "courageous Republicans"-not that the Times considered the South Carolina Congressman such a statesman when he performed as nobly in the impeachment battle against Clinton-isn't going to buck his leadership. Yes, as an ally of McCain on this one issue, Graham wanted CFR to pass. But with his Senate race next year to replace the retiring Strom Thurmond, Graham isn't going to alienate Bush, whom he supports on most issues.

The plain fact is that Hastert, as opposed to so many wishy-washy GOP leaders (with notable exceptions such as Sens. Phil Gramm and Mitch McConnell), did the dirty work, took some flak, but is an American hero for helping to preserve the constitutional rights that arrogant elitists like Raines and Sulzberger would like to abridge.

The Wall Street Journal's lead editorial of July 16 was to the point: "We'll admit to having underestimated House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Who'd have thought he could induce the supporters of campaign-finance reform to kill their own bill? Yet this is precisely what happened last week, notwithstanding crocodile outrage afterward from John McCain, Dick Gephardt, GOP Congressman Christopher Shays and the New York Times. They sound like O.J. Simpson promising to search the countryside for the real killer. Rather than risk a vote they might have lost, supporters chose to defeat the House 'rule' for controlling the amendments and terms of debate on their own bill.

They slit their own throats... Speaker Hastert earned his pay last week. Now if he can scuttle the lawyers' right to bill, sometimes called the Patients' Bill of Rights, we'll really be impressed."

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