Jewish World Review July 21, 2004/ 3 Menachem-Av, 5764


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Slitting their wrists: Premature bets on the election | Every other day, sure as yellowjackets swarm around rotten crabapples, my sons ask who's going to win the election this November. I haven't a clue, and anyone who says they do is either fibbing or trapped in a partisan bubble. Nicky, wicked boy, still needles me with Michael Moore conspiracies and says it's Kerry. Booker, two years younger, claims he can't imagine living in a country without Bush as president.

As reporters and analysts settle into what truly is a permanent campaign, pounding their keyboards with all thumbs, one of the oddest currents buzzing from Washington to Boston is that an inordinate amount of "experts" are warily predicting victory for the candidate he or she opposes, probably hoping that a little old black magic will work out in the end.

The other day, for example, I received an email from a Manhattan journalist who sups ideologically with Dennis Kucinich, proposing a wager of $100 that Bush will smash his fellow patrician, and as a sweetener even offered a couple of percentage points. No dice, I replied, explaining once again that no betting action opens at this desk until Oct. 15, when the political forecast isn't so hazy.

Noam Scheiber, who writes daily dribs and drabs for The New Republic's website, inadvertently cracked me up on July 14 when he commented on the aftermath of Kerry choosing John Edwards as his running mate. The young Democrat asked this question: "If it's true that the bounce either candidate is likely to receive from significant campaign developments will be smaller this year than in elections past (because of the much smaller number of undecided voters), doesn't that pose a much bigger problem for John Kerry than George W. Bush?"

Worrywart Noam fears that if Kerry doesn't open up a significant lead during his convention the media will react negatively and unwittingly aid the President, despite its transparent allegiance to Massachusetts' junior senator. I doubt that, but here's Scheiber's punchline: "Put simply, having to go first in a low-bounce environment seems like a huge disadvantage."

"Low-bounce environment"? That's easily the most hilarious phrase I've come across this year, with the exception of Albert Hunt's opening paragraph every Thursday in The Wall Street Journal. Hunt, by the way, is all but certain his sainted Kerry will prevail. His op-ed of July 15 was more repugnant than usual, buying into a New Republic story that the Bush administration has ordered —the way you or I would ask a waiter for a pastrami sandwich —that Osama bin Laden be bagged during Kerry's Boston coronation. Nothing wrong with cynicism, but does Hunt really believe that if OSB was in a cage somewhere ready to pop into U.S. custody like a rabbit out of a hat, it wouldn't have happened by now? Say when the now-discredited Joseph Wilson was peddling his smears against Bush or at the height of the Abu Ghraib prison stories highlighted on The New York Times' front page for about 20 days running?

I'm told Hunt is a genial, well-mannered man who enjoys baseball games and crabcakes, but it appears he's caught a strain of the parasite that's not only taking over stimulant-deprived Jason Giambi but 90 percent of Hollywood as well. How else to explain this smelly blast in an attempt to show that the capture of OSB —unless on "election eve" —will do little to help Bush? Hunt writes, "Remember the GOP glee last December when the cowardly Saddam Hussein was pulled out of a hole near Tikrit?"

Ostensibly Hunt is trying to prove that such events are fleeting "high-bounce" moments, but more disturbingly it suggests that Kerry boosters are openly hoping for American failure in Iraq and the Mideast. In a more levelheaded political environment, affluent essayists and talk-show hosts like Hunt wouldn't describe the reaction to Saddam's capture as merely "GOP glee."

At least Hunt hasn't devolved so far that, unlike Sir Elton John, who claims that entertainers are suffering from "a fear factor" resembling McCarthyism, he's rambling on about the First Amendment being on life support. And that what separates him, for the time being, from a moron like Whoopi Goldberg, recently pink-slipped from SlimFast because of her obscenity-laced monologue earlier this month at a Kerry-Edwards gala in Manhattan. Whoopsie feigned "sadness" at the company's decision to exercise their freedom by firing a controversial spokeswoman, and said the Republicans were to blame.

Edwards apparently no longer finds Goldberg's jokes about her preference for "bush" as opposed to "Bush" so funny. Although Kerry said at the concert that the entertainers present were conveying "to you the heart and soul of our country," on July 16 the North Carolinian backtracked. He said, "[The celebrities] weren't speaking for me, and they weren't speaking for John Kerry."

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At another corner of the Journal the normally sunny Peggy Noonan is in, at least to judge by recent columns, in one mess of a funk. In a dreary dispatch from London at the beginning of July Noonan worried in print that Bush, her preferred candidate, might be defeated in a few months because Americans are tired of this era's drumbeat of history and prefer the "normalcy" of "Warren G. Kerry."

She shares a not so "jolly" thought with readers: "History has been too dramatic the past 3 1/2 years. It has been too exciting. Economic recession, 9/11, war, Afghanistan, Iraq, fighting with Europe, fighting with the U.N., boys going off to fight, Pat Tillman, beheadings… We like history to be like something Calvin Coolidge dreamed: dull, dull, dull… Here's my fear: that the American people, liking and respecting President Bush, and knowing he's a straight shooter with guts, will still feel a great temptation to turn to the boring and disingenuous John Kerry. He'll never do anything exciting. He doesn't have the guts to do be exciting. And as he doesn't stand for anything, he won't have to take hard stands. He'll do things like go to France and talk French and they'll love it." He'll say he's the man who accompanied Teresa Heinz to Paris, only this time he'll say it in French and perfectly accented and they'll all go 'ooh la la!"

At least Noonan still has a sense of humor, black as it may be right now. A few weeks later, reacting to comments on the Internet about the column, Noonan backtracked slightly, saying that Bush still has a shot if he explains how passionately he hates war.

But I think she's missing the point of the high-decibel political discourse since Bush took office. Not once in her "return to normalcy" [as if anything could be normal after 9/11] column does she mention the vitriol directed at this president, the kind that leads to shouting matches between friends and ridiculous comparisons of both candidates to Hitler. Noonan is far too generous in generalizing that Americans like and respect Bush; some do, some don't.

The Boston Herald's Howie Carr wrote a column last Sunday about his strange experience as a guest on C-SPAN on July 16. Carr, a conservative who can't stand Kerry or the Kennedys, was asked by host Brian Lamb if there was one thing positive he could say about the Democratic candidate. Clearly asking for it, Carr said, "John Kerry is, I think, the most successful gigolo in the United States." A fairly offensive statement if you're a fan of the Senator.

But what happened next, when Lamb suggested Carr give out his e-mail address, shows that Noonan is off the mark when she ignores the raw hatred in many quarters of the country right now. Gail W., of Palm Springs, wrote: "Please explain why Jews are so keen to elect Bush? Sorry, Howie, your conservative front is really, admit it, a platform to keep the dollars rolling into Israel."

Mench/242: "Carr, you are, like Kristolnacht & Wolfoweaseal, an agent for the Likud party; essentially a traitor."

So while Michael Moore says Bush is in hock to the Saudis, others claim he's a pawn of the evil Jews. I agree with Noonan that Kerry is indecisive —he couldn't even immediately handle the innocuous problem of whether or not Hillary Clinton should speak at his convention —but the man supports Israel, more than Palestinian advocate Jimmy Carter, although certainly not with the same clarity as Bush.

Syndicated columnist Matt Miller, a former Clinton aide, warns that Democrats have "entered the Gloating Zone." He's afraid that fellow libs are too complacent, writing, "At this point, most people have no notion of Kerry's affirmative agenda. Some of this is unfair (and the media's fault) —Kerry's health plan, for example, is the most interesting and ambitious domestic policy proposal in years, and he's put real money behind it. But the rest remains a blur."

Miller's nuts to blame the media, but he's one nervous nellie.

The Washington Post's David Broder, more calm than most of his colleagues but a Kerry partisan just the same, quoted a Democratic senator in his July 18 column: "[Voters] haven't warmed up to [Kerry], and I don't know if they ever will." Back to Crackerbox Palace, Maureen Dowd's current address. Her Times op-ed last Sunday was written in panic-mode, impersonating Ben Affleck by asserting "It would be an act of simple courtesy for Mr. Cheney to get off the ticket, since he has already done as much damage as humanly possible in four years."

Adding to her breakdown, there was St. John McCain in good cheer last week, not only touting Cheney but also telling Time that he'd never serve in a Kerry cabinet. Dowd: "So now we have to watch the nauseating spectacle of Senator McCain pumping up the potty-mouthed Darth Vader's campaign rallies: 'I'm honored to introduce to you the indispensable and very debonair vice president.'"

As a kicker, Dowd made clear she believes Kerry's wife is a drag on the Democratic ticket, including this juicy morsel: "Some Hollywood contributors want to censor any Teresa tidbits, including any mention of her nickname among some in the Kerry circle —'the Stepmoney.'"

Karl Rove must've loved that line.

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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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